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Crater Lake shines in winter

Standing on the rim of Crater Lake on a clear winter day, visitors will experience a sense of awe, beauty and the color blue.

There is a scientific explanation for the blueness of the lake. As light strikes the water's surface, colors with long wavelengths such as red, yellow and orange are absorbed within the first few feet. The shorter wavelengths such as green and blue reach deeper, with blue penetrating the deepest. Blue wavelengths are also scattered more and reradiate the light in all directions, giving the lake its deep blue color.

In the past, the lake has been called Blue Lake, Deep Blue Lake and Lake Majesty. In 1869, Crater Lake became its permanent name.

Crater Lake became the nation's fifth oldest national park in 1902 due to the lifelong work of William Gladstone Steel. Steel had been preoccupied with Crater Lake since 1870, when he was a 16-year-old boy in Kansas. He learned of Crater Lake by reading a newspaper that was used to wrap his lunch. Two years later he moved to Oregon and in 1885 he and a group headed for Crater Lake.

After spotting the lake for the first time, the water was so blue it startled him. "All ingenuity of nature seems to have been exerted to the fullest capacity to build a grand awe-inspiring temple the likes of which the world has never seen before," said Steel.

The lake was formed after the collapse of an ancient volcano, known as Mount Mazama. This volcano erupted violently approximately 7,700 years ago, with 42 times the power as the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. The basin or caldera was formed after the top 5,000 feet of the volcano collapsed. Subsequent lava flows sealed the bottom, allowing the caldera to fill with approximately 4.6 trillion gallons of water from rainfall and snow melt, to create the seventh-deepest lake in the world: 1,932 feet.

Soundings with piano wire by a U.S. Geological Survey party in 1886 set the lake's depth at 1,996 feet, close to sonar findings officially recorded in 1959.

The eruption covered 5,000 square miles of Oregon with ash up to six inches deep. Pieces of pumice 14 feet in diameter were carried as far away as 25 miles.

Native Americans probably witnessed the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Mazama. Shamans in historic times forbade most members of their tribes to view the lake, and Indians said nothing about it to trappers and pioneers, who for 50 years after first coming into the area did not find it. Then, in 1853, while searching for gold, some prospectors happened upon Crater Lake.

For much of the year, usually October to July at higher elevations, a thick blanket of snow encircles the lake. Snowfall provides most of the park's annual 66 inches of precipitation. The annual snowfall averages over 40 feet a year. The greatest snow depth ever measured in Oregon was 252 inches at the park headquarters in April 1983.

Crater Lake rarely freezes over completely; it last did in 1949. Heat from the summer sun stored in the immense body of water retards ice formation throughout the winter.

Winter visitors will discover an area where winter lasts for nine months of the year. Every weekend throughout the winter season, park rangers and volunteers present ecology walks on snowshoes. Regularly scheduled walks are offered at 1:00 p.m. on weekends through the end of March. Meet at the Rim Village Information Desk inside the cafeteria and gift shop building. Walks last approximately — 1/2 hours and snowshoes are provided free of charge by the park. Park programs may change due to weather considerations. There is a 20-person limit on each walk, and a minimum age of 9.

Snowshoeing and cross-country are popular in winter. Many parts of the Rim Road offer great views of the lake. Several marked ski trails are available in the winter at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. Trails are patrolled by park service personnel and by ski patrol volunteers. These trails are not groomed, providing skiers with a wilderness backcountry experience. Always bring along a map, compass, waterproof clothing, extra mittens and socks, plenty of water and high-energy food.

Winter conditions in the park, which may occur from October through June, can include sudden snowstorms, cold temperatures, icy roads, and whiteout conditions due to blizzards. It is best to plan trips ahead of time by calling park information for current weather conditions during these months.