Local Native Americans witnessed the collapse of Mount Mazama and kept the event alive in their legends. One ancient legend of the Klamath people closely parallels the geologic story which emerges from today’s scientific research.
The legend tells of two Chiefs, Llao of the Below World and Skell of the Above World, pitted in a battle which ended up in the destruction of Llao’s home, Mt. Mazama. The battle was witnessed in the eruption of Mt. Mazama and the creation of Crater Lake.
A trio of gold prospectors: John Wesley Hillman, Henry Klippel, and Isaac Skeeters were the first white people to visit the lake. On June 12, 1853, they stumbled upon the long, sloping mountain while hunting for provisions.
Stunned by vibrant blue color of the lake, they named the indigo body of water “Deep Blue Lake” and the place on the southwest side of the rim where he first saw the lake later became known as Discovery Point.
But gold was more on the minds of settlers at the time and the discovery was soon forgotten. The suggested name later fell out of favor by locals, who preferred the name Crater Lake.
William Gladstone Steel devoted his life and fortune to the establishment and management of a National Park at Crater Lake. His preoccupation with the lake began in 1870.
In his efforts to bring recognition to the park, he participated in lake surveys that provided scientific support. He named many of the lake’s landmarks, including Wizard Island, Llao Rock, and Skell Head.
With the help of geologist Clarence Dutton, Steel organized a USGS expedition to study the lake in 1886. The party carried the Cleetwood, a half-ton survey boat, up the steep slopes of the mountain then lowered it to the lake.
From the stern of the Cleetwood, a piece of pipe on the end of a spool of piano wire sounded the depth of the lake at 168 different points. Their deepest sounding, 1,996 feet (608 m), was very close to the modern official depth of 1,949 feet (594 m) made in 2000 by sonar. At the same time, a topographer surveyed the area and created the first professional map of the Crater Lake area.
Partly based on data from the expedition and lobbying from Steel and others, Crater Lake National Park was established May 22, 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt. And because of Steel’s involvement, Crater Lake Lodge was opened in 1915 and the Rim Drive was completed in 1918.
Highways were later built to the park to help facilitate tourism.