Crater Lake

Over 7700 years ago, Mt Mazama erupted violently, spewing pumice and ash all over the place. The eruption kept going until the magma chamber beneath the volcano was all but empty. The peak collapsed into the now empty chamber beneath, forming a huge crater. Over the centuries, snow and rainfall filled the crater to form what is known as Crater Lake today.

Needless to say, I was excited to visit and photograph the lake in the caldera of a volcano! Driving in, we were surprised to see how much snow was still left up here! Already on this initial drive, we had to stop to photograph the beautiful mist and haze hanging between the various hills in the distance. It’s not something you see every day – and it had us forget the 15 °C despite wearing nothing but flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt!

Haze in the late afternoon can create magical views over a series of hills and ridges, creating finely separated layers.

Haze in the late afternoon can create magical views over a series of hills and ridges, creating finely separated layers.

After getting to our campground on the south side of the crater and having some dinner, we wanted to take advantage of the exceptionally clear skies and low light pollution, to shoot the milky way from the north rim. That’s where things started going downhill: We knew the west rim road would likely be closed as some road work was in process, so we tried the east rim road. A few miles in, we hit a barrier. Closed. Disappointed, we turned around and tried the west road, but as suspected, that one was closed as well. We were essentially trapped on the southern side of the crater, with perfect conditions for some astrophotography. Annoyed, we started looking into alternatives. There was no way we’d miss out on those skies, and that meant not camping in the only campground available.

The following morning we found a motel close by that had 2 nights available and we jumped on it. Since check-in wasn’t till 3 pm, the manager recommended us some waterfalls, one of which we’d already heard from Kyle, whom we met in Glacier national park. We headed there, and wow..! What a cool place! A big waterfall coming out of a gorge, which itself features another couple smaller falls inside! We quickly realised that the light wasn’t good enough to shoot it in the afternoon, but we still enjoyed flying our drones and scouting the area a bit.

The magical Toketee falls from bird's eye view using my DJI MavicPro drone.

The magical Toketee falls from bird's eye view using my DJI MavicPro drone.

Back at the motel, we relaxed until it was time to head out for some night photography. Boy were we not disappointed! Rarely have I seen skies this clear and this dark. With plenty of compositions to shoot, we spent about two hours in the icy wind on the north rim of Crater Lake, capturing the milky way and the lake.

The Milky Way over Crater Lake - some of the clearest and darkest skies I've ever seen!

The Milky Way over Crater Lake - some of the clearest and darkest skies I've ever seen!

Due to the road closures, a lot of the hiking trails were not accessible, but the boat tour was still on – or so we thought. On our 2nd morning, we were booked on a tour to Wizard Island – the only island in the lake – to go hiking there. Upon checking in, we received some more bad news: one of the two operating boats had broken down the previous day, so we were bumped onto the guided lake cruise instead of the Wizard Island tour. Bummed, but still glad we got to do something at least, we embarked on the hike down to the lake. Stunned at the incredible colours of this lake – its blueness is putting the best blue skies to shame - we quickly forgot that we were forced to change our plans and thoroughly enjoyed the 2 hour cruise. We learned a lot about how the lake was formed, how extremely clean and clear it is, and how its water level is maintained.

The unmatched cleanliness of Crater Lake makes it shine in an incredible blue.

The unmatched cleanliness of Crater Lake makes it shine in an incredible blue.

Towards the evening we headed back to Toketee Falls in order to shoot them in good light. What fun that was! Climbing down steep cliffs with some makeshift ropes, getting all kinds of different shots with the drones and cameras, we spent over 2 hours at the falls. Satisfied, we made our way back to the lake to shoot some more night skies. The wind was fierce again, but didn’t keep us from getting some more awesome shots!

Toketee Falls in the late afternoon - the big waterfall flowing out of the gorge, which by itself contains a couple more, smaller falls.

Toketee Falls in the late afternoon - the big waterfall flowing out of the gorge, which by itself contains a couple more, smaller falls.

Even though another day was planned at Crater Lake, due to all the closures we decided to head out a day early and visit some waterfalls on our way to Lassen Volcanic national park. I’m looking forward to some more waterfalls – really enjoying shooting those beauties right now – and to spend some more time camping instead of mediocre (at best…) motels.

Until then,
David