In July 1886, the Dutton Expedition spent three weeks measuring the depths of Crater Lake in a boat named for a dream.

The 'Cleetwood' dream

William Steel closed his eyes and began to dream.

Though his father had died years before, they were once again walking side by side. The winding streets through this ancient city were narrow and strange, yet father and son seemed to know exactly where they were.

His father stopped.

"Will," he said, "Do you wish to see something beautiful?"

Waving his arms above his head, he commanded his son to look up.

The sky was filled with golden arrows piercing through the air.

"What is this? What is happening?" asked Steel.

"This is Cleetwood," his father said, and instantly Steel woke up.

He had never heard this word before, but he knew it would always be a beautiful memory, and someday he would find a use for it.

In the spring of 1886, Captain Clarence Dutton was ordered by the United States Geological Survey to lead an expedition to Crater Lake. Dutton knew of Steel's interest in the lake and asked him to arrange for boats and sounding gear to measure its depth.

On July 1, Steel boarded a train and left Portland with three boats, bound for Ashland.

"Of our largest boat, christened the 'Cleetwood,' " Steel said, "we all felt justly proud. It was certainly a beautiful model, four-oared, 26 feet long and competent to ride almost any sea."

Because the road from Medford was believed blocked by fallen trees, the original plan had been for the team of men to take the longer route to the lake through Klamath Falls, north to Fort Klamath, and then northwest to the lake, but after careful deliberation, Dutton decided to take the Rogue River route instead.

To protect the Cleetwood from possible damage, she would swing freely from chains attached to a sturdy framework mounted in a wagon.

On July 7, they left Ashland and 41/2; hours later made camp in Medford. The next morning they headed north, meeting the Rogue River in the foothills.

"The entire distance from Ashland — 96 miles," Steel said, "was accomplished by slow, easy marches."

A week later, the expedition arrived on the rim of the lake and prepared to lower the boats.

"They were carried to the lowest place to be found in the cliffs," Steel said, "probably about 850 feet, vertical measurement, where the canyon descends at about an angle of 35 or 40 degrees."

The boats were lowered one at a time with four men guiding them down as they dodged rock slides and a few small boulders.

The Cleetwood was placed in a large crate, keel up, attached to a sled, and slowly lowered down. It took 15 men eight hours to get her to the water.

For three weeks they rowed around the lake examining the caldera and making 168 depth readings. They were amazed when their instruments told them its deepest point was 1,996 feet, making it the deepest lake in the United States. (Current figures show the actual depth at 1,949 feet).

With the expedition finished, they had one last problem — what to do with the Cleetwood and the other boats.

"It is impossible to lift them to the top of the cliffs," Steel said.

They decided to sink them with rocks "where no vandal could, and no responsible person would, raise them."

Steel's dream would lie there "month after month, season after season" until, perhaps, Congress would make the lake a national park.

"Then the resurrection trumpet will sound and the Cleetwood will awake," Steel said. "So must it be!"

The dream of a national park came true, but the Cleetwood lives only in dreams and memories.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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