Part of the original rim road around Crater Lake is now a hiking trail, on right, leading to the Watchman Fire Lookout.

Riding the rim of Crater Lake

"It is doubtful if any view existing in the world today is as impressive and at the same time as beautiful as the view of Crater Lake from the rim."

It's a sentiment expressed by millions of people for more than 100 years, but these were the words of Major Jay J. Morrow, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Beginning in the summer of 1910, Morrow had led a survey party of 26 men, charged with locating routes and providing estimates for future road construction in Crater Lake National Park.

In addition to improving the park access roads, described by Park Superintendant William Arant as "little more than mere horse trails," Morrow stressed the need for a road around the lake and near steep walls of the volcanic caldera.

"It is of paramount importance," he said in his report to the War Department, "to build a road encircling the crater as near its rim as possible, in order that the lake may be viewed from all possible points."

Until then, the only way a visitor could circle the lake was to strap on a backpack and walk or ride a horse and camp out for several days.

The growing popularity of automobiles was pushing a need for better roads.

"An automobile boulevard about the rim of the crater," wrote a Mail Tribune reporter, "is certain to prove a great attraction to the touring public, which is becoming greater in number each year."

"As much of this work as possible should be completed prior to the San Francisco Exposition in 1915," said Morrow in 1911. "The trip to the park will be one of the favorite side trips of tourists going from Portland to San Francisco."

Early in June 1913, work began with construction of a supply road into the park from Kirk, on the railroad line east of the park.

At the same time, another crew began improving the road from park headquarters in the Munson Valley to the rim of the lake.

It wasn't until the summer of 1915 that the West Rim Road reached as far north as the peak known as The Watchman.

Finally, in 1918, a rugged 38-mile rim drive was finished, allowing a Ford to make the first complete automobile circuit of the lake.

"The roadway is still rough in spots, but can be traveled without difficulty," said a reporter. The road probably later will be hard surfaced, but the dirt grade is entirely finished."

It was a dedicated driver who dared challenge the road. Weather and wear-and-tear, along with steep grades and sharp, narrow turns, made the trip an outdoor adventure.

By 1929, the Park Service and the Federal Bureau of Public Roads were conducting new surveys aimed at improving, paving and, when necessary, re-routing the old Rim Road. Reconstruction began in 1931 and continued for years.

"This Rim Road is not a joy ride," said Park Superintendant Charles Thomson, "but a pilgrimage for the devotees of Nature. It is a spiritual experience — nothing less."

Reach writer Bill Miller at

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