Nature Notes

Volume XVIII - 1952

Snow Crater - Nature's Calendar
By James Richards, Ranger

Snow Crater is a unique and interesting feature of Crater Lake National Park. It is located in the summit of Scoria Cone in a remote section of the Park near the South Boundary. It may be reached by traveling about one and a half miles on the Red Blanket Motorway, and then about one and a half miles in a southeasterly direction. Regardless of the heat of the summer season, the snow that has fallen in this crater from the previous winter never entirely melts; thus over a period of years a sizable mass of snow has accumulated in the depression at the top of the cone. It is particularly interesting to note that a season's accumulation of snow in the crater constitutes a distinct layer, clearly demarked from the younger layers above and the older layers below.

The layers or "varves" of snow remind one of the varves that are often deposited by lake waters and from which it is possible to learn much regarding the time and conditions during which the lake existed. Varves deposited by a lake consist of alternating layers of dark and light sediments. During the summer, the life in a pond or lake is on the increase because of good growing conditions, and likewise, is on the decline in late fall and winter. As winter approaches and organic matter dies, it settles and turns dark, thus creating a dark layer of sediment. During the colder months, the sediments laid down are of an inorganic nature and much lighter than the previous ones. Thus one layer of both dark and light constitutes the sediments laid down during a one- year period and gives rise to a single verve from which a geologist may read certain facts regarding the conditions prevailing in the lake during the deposition.

The accumulation of snow and debris in Snow Crater here in the Park is in many respects analogous to the formation of the varves of a lake. Each winter brings about an accumulation of snow. and then during the summer, a layer of rocks, dirt, and debris from the trees forms on top of the snow. In this manner there is developed a "snow verve," representing one year of deposition.

Snow Crater
Looking into Snow Crater from the summit of Scoria Cone about fifty feet above the surface of the snow. The streaks are mud that has washed over the snow from heavy rains.

As far as I have been able to determine, Snow Crater has been visited only about four times since 1948. During 1948, Rangers William Kinsley, Richard Marquis, and a third person visited the Crater at least twice. On the second trip, an exploration was made in a crevice between the snow and the rock wall and, according to the report of Ranger Marquis, about 75 snow varves were counted, representing as many years of snow accumulation. In 1949 Ranger Kinsley and I visited Snow Crater but we were unable to make any further studies because of the unusually heavy snowfall of the preceding winter. During the summer of 1952 I was able to make a second trip to this remarkable crater. The accompanying photograph was taken at that time. The near record snowfall of the 1951-52 winter had hidden all of the possible exposures at which the snow varves might have been counted. It seems very possible that further exploration will be fruitless until perhaps mid-September, barring an early winter.

Snow Crater is one of the many out-of-the-way features of Crater Lake National Park rarely visited by any of the thousands of individuals who come to the Park each summer. I hope that this Nature Notes article will serve to call this interesting accumulation of snow to the attention of hikers and those who are interested in geology. I am sure that there are many Park visitors who will find a trip to Snow Crater a fascinating experience.

skech of pintails
A flight of Pintails as seen from Sinnott Memorial. Pen and ink sketch by Ranger-Naturalist Charles F. Yocom.

American Pintail On Crater Lake
By Charles F. Yocom, Ranger-Naturalist

Although many ornithologists have investigated the bird life of Crater Lake National Park over a period of years, only one sight record for the American pintail (Anas acuta tzitzihoa) had been recorded until this season. Farner (1952) states that J. C. Wright, fireguard on Mount Scott, on August 22, 1949, observed a flock of 20 to 30 Pintails flying southward toward Upper Klamath Lake.

From July 28 to August 3, 1952, several hundred waterfowl were seen on Crater Lake or flying out over the rim of this lake by ranger naturalists. Apparently most of these ducks were Pintails, for all flocks seen by the writer at close range were this species. The following records indicate the large number of waterfowl that were seen:

DateNumber LocationObserver
AM 28 July100on surface near Phantom ShipD.S. Farner
AM 30 July1 flockon surface out from Sinnott MemorialRobert Wood
AM 31 July2 flocksnear Rim Village flying southWarren Fairbanks
AM 1 August*150near Wizard IslandC.F. Yocom
AM 1 Augustlarge flockeast of Wizard IslandC.F. Yocom
AM 2 August60near Wizard IslandC.F. Yocom
PM 2 August*200-500feeding and flying near Garfield PeakYocom and Farner
PM 2 August300+feeding west of Phantom ShipYocom and Farner
AM 3 August*200flying near Sinnott MemorialRobert Wood
AM 3 August200+on surface out from Sinnott MemorialRobert Wood
PM 3 August3 flocksfar out in lakeC.F. Yocom
PM 3 August*800+beyond Wizard IslandD.S. Farner

*These flocks were identified as Pintails. The large flock seen by Farner and the writer on August 2 flew very close and were seen under favorable light so that unmistakable markings were seen.

These flocks of Pintails were undoubtedly migrants that are known to pass through Washington and Oregon and arrive in California during the last of July and the first part of August. This early flight of Pintails is not understood by waterfowl biologists in the Pacific flyway, but banding will assist in unraveling this problem. There are many later flights of Pintails as indicated by Yocom (1951). As a matter of fact the writer has seen migrating Pintails 465 nautical miles west of Cape Blanco, Oregon, on August 30, 1945.

It is not unusual that Pintails should pass over Crater Lake National Park in migrating, but it is unusual that large flocks alighted on the lake and remained for some time, as Pintails are pond ducks which normally feed by means of tipping in shallow marshes and lakes. Flocks observed on Crater Lake appeared to be feeding. They remained in close-knit bunches and swam over the surface quite rapidly, often times flying a short distance, then milling about in compact groups. Evidently these birds were securing some desirable food items on the surface of the lake.

No large flocks of ducks were seen after August 3rd except a flock of over 100 individuals noted on the Lake east of Wizard Island on August 17, by D. S. Farner. The birds observed leaving the Lake flew out over the Rim between Sun Notch and The Watchman, going toward Klamath Lake and it is believed that all of the flocks seen between July 28 and August 3 passed on South.


Farner, Donald S. 1952. The Birds of Crater Lake National Park. University of Kansas Press. IX + 200 pp.

Yocom, Charles F. 1951. Waterfowl and Their Food Plants in Washington. University of Washington Press, Seattle, Washington. XVI + 272 pp.

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