Nature Notes

Volume XXIX - 1998

Victor Rock and Victor View
By Steve Mark

Throughout the summer a number of visitors come to the information desk at Park Headquarters asking about the best place to see Crater Lake. These people have convinced themselves that they have only an hour or so to spare in the park, and then want to be on their way to somewhere else. I routinely dodge this type of query, if only because they have not yet seen the lake. This makes it impossible to communicate where around the rim a person could best appreciate that wonderful combination of color, geological features, and subalpine vegetation which has prompted more than one person to describe Crater Lake as the most beautiful thing they have ever seen in nature.

For those who are so short on time, and wish to limit their experience to one which involves little or no contemplation, any lake viewpoint between Park Headquarters and the North Junction will do. Motorists soon find that more than one stopping point allows them to stay in their vehicle and still see Crater Lake. They will, however, find it difficult to appreciate their surroundings without a good guidebook at the very least.

The Mazamas, a mountaineering club based in Portland, published the first booklet aimed at enhancing visitor enjoyment of Crater Lake in 1897. It had limited availability, so the government began to print pamphlets and maps with some explanation of the park's geology. These devices still fell short, it seemed, of allowing the non-scientist to fully comprehend what lay before them. Trained naturalists began lecturing and guiding the public in Crater Lake National Park during the summer of 1926, but the question of how to best convey the park story remained. After some study, park officials decided to focus most of their educational program at Rim Village because of its proximity to what had long been the most popular viewpoint at Crater Lake.

visitor near Victor View
Visitor near Victor View in the late 1930s.

Named in honor of a historian who visited the lake in 1872, Victor Rock appears to be precariously perched some 900 feet above the water. The Sinnott Memorial was situated over this viewpoint in 1930, so that naturalists might give a brief orientation talk from an open-air parapet on a regular basis throughout the summer. Certainly no classroom, nor any other facility situated away from the rim, can equal the Sinnott Memorial as a venue to both see and hear about Crater Lake for the first time. It continues to function as an observation station aimed at enticing visitors to explore the park, in the hope that what they experience here will fuel an ongoing fascination with the forces which continue to shape the earth.

Sinnott memorial's parapet
The sinnott memorial's parapet as it appeared iin 1933. NPS photo by George Grant.

To broaden the introduction given by naturalists in the Sinnott Memorial, park officials initiated an educational boat tour of Crater Lake in 1931. That year they also began a project which was to widen and realign Rim Drive. In addition to making the road safer, designers focused on showing motorists many important park features. In order to accomplish both goals, masonry walls and the resulting series of observation stations were built to blend into their surroundings. Just as the Sinnott Memorial is virtually invisible from the surface of Crater Lake, the Rim Drive is intended to facilitate contemplation of the lake, cliffs, and forest by minimizing road scars that can be seen at a distance. Far from being the cookie cutter pull outs which often characterize modern road design, each of the observation stations was intended to help visitors see the park in different ways -- as anyone who has been to such divergent stops as Discovery Point, Grotto Cove, Skell Head, and Kerr Notch will attest.

The East Rim Drive in particular remains much as its designers left it, while also being largely free of the noise and crowds which often dominate the through route from Rim Village to the North Junction. With the notable exception of the Cleetwood Cove parking area (where people have gathered almost every summer day since 1960 for hikes down to the lake and a boat tour), visitors who pause along this 24 mile road segment should have few distractions -- especially if they are inclined to walk even a short distance. In nominating a favorite stop along this stretch of road, my choice is based on the following subjective combination of factors. These include the predominance of quiet, an opportunity to hike, the attractive contrast of subalpine vegetation with open slopes, authentic examples of stone masonry from the 1930s (original work can be identified from mortar joints which feature some lichen growing on them), and, of course, the sublime drama of Crater Lake.

With those criteria in mind, my choice is a place known as Victor View. It does not appear on some maps, though the name became official in 1945. The park superintendent at that time found very few people who could identify the rock named for Mrs. Victor, even though thousands of visitors came to the Sinnott Memorial each summer. Victor View is an observation station located between Cloud Cap and Kerr Notch, but has not been signed as such. Neither is the trail which leads from pavement to Sentinel Rock, where people who are afraid of heights or inclined toward vertigo should not venture. A stand of mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) act as a screen so that many visitors stopping at the road overlook do not notice the trail, but it can be seen immediately opposite the masonry wall. After winding through the trees, this path emerges on a spine composed largely of pumice "gravel" so that it is roughly a hundred yards to the terminus at Sentinel Rock.

Grotto Cove Overlook
Grotto Cove Overlook in 1968. NPS photo by K.R. Cranson

Such a vantage point certainly fills the few human visitors it receives with a sense of how privileged they are to stand where only the birds seem to light. A number of other places around the rim (Dutton Cliff, Dyar Rock, Hillman Peak, to name a few) may equal Victor View depending on what a person wishes to experience in conjunction with Crater Lake. Judgments attached to any of these places are, of course, relative to the person involved but any of them can render the urgency of reaching other destinations outside the park meaningless for a couple of hours. It should come as no surprise. therefore, that if I have to respond to questions about the "best" place to see Crater Lake, the answer will be "as far from your car as possible."

Steve Mark has worked as park historian at Crater Lake and Oregon Caves since 1988.

Supt. Canfield and entrance sign
Superintendent Dave Canfield and a new entrance sign, 1936. NPS photo by George Grant.

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