Few places in America offer views as captivating as Oregon’s Crater Lake. It is the deepest lake in the United States, as well as one of the most majestic scenic destinations in the Northwestern part of the country.
A number of Native American legends chronicle the lake’s formation; in one, a spirit named Llao was peering through a great hole left in the top of the ancient Moyaina, or “big mountain” by Gmo’Kam’c, the creator, at the time he made all the trees and rivers in the land. Through this opening, Llao saw a beautiful woman he wished to marry, and sent a messenger to tell the young woman of his intent. However, upon learning who the suitor was, her father refused to allow her to leave, and in his anger, Llao exploded into the air, raining fire down on the earth below in his fury, and leaving a giant hole where Moyaina had once been.
Today, geologists tell a story of the lake’s formation that bears a number of similarities, since Crater Lake partly fills a massive caldera left after the eruption of Mount Mazama nearly 7,700 years ago. After the remnant of the volcano collapsed, it left a 5.5-mile-wide basin more than half a mile deep, which filled over time with the help of melting snow and frequent rainfall.
Among those who have been drawn to the majestic locale over the years were brothers Larry and Lloyd Smith, a pair of twin brothers who became park rangers at Crater Lake National Park. Lloyd began his tenure there in 1959, and just two years later his brother Larry joined him, both working there together over the next decade. During their time together at the park, they became fascinated with stories about the names of various landmarks and other features of the landscape.
“Who would not be curious about such geographical names as: Goodbye, Annie, Wizard, Phantom, Vidae, Watchman, Cleetwood, Skell, Llao, Danger Bay, and of course the most enduring of all Park names ‘The Old Man of the Lake’,” Larry wrote years later.
In 1964, Larry learned the story of a superintendent who, some years earlier, had been fired and forced to leave. A creek in the park where the superintendent and his brother had been building a bridge was given a poignantly appropriate name at the time of their departure: “Goodbye.”
“As U.S. Marshal Leslie Scott bid ‘goodbye’ to [the] Arant family, he named a bridge and a creek beneath a bridge “Goodbye” because it was the last piece of work completed at Crater Lake by the 'retiring’ Superintendent,” Larry wrote.
“I was fascinated by this trivial fact of history,” Larry admitted, “and felt the story should be shared. So I typed up a short summary on an index card and tacked it to the employee bulletin board at the head of the stairs in the Administration Building. Several more stories followed. Thus started my lifelong hobby of collecting Crater Lake stories.”
Over the years, the Smith brothers began to keep a record of happenings in the park. It was Red Cone District Ranger Larry Hakel who suggested to Lloyd one day that “that these logs should become a part of the Park’s permanent record and that perhaps the monthly summary logs could be expanded to include interesting events from the past years.”
Beginning that summer, Larry and Lloyd, with the help of Ranger Larry Hakel, began to collect and type up reports that included events and weekly happenings, summaries of newspaper items, historical events, and a host of other items of interest. “Our first, primitive edition came off the Headquarters Xerox machine and late August.”
Thus, The Smith Brothers Chronological History of Crater Lake was born. The volume went through several updates and new editions over the years, and today an online version of the work can be read with entries dating all the way back to 1828.
“We witnessed many of the events that appear in our chronology,” Larry notes in the introduction. “A constant stream of people flowed through the Park eager to share a good story about their favorite happenings at Crater Lake with a couple of interested Rangers.”
Add me to the people who read and enjoyed entries from Larry and Lloyd’s chronicling over the years, although among the unique stories shared in the book, there are three that particularly stand out.
The first of these entries is dated “June 8 or 9”, 1976, and gives the following account:
George Morrison, Chief Park Naturalist, spots a “Big Foot” creature crossing the South Road at dusk, headed into Annie Creek Canyon. With four steps, the up-right creature crossed the road. Because of distance and tree shadows, a description is difficult. Morrison could not locate any footprints. George is an experienced ornithologist and experienced in nature observation. Morrison was shaken by his sighting.
With what little the entry says, it says so much: George Morrison, who had been Chief Park Naturalist at the time, described seeing a “Big Foot,” and having been shaken by his sighting. Had it been the only story of its kind that the Smith brothers included in their history, it still would have been noteworthy. There are, however, additional reports that were logged during the ensuing years. The next noteworthy account occurred in the summer of the following year, when a pair of rangers, Marion Jack and Vic Affolter, reported hearing “something large crashing through the forest at the old PCT entrance on the West Road.”
“A pine cone is tossed through the air and the strong odor emanating from whatever it was is over powering,” the brief report concludes. No clear observation of whatever threw the pine cone at the pair of rangers occurred.
What is perhaps the best report of an alleged Bigfoot sighting appearing in the Smiths’ history occurred on August 22, 1981. The report excerpt reads as follows:
“Roger Wade, 33, 1245 W. Almas, Fresno, California, reports seeing an upright type of Sasqash animal cross 50 yards in front of his car, three miles west of Annie Spring, on the West Entrance road. Roger described the animal as being upright, 6 foot tall, with light brown and cinnamon hair. The animal crossed the road from south to north, left to right.”
The idiosyncratic spelling of Sasquash is both notable, and charming. Also noteworthy is the fact that Wade estimated the height of the creature to be no more than six feet as he observed it crossing the road.
“We have strived to double check our entries for accuracy,” Larry would write years later in the history’s introduction, “but we have found that oral remembrances do cause what seem to be contradictions and inconsistencies. People remember past events in different ways, but because we have accepted oral history and traditions into our collection, some perceived inaccuracies are acceptable if you accept this premise.”
Nonetheless, the incidents pertaining to Sasquatch all came from rangers or other professionals employed with the park at the time (with the exception of the final account, given by Roger Wade). They appear to have been logged around or shortly after the time of their occurrence, and in the case of the 1976 report by Chief Park Naturalist George Morrison, an experienced witness had been involved.
Like most other accounts detailing alleged sightings of Sasquatch, these are merely anecdotal reports; they are, however, interesting glimpses at the sorts of things which may occasionally have transpired in our National Parks over the years, which otherwise might go un-noted if not for the diligence of folks like the Smith Brothers, whose collected accounts and history of Crater Lake National Park remain widely regarded by laymen and professionals alike… as well as a few Sasquatch enthusiasts over the years.