Ex-Crater Lake Chief Recalls Colorful Service on Retirement
Klamath Falls Herald and News
Klamath Falls, Oregon
March 7, 1968
Thomas J. Williams, chief of resource management and visitor protection in the National Park Service’s regional headquarters in Santa Fe, N.M., has retired after 39 years of duty with the service.
Williams served as superintendent of Crater Lake National Park from 1954 to 1959. He has been in Santa Fe since 1959.
Following three summers as a seasonal park ranger at Sequoia National Park, Calif., Williams accepted an appointment as ranger at the park in May 1930. Apart from his military leave during World War II, his service has been continuous since that time.
“Each park is different, of course,” Williams recalls, “and you always seem to like the place you are in just a little better than any other place you have served.”
Now, in looking back on his long career in the National Park Service, Williams prefers to forget the arduous tasks, the frustrations that went with park development, the feeling of responsibility for protection of park visitor and park; instead, he remembers the places of outstanding beauty and interest where he has lived and worked.
Death Valley National Monument, California – Nevada, was established in 1933, and that same year Williams was appointed acting chief park ranger (and the only ranger) at the 1,900,000 – acre monument.
Although people have died of thirst in Death Valley, Williams believes that the dangers may be exaggerated. “In the early days,” he explains, “a few people driving through the valley would have car trouble and would then make the mistake of leaving their cars and trying to walk to find help or water; some of them didn’t make it. Thousands of others went through the valley with no trouble at all, but this was not news.
“One August day as I patrolled the desert, I came upon a man who was in the last stage of dehydration. He was out of his head and completely naked. When I got him back to headquarters, we wrapped him in wet blankets, gave him little sips of water, and wiped his tongue with a wet cloth.
“It would have been disastrous to have given him more than an occasional sip of water to drink; moisture should be restored to the body through the skin from wet blankets or cloths.
We thought that this fellow would not pull through, but he made it. He regained 25 pounds of body moisture within 48 hours.
“He has no recollection of anything that happened after he abandoned his stalled car, I learned what had happened: When he left his car, he had a suitcase and a camera. He first dropped his suitcase and then his camera. Farther along, he had removed his necktie, shirt, and undershirt, folded them neatly, and carefully placed them beside the road. Then he had removed his trousers, shorts, socks, and shoes and tidily folded and stacked them. People behave in strange ways.
“During the hotter months, we slept in the front yard, on cots we had placed over a pool of water that was about the size of a bathtub. Since we had to drink water several times during the night, we rigged up a hose to the cots so we wouldn’t have to get up. Now the buildings are air-conditioned.”
In 1939, Williams was appointed assistant superintendent of Mesa Verde National Park, Colo., an archaeological site 7,000 feet above sea level.
From 1943 until 1945, Williams served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He was stationed in Hawaii during much of this time.
Williams returned to Mesa Verde after the war and two months later was appointed assistant superintendent of Shasta-Millerton Recreation Area, California.
Williams was transferred to the assistant superintendency of Olympic National Park, Washington, in 1948. He was most impressed by the giant trees of the rain forest. “Temperature, climate, rainfall – all combine to make the Olympic country perfect for tree growth. Several of the record trees for certain species are there: Alaska – cedar, western red cedar, Douglas fir and western hemlock. That is incredible country.”
After six years at Olympic, Williams was promoted to the superintendency of Crater Lake National Park.
“Crater Lake must be seen to be appreciated properly,” Williams explains. “Photographs simply cannot depict the majesty of the lake in its setting, the depth of the blue. The lake was formed in a caldera, the collapsed summit of a volcano, by rain and snowmelt, mostly snowmelt. The unusual deep blue color is caused by the scattering of sunlight in water of exceptional depth and clarity; the blue rays of the sunlight spectrum are reflected upward, and other rays are absorbed by the water.
“An average of 52 feet of snow a year falls at Crater Lake. Moisture-laden winds off the Pacific move upward along the west face of the mountain range, and when they reach the elevation above Crater Lake they are primed for the temperature that creates snow. Until my last year there, we maintained offices in Medford during the winter. Then, my 2 1/2-story residence at the lake was a mere hump in the ski run. When we began major developments, we stayed there the year around.
“Living in the deep snow was a strange and pleasant experience. Snow plows kept the west and south entrance roads open, we could get to and from town and visitors could come to the park.
Mr. and Mrs. Williams plan to continue to make their home in Santa Fe. Their oldest son, Jeff, is a foreign correspondent, now stationed in Jakarta, Indonesia. Their daughter, Lynn (Mrs. James Jordan), is living in Las Cruces, N.M., her husband is a student at New Mexico State University. Their youngest son, Robert Lee (Skip), is a sophomore at New Mexico State.