Crater Lake National Park Centennial Oral Histories
Thomas Young, 1964-1984
Were you ever at Sinnott Memorial giving a talk when a sonic boom from a jet or a clap of thunder added a touch of excitement at just the appropriate time?
Everyone is quiet and attentive as you develop your story to the dramatic eruption and collapse of Mt. Mazama. Just at that moment the jet or the thunder does its thing and it seems as though the audience will either leave the building on the run or die of a heart attack:
One day on boats my passengers were treated to another kind of excitement – “Crater Gators”.
I seems that one visitor (after we had talked about life in the lake) asked if there were any other kinds of life – to which I answered jokingly, nothing but “Crater Gators”. The group laughed and we continued our tour on a more serious vein.
A short time later we rounded Wizard Island and came into view of Fumerole Bay. There rising and bobbing above the surface of the water were two black tubular snouts. Then two round lumps would appear, disappearing and reappearing on the surface.
I was completely baffled until Clay explained what I was looking at. I couldn’t resist the temptation and so I replied to the group that those were Crater Gators. For a moment I thought some of the passengers would swim off for shore: I hastily explained the weird sight.
It seems that the blame can be placed on Karn Stiegelmeier and Hank Tanski who were snorkeling in the bay. The snorkels sticking above the water and two heads bobbing near the surface created the illusion of some water creature.
Most of us, in preparing our evening talks choose a topic with which we are at least slightly knowledgeable. When I chose to do a talk on bears I did just the opposite and chose a topic with which I had little knowledge. However, bears held a special fascination for me and I wanted to know more about them. It forced me to do a lot of reading and gathering of information. Of course this presents problems at times. Visitors at my programs expect me to be an expert on bears and to be able to answer any and all questions. Just as you think your talk is ready and you are ready to face the public and answer their questions someone comes up with: what is the gestation period of a bear? What’s the life expectancy of a bear in the wild compared to one in captivity? How many teeth does a bear have, etc…. Then its back to the books!
I guess the fascination for bears arose during my first few years at Crater Lake, when bears were common place. At that time my girls were at the “play house” age. The boys would make their forts, and the girls their playhouses in the forested area in the middle of Sleepy Hollow. Every now and then the cry “beeeeeaaar” would resound throughout Sleep Hollow as they ran to their trailers and cabins, until the bears moved on through the area.
One day as a small bear cub came wandering into Sleepy Hollow, someone raised the question as to how fast a bear could climb a tree. An old maintenance man replied – lets find out, at which time he took out after the bear. The cub immediately headed up the tree at amazing speed and remained there while those below laughed at his clown like antics in the branches of the tree.
When friends visited and wanted to see a bear we checked out a key to the gate at the garbage pits. Hours could be spent in the comfort of your car while you watched the garbage bears arguing over morsels of food, climbing trees, etc….
One summer a new ranger was anxious to get some bear pictures. When I told him the two of us could walk to the garbage pits where all the bears hang out, he looked at me rather questioningly and said “without a car?”. I assured him we had nothing to worry about. There was a bulldozer parked there and we would just stay close by it. The bears were deathly afraid of the machine and would not come close. As we arrived on the scene our hearts sank as we discovered no bulldozer!. It had been taken to the shop for repair the day before. As we watched the circus before us a noise was heard in the bushes behind where we were crouched. A huge black bear was making his way to the pits. Our quick turn in the bushes caused the bear to rear up on his hind legs to see what was in his path to the pits. Jim and I somehow swallowed the lump in our throats and despite the increased heart rate, were able to snap a picture. The click of the camera shutters and our movement was enough to put the bear into a detour around us.
Many more incidents with bears could be related: bears stealing our cantaloupes from the stream by cabin #52, bear ripping open the seam in a government trailer to get freshly baked bread, bears peering through windows in the cabins and even coming in trailers and cabins on occasions.