CRATER LAKE — "Girls," Larry Smith told a trio of pre-teens, "would you get off the picnic tables please?"
The three girls looked stunned. There wasn't a picnic table in sight, only fields of snow punctuated by occasional hemlock trees. Smith, who was leading a snowshoe walk near Crater Lake National Park's Rim Village, allowed his straight face to break into a smile as he explained that, yes, the girls and others in our group were indeed standing atop picnic tables, but the tables were hidden under 12 feet of snow.
Lloyd, Larry's twin brother, nodded knowingly while listening to his brother and watching the girls' expressions. Spending time with Crater Lake visitors is something the Smith brothers have been doing for more than a half-century.
The 75-year-old brothers are park icons. Lloyd has spent portions of 57 years at the park working on seasonal trail crews, as a law enforcement ranger and other jobs and, the past several years, as a Friends of Crater Lake volunteer. Larry has been involved for 55 years, mostly as a seasonal interpretive ranger and with the Friends as the person who coordinates, organizes and spends winter weekends as a volunteer interpreter.
Few people know as much about Crater Lake and its history as the Smith brothers, who have detailed events significant and obscure in their "Smith Brothers History of Crater Lake," which is available through the Crater Lake Institute website.
Their Crater Lake history is impressive. Larry's and Lloyd's inaugural Crater Lake visit was in 1947 as 7-year-olds with their parents, Elmer and Ruby, while living in Phoenix.
Larry remembers being told, incorrectly, that Wizard Island was the top of ancient Mount Mazama, the 12,000-foot tall mountain that exploded and collapsed about 7,700 years ago and created the caldera that contains the lake. Others told him the lake — which he since learned is 1,943 feet deep — had no known bottom. In the years since he's focused on providing visitors with accurate information.
Lloyd's memories of his first visit are more idyllic. "The biggest thing I remember is magical. Everything was magical."
Magic was evident during the snowshoe walk for the small group that included visitors from Southern Oregon, Southern California and New Zealand. Larry led the way to high spots overlooking Crater Lake Lodge, the lake and, of course, over Picnic Hill's snow-buried tables on a winding route up and down forested slopes during the hour-plus snowshoe walk. He pointed out pine marten tracks, explained how bears survive months-long winters, told about Mazama pocket gophers and patiently answered questions.
After the morning walk, Larry and Lloyd told about later Crater Lake visits in the 1950s with their father, a machinist for Tucker Sno-Cat in Medford.
" 'Old Man Tucker' was a wild driver," Lloyd boasted of his father, explaining how he would load 20 to 30 people in a trailer and tow them along the lake's rim. In those years, too, before the Cleetwood Cove trail was built from the rim to the lake in 1960, the route descended 1.7 miles from a trailhead near Crater Lake Lodge.
"I remember going down that trail and how narrow it was," Larry said of the hike, which he and his brother first did as 7-year-olds. "I remember the rocks falling."
In 1959, when the brothers were students at then-Southern Oregon State College, Lloyd heard about summer jobs at the park. That summer, driving his '57 Chevy, he began his first season on a trail crew. Larry was recovering from surgery and stayed home. In following years the brothers became fixtures, tackling a variety of jobs.
Both went into teaching, Larry in Jacksonville, where he still lives and teaches — and serves as the town crier — while Lloyd taught in Grants Pass until retiring and moving to Longview, Wash. For many summers, Lloyd's family, his wife, Helen, and their children, and Larry and his wife, Linda, and their children, lived in side-by-side seasonal housing.
"The kids thought they owned the park," Lloyd laughed.
The Smith brothers don't own the park. The park and Crater Lake own them.
"Remember the word magical," Lloyd said of why he, his brother and their families keep returning to Crater Lake. "It's still magical. Larry and I love to share our love for the park and the lake with people. It's magical."
Lee Juillerat has been writing about outdoor adventures in Southern Oregon and elsewhere for more than 30 years. He is also a regular contributor to the outdoor-travel website High On Adventure at www.highonadventure.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-880-4139.