Crater Lake National Park

Spring at Crater Lake National Park is a very long season or merely a heartbeat, depending on your perspective. With the disappearance of the several feet of snow that blankets the area until early summer, wildflowers bloom, transitory birds return, trees bud, and animals play in the abundance of summer. The largest park residents are the deer and elk that roam the woods of the park from June until October. A herd of pronghorn antelope also migrate across the Pumice Desert in the northern end of the park in early summer as the snow finally leaves the ground. These ungulates, a word used to describe hoofed animals, indicate that summer is here... that the plants and trees are in the midst of their growing season.

Pine martens, mice, squirrels, and rabbits are just a sampling of winter wildlife that stay active by feeding on pine seeds, hemlock bark, and other gifts left by summer's vegetation. Deer must migrate to lower elevations, sometimes traveling up to 30 miles to the Rogue Valley where food is still available. Deer and elk feed mainly on different types of grasses and lichens, as well as twigs and bark of hemlock, lodgepole pine, and Douglas fir. Carnivores, or meat eaters, don't suffer the same food loss as deer when plants are snowed in.

Elk are the largest of the park's animals, with females weighing as much as 700 pounds and males weighing up to 1,100 pounds. They commonly come into the south and western areas of the park as snow allows, usually around mid-June. The species native to the park, Roosevelt Elk, were hunted nearly to extinction in the park by early settlers. To help the population, 15 Rocky Mountain Elk from Yellowstone National Park were brought to Crater Lake in 1917. The effort was successful; today, more than 150 elk have been counted within the park in recent summers. Deer winter with elk and generally live in the same regions.

All of these beautiful animals travel in both daylight and during evening hours. Rangers warn visitors to obey all speed regulations and be very watchful as they travel park roadways. Henry David Thoreau wrote, "Perhaps what moves us in winter is some reminiscence of far-off summer. The cold is merely superficial—it is summer still at the core, far, far within." It is the wakeful summer core that maintains the sleeping winter of Crater Lake. Deer and elk are a welcome indication of this transition.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 7 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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