Bear Lake, which straddles the border between Utah and Idaho, is known for its raspberries. Garden City, which sits near Bear Lake, sees rentals for vacation houses skyrocket during the Raspberry Days festival in early August. This is when the area’s hard-working residents celebrate the country-famous raspberry harvest with fireworks, rodeos, parades, and a craft fair.
Bear Lake, however, is not only known for this fruit. It’s also a site for cryptozoology and paranormal enthusiasts, particularly those pining to see a glimpse of the legendary Bear Lake Monster.
What is this creature? And why is it so elusive?
An Overview of the Lake (and the Monster)
Bear Lake is over 250,000 years old. It was formed when subsidence of the Bear Lake fault caused a hole large enough to hold water runoff that accumulated through the years. Also known as the “Caribbean of the Rockies,” Bear Lake’s natural turquoise color and clarity are thanks to the limestone content of the water that reflects the blue wavelength of visible light.
In 1868, a Mormon settler named Joseph C. Rich made headlines when he first described the creature in Bear Lake. Published in Salt Lake City’s Deseret Evening News, he detailed the monster as a serpent-like creature with stubby legs, allowing it to feast on fauna both on and off the water.
He added that Native American tradition in the Idaho area corroborated his accounts, speaking of a “water devil” living in the lake that snatched their braves who went too close to the water to rest. This captured the imagination of the city’s residents and even the LDS Church, the latter which cross-examined Rich for details. He, however, later reneged on the story, saying it was a “lie.”
Modern Studies and Interpretation
Natives treat the Bear Lake Monster as a sort of tourist attraction, but some studies, though scant, are working to find out what it really is, or if it exists at all.
Based on the full article from the Deseret News 150 years ago, the monster may be anywhere from 40 to 200 feet long, looked something like a cross between a walrus and an alligator, and colored gray-greenish, with a slimy, scaly skin. The creature seemed to move at the speed of a locomotive, and there may be more than one, probably an offspring.
The Bear Lake Monster has captured the attention of the country when its story appeared in Animal Planet’s Lost Tapes in 2009. While most of the episode was fictionalized, it claimed a man named Brian Hirschi had a first-hand account of the Bear Lake Monster on June 2002. He described it as having “beet-red eyes.”
The show also consulted experts on the issue, with a cryptozoologist, Loren Coleman, saying that it may be a mosasaur, similar to the dinosaur shown in the recent film Jurassic World.
Whatever the creature is, the Bear Lake Monster may not want to be found—and probably for a good reason. Today, it’s as much a part of local folklore and pride as the area’s raspberries, and may actually even command more rentals than a red fruit.