The Bear Lake Monster, like many of the relatively harmless water-beasts that inhabit the world, has become something of a tourist attraction for the small towns dotting the shores of Bear Lake. Bear Lake lies right on the Utah-Idaho border, but most of the controversy and sightings come from the Idaho side of things. Now, this monster might not have a cute pet name like Chessie or Nessie or anything. Still, it is viewed and spoken of with a relatively tongue-in-cheek attitude. There are, of course, many who genuinely believe in the creature. In general, though, it remains simply a tourist attraction and an amusing legend from times when mankind was not so advanced in its technologies and thoughts.
While it is described as a long, serpentine creature, the Bear Lake Monster has many unique characteristics that are in stark contrast to the serpents marauding the ocean’s shores. Firstly, it is much bigger than any of those creatures. The Bear Lake Monster has been said to range anywhere from 40 feet to 200 feet long, having a fat, muscular body and relatively short, alligator-like legs, which it rarely uses. In some stories it has many, many sets of legs, although nobody has been able to see the whole creature to confirm this. Its face has been said to resemble a walrus’s, minus the tusks. Bulgy eyeballs sit at the top of its head and its ears are “like bunches”, presumed to mean like bunches of grapes. In some instances it is said to have a more reptilian face. Skin color ranges from a sandy-cream coloration to a dark, muddy green. Oddly enough, the colors seen on the creature seem to be linked to the date in which it was seen, the more recent sightings describing it as green while the older tales have it recorded as pale yellow.
The first recorded sightings were found in the writings of a man by the name of Joseph C. Rich, a Mormon colonist in the mid to late-1800’s. His stories included secondhand accounts of the beast that he had picked up from many locals around the Bear Lake area, Native Americans as well as colonists like himself. His articles attracted quite a lot of attention, especially from Salt Lake City. Tourism flourished as a result, and a legend was born. It even prompted several attempts to lure and trap the beast, although none yielded any results.
He later revealed, twenty to thirty years after the fact, that all the accounts he had spoken of in his articles were entirely fictional. This, however, did not disprove the beast’s existence at all, especially to the locals. One woman, completely independently of Mr. Rich, reported that she had seen a creature with an extremely long body racing along the lakeside, its speed outpacing even that of a horse. She did not catch a good glimpse of the creature, but she noticed its head and a few times part of its body broke the surface as it wove through the water.
And, despite his assertion that everything was fake, the Native Americans actually do have tales of a monster in the lake. They simply refer to it as the “water devil”. They were spooked so much by this creature that they would not hunt, fish, swim, or even sleep anywhere near the shores of the lake. Simply standing there was considered dangerous. At some point in their history, apparently the water devil devoured many of their fiercest warriors as they slept. The story remained burned into their culture, keeping them away from the lake and later bringing the stories to the ears of the white settlers.
Even after it was all admitted to be a hoax, people in the twentieth century still came forward with stories of attacks and sightings. A pair of travelers on their way to Salt Lake City in 1902 claimed to have been attacked during the night, the monster making off with one of their horses in the ensuing chaos. The authorities could not get someone out where the two men were in time to find footprints or any distinguishing marks on the ground, although drops of horse blood ran from where the horses had been picketed to the shoreline.
While the Bear Lake Monster has shied away from civilization pretty completely, there was a case where a young boy spotted it just off the shore in Garden City. He pointed the strange creature out to his parents, who immediately fled the scene with their son in tow. They only saw the mud-colored side of a serpentine body before deciding they had seen enough. It was seen again on the opposite side of the lake by a boy scout leader, although other than simply spotting the creature’s head in the water, he had nothing really to contribute to the lore or overall knowledge of the beast. All he could really do was add to the credibility of the many, many Bear Lake Monster sightings over the years, as scout leaders must be of impeccable moral standing.
There was a great lull over the later 50 years of the 1900’s. There were still a decent amount of sightings, enough to keep the monster from fading into legend altogether, but it wasn’t until 2002 that the creature made an appearance large enough to earn it a few spots on television. It appeared on Animal Planet’s Lost Tapes as well as being mentioned and investigated on Syfy channel’s Haunted Highway. The one witness who could be interviewed is a man by the name of Brian Hirschi, a private business owner who was enjoying a day off on his boat. He said he felt the boat rock, as though it had been bumped, and when he peered over the side, he found himself face to face with the evil red eyes of a monster. It ducked beneath the surface, reappearing on the other side of his boat before ultimately losing interest and disappearing into deeper waters.
The final sighting was from a fisherman in 2007. He was checking some traps late at night when he heard something behind him growling in the water. From his little boat, he turned to face the noise, and found himself in the same situation as Hirschi. The creature watched him with piercing red eyes before leaving the scene without warning. The fisherman stated that the creature might have been an alligator, were it not entirely too cold in Idaho for such a creature to exist in the wild.
Outside of sightings there have been a few intriguing pieces of evidence to support the idea of the Bear Lake Monster being real. Underwater caves were discovered filled with the bones of many large animals. Deer, horses, cattle, all things that could not have gotten to the center of the lake on their own, although there have been stories of herds of moose attempting to swim across the lake after their usual migration routes were blocked off by highways. Heavyset cattle, however, could not have made the swim like that, making the appearance of cow bones an incredibly odd find. It is the habit of alligators to spirit their food down to the bottom of a watery hole in order to sort of “tenderize” the meat before consumption. Perhaps the Bear Lake Monster does the same. Or perhaps there really has been a giant alligator living in Bear Lake, one that has evolved to resist the cold.
Unless you’re a scuba diver, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see this creature. But it might be worth visiting Bear Lake to see all the silly Bear Lake Monster merchandise. They even have a boat shaped like a sea monster that they will take tourists out on. The tour includes a detailed list of events surrounding the creature’s lore and past sightings, like a ghost tour, but on water. Maybe you’ll even see a walrus-y face with bulgy eyes peeking up at you from the depths.