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  • Since You Asked

  • What is the truth behind the Old Man of the Lake in Crater Lake? I heard that it is a log that has been floating vertically for more than 100 years. Can that really be true? It seems like a far-fetched legend.
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  • What is the truth behind the Old Man of the Lake in Crater Lake? I heard that it is a log that has been floating vertically for more than 100 years. Can that really be true? It seems like a far-fetched legend.
    — Jon S., Jacksonville
    Believe it or not, Jon, the legend of the Old Man of the Lake is true.
    The first recorded account of the Old Man, which is actually a 2-foot wide, 30-foot-long hemlock log bobbing vertically in the deep blue lake, was written in 1902 by geologist Joseph S. Diller, although Diller actually remembered seeing the floating log as early as 1896.
    A white, sun-bleached section of the log pokes from the water. Park rangers used to jump from their tour boats and stand on the Old Man's tip while explaining the phenomenon to tourists, but that practice has been banned.
    In 1938, enthusiast John Doerr spent three months tracking the travels of the Old Man around the lake and noted that on one windy day it moved nearly four miles.
    It is widely believed that a landslide carried the hemlock log into the lake with its root still intact and full of rocks. The weight of the rocks are believed to have allowed the log to bob vertically, but there is considerable mystery behind why the Old Man hasn't sunk by now.
    Similar floating logs in other lakes have become too waterlogged to float, lose their root-wad rocks and their balance, rot out or smash against the shore, but the Old Man has persevered.
    It is widely believed that by the time the Old Man lost its root-wad rocks, its trunk had become waterlogged enough to keep the log floating vertically, and, by the time it was waterlogged enough to sink, the Old Man's tip had baked in the sun long enough to provide sufficient buoyancy for it to continue floating ... but for how long?
    Jon, we really can't say.
    Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.
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