07-16-2020 Exploring the Lakes and an Evening Kayak

Our plan when we went to bed was to rise early, eat a decent breakfast, and get on the road quickly.  We wanted to arrive at Elk Lake, our chosen location for a morning kayak, before the winds started up and the sun got too hot.  Even though the temperatures in this part on the east side of the Cascades are a bit more moderated than the part of Southern Oregon where we live, it can still get hot.  Predictions were for another gorgeous sunny day with highs in the upper 80’s.

Elk Lake Sunset  View Day Use Area

I completed a lot of internet research on most of the lakes in the chain before we left home.  There was no way to do any last minute research however, since I had no access to the internet at the campground.  I had 2 bars of 4G which could manage telephone calls and text messages, see emails but not their complete contents, and see some posts on Facebook for random moments in the early part of the day.

My research pointed me to Elk Lake, which in internet photos looks deep and blue surrounded by the gorgeous peaks of South Sister and Broken Top.  I was at least smart enough to download the google maps for the area before we left home in Grants Pass so we could navigate properly along the entire length of the Byway. 

We were on the road by 8:30, with only a slight breeze, and decided to skip exploring any of the lakes and campgrounds along our route so that we could get on Elk Lake early.  The road into Elk Lake Sunset View Day use area from the north is rough gravel, with some steep areas and sections of washboard.  I’m glad we didn’t plan to take the MoHo back there.

When we arrived at the site, it was gorgeous as expected, but the winds were kicking up and to our great surprise, there were a lot of people already in the parking lot, at the picnic tables, and launching all manner of kayaks and paddle boards.  I had no clue that many paddle boards are now of the blow up variety, and the whooshing sound of the pumps was a bit startling. 

We looked around a bit, checking out the outlandishly beautiful people with their beautiful rigs and boats and thought, “Hmmm, a LOT of well to do people around here.”  That was to be our refrain for the entire day as we traveled to the several lakes and view sites along the Cascade Lakes Highway, and the closer we got to Bend, it seemed the people were even more fit, attractive, and on the young side.  I have nothing against young, attractive, fit people, in fact it is great to see so many humans enjoying outdoor pursuits, but it was still a bit daunting, and not particularly our scene.  In addition, the lake was another big round body of water without a lot of interesting shoreline. 

We decided instead to continue south back toward the Hosmer Lake Loop and check out some of the campgrounds along the way.  We thought maybe we could launch on tiny Hosmer Lake before continuing our explorations.  We checked out Little Fawn campground on the south end of Elk Lake, but it was dusty and rocky, completely full, and quite a distance from the water.  The day use area by the campground was also full of cars, and more people packing their paddle boards and kayaks the several hundred yards across exposed lakebed toward the waters of Elk Lake.  Nope, not our spot for either kayaking OR camping.

When we arrived at the South Campground near Hosmer Lake we found more dusty, rocky, gravel roads and more people packed into the cramped sites with all sorts of watercraft.  Ah well, we weren’t planning on camping, just hoping to get on the waters with our boats before the day got too warm to enjoy.

What a surprise when we arrived at the tiny, cramped boat launch to discover at least 50 cars, all packing in and lining up one by one as we arrived all the way back to the intersection between the launch and the campground.  The lake looked like a playground of boats, paddleboards, fishermen, and people!  I walked down to the launch and talked to a few people, asking if they knew the lake. Five of the several people I talked to said it was their first time on this particular lake, and 3 said they had never kayaked before and this was their first kayak!.  Much like RVing, I think active people who want to get out and about have discovered kayaking.

Sadly, we decided to let this lake go as well, but as we were leaving Mo said, “I wonder when all these people will go home?”.  Since it seemed most were on day excursions from Bend, the likelihood of the place being this crowded in late evening was slight.  We decided to take our chances and finish our explorations of the other lakes and campgrounds in the area before going back home to our camp. 

We checked out the campgrounds and RV resorts at Lava Lake, at Little Lava Lake where the Deschutes River begins, and then turned back north to find Sparks Lake at the base of Mt Bachelor near the northern end of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.

Little Lava Lake

Little Lava Lake was quite lovely, and a few campsites were a bit tempting.  We also thought if we didn’t find somewhere else to kayak we might return to the shallow beach at the boat launch site. I started keeping track of the campsites that we would choose at Little Lava Lake Campground if they became available for the next time we wanted to camp and kayak in the area.  If one should wish to camp, the good level sites at Little Lava Lake are #10, #11, #13, and #15.  Others are small and very uneven.

Lava Lake

The Lava Lake campground also had just one site along the edge of the lake but I didn’t write down the number because the lake was a lovely shade of green!  Maybe we didn’t want to camp there ever. 

Back north again toward Elk Lake, we checked out the Elk Lake Campground and found sites #7, #8, and #13 to be the only acceptable sites that would tempt us away from our home base at Crane Prairie some time in the future.  

We drove on north again toward Sparks Lake, and there was a beautiful wide viewpoint at the Green Lakes trailhead that climbs toward South Sister.  Only problem was that cars were lined up all along the road for about a mile on either side of the trailhead. 

A very popular place on a Thursday in July!  We pulled into the parking area across from the trailhead, noticed the sign saying parking allowed for 15 minutes only, and took every precious minute to hike into the meadow full of penstemon and sedges with Mattie.  The view of South Sister to the north and Mt Bachelor to the southeast were breathtaking.  No wonder this is such a popular place only 30 some miles from Bend, Oregon.

After our little walk, we traveled the very rough and rocky road from the highway to Sparks Lake.  The campground is called Soda Creek, and is a few miles from the lake.  We chose sites #4, #6, #10, and #13 for future reference.  We discovered a few rigs parked in a dispersed camping area on the extremely dusty and busy road to the boat launch on Sparks Lake.  Even free, with a view of the lake, wouldn’t tempt us to camp there in all that dust and noise. The lake itself was also incredibly crowded with kayakers and paddleboarders, and the water was quite low.  Pretty, but not for us.  With the crowded parking lot and thick dust, we didn’t get out of the car for photos, but this website has some lovely pictures of the lake and the area nearby.

As the day progressed, and we viewed so many lakes and campgrounds, we decided that we were really lucky to be in the lovely, spacious, open, and reasonably quiet campground at Crane Prairie Reservoir.  From the internet research, I never would have chosen Crane Prairie, but after visiting, it will no doubt be the campground to which we return in the future.  Just for reference, our favorite sites at Crane Prairie are #103, the ADA site #107, and #113.  All of these sites are on the Blue Loop, but for big rigs and family groups the Red loop at the upper edges of the park have the most privacy and space, but no view of the water or easy access to the beach. The Red loop also has several large nice pull through sites.

By the time we returned back to camp, it was 1 or so, and again we settled in with our books and cool drinks to enjoy the breezes and shade as we read.  I spent more time gazing at the water than actually reading I think.  We also took Mattie for another swim.  She went in at first, but wasn’t as enthusiastic this time as she was yesterday.

We ate an early supper and planned to leave after dinner in time to arrive at Hosmer Lake around 6:30. This time our plans worked out perfectly.  When we arrived at the boat launch there were less than half a dozen cars and only a few people coming off the lake, and only a very few launching for an evening on the water.

Hosmer Lake turned out to be everything I had expected to find in the Cascade Lakes.  The water was crystal clear, and the lake meanders from a small lower lake, through a narrow channel lined with bullrush and wocus and then meanders northeast toward a rugged area of lava which hides a waterfall. 

We didn’t get out of the boats to see the waterfall.  A fellow boater told us that it was pretty, but not spectacular, and required some hiking through the rocky jumble to see it.  We sat awhile trying to hear it to no avail.

We continued back to the main channel and continued north to the lake.  I asked a couple of returning kayakers if the lake was very far away.  One person said it was a long distance, and another said it was just ahead.  My trusty google map wasn’t exactly visible in the bright late evening light and the lake shows quite dark and green on the current google image.  To our surprise we arrived at the large part of the lake within 15 minutes and it was truly gorgeous.  The water was clear and somewhat shallow, surrounded by nothing except timber, mountain views, and marshland. 

One lone boat with two men fly fishing were spotlighted by the early evening sun.  Hosmer Lake is exactly the kind of place we love to kayak, and we will definitely return in the future, hopefully during a time of year when there are a few less visitors.

After only an hour and a half on the lake, we were back home at our camp by 8:30, as the winds started to die down and the sun set at 8:47.  I knew the exact time of the sunset because I also knew that the comet Neowise was expected to be visible in the northwest sky about 90 minutes after sunset.  Mo built another nice campfire and we sat with our wine and marshmallows waiting for darkness and a chance to see the comet.

We weren’t disappointed.  Walking down to the beach, we hunted the skies for the Big Dipper which seemed to be in the wrong place compared to what we are used to in Grants Pass.  After a bit of searching, we saw the comet. It was somewhat faint in the still glowing northwestern skies, but we could see the comet and the tail if we looked carefully.  There was no way I could get any kind of photo, but there are so many great ones that people have posted that I didn’t feel like we missed much.  At least we got to see in in person.  Later, when we returned to Grants Pass, even though the comet was supposedly visible, we never saw it again.  In Grants Pass we are in the western part of the time zone and at the time that the comet is visible, there is still considerable light.  There also was a bit of haze from a California fire and of course the lights from the small city of Grants Pass are still bright enough to cause some interference.  I was glad we were in the mountains with less ambient light for at least one night so that we saw the comet.  I doubt either of us will be around in just under 7,000 years when it returns.

After three days we deemed our Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway trip to be a great success. We settled into bed after our long day and evening knowing we had until noon to have a leisurely breakfast the next morning before breaking camp and traveling south toward Klamath Falls for another night out before going over the pass toward home.

07-15-2020 A Day at Crane Prairie Reservoir

Crane Prairie Reservoir is a large, shallow reservoir  created in 1922

We woke slowly after such a dark and quiet night.  There are so many different lakes in the chains of Cascade Lakes that we had to make a decision whether we wanted to explore or to stay home on our firs day.  After spending yesterday driving, we decided that we would stay home and enjoy our local campground and lake for a day before attempting to explore any more of the beautiful Cascade Lakes that were scattered along the Cascade Lakes Highway
Kayaking in the early part of the day always seems best.  Usually the winds aren’t strong and the sun is still not high overhead.  It can get really hot out on the water in a kayak without much protection.  We launched right after morning coffee with a plan to stay out on the water for a reasonable amount of time and then return home for a more substantial breakfast.

It was a personal test for me.  Could I still manage to get in and out of the kayak?  On the previous day, when we loaded up the boats at home, I was relieved to find out that lifting the boat and strapping it down didn’t cause me any problems.  My arms are still strong enough and my legs can still hold me up ok for that job, especially early in the morning when I am strongest.  The test yet to come was getting back out of the boat, and that thought was in the back of my mind as we slid out onto the water.  Getting into the boat wasn’t a problem at all with the shallow, sandy beach. 

Notice the underwater fire pit

South Sister on the left, Broken top in the middle, and Mt Bachelor (famous ski mountain) on the right

Before the dam was built in 1922, the area was covered by prairie and served as a habitat for cranes, which was the inspiration for the name of the lake. The construction of the original rock-filled dam flooded most of Crane Prairie and parts of the nearby forest, killing many trees. In order to recover timber, the reservoir was drained on a regular basis. Because of leakage through the original rock-filled dam, in 1940 the Bureau of Reclamation rebuilt the dam as an earthfill structure 36 feet in height and 285 feet in length. When full, the reservoir has a capacity of 55,300 acre feet.

Crane Prairie Reservoir is part of the larger Deschutes Project by the Bureau of Reclamation, which also includes Wickiup Reservoir, Haystack Reservoir, the Crooked River Pumping Plant, and North Unit Main Canal. The project was created to supply irrigation water for a total of 97,000 acres of land in the vicinity of the town of Madras which is north of Bend, Oregon.

In late summer, the reservoir is lowered as water for irrigation is withdrawn from it, leaving large areas of the lakebed exposed. We were especially lucky on this trip because our timing was just right.  The lake was very full, and yet as we drove past Wickiup on our way south, that reservoir was so low there was no water at the west end. Both lakes have moderately alkaline water with a high mineral content, slightly higher than the waters of other lakes in the region. Sometimes during the summer the water’s pH level is exceptionally high, caused by the algae that often reach bloom proportions. Much like Klamath Lake, phosphorus concentration in the lake is high and the lake will sometimes turn green as pea soup.  Our camp host told us that about two week previous to our visit the lake was completely green. One of the issues with having to make reservations to camp at any of the local campgrounds is that there is no way of knowing when you make the reservation whether the lake will be low and the water might be green. 

We discovered that Crane Prairie Reservoir is one of the most important wildlife viewing areas in central Oregon. The lake is dotted with tall stumps of the flooded trees which now provide nesting places for osprey and the reservoir is home to the largest nesting colony in the Pacific Northwest. Other species of birds include bald eagles, cormorants, blue herons, kingfishers, sandhill cranes, and Canada geese. In 1970, the Crane Prairie Osprey Management Area was established here to protect this special haven.

On our first morning kayaking the lake, we paddled south toward the outlet of the Deschutes River.  Our plan was to stay out only an hour before turning back, making sure that all my parts were working properly and that I wouldn’t get worn out so much I couldn’t get out of the boat.

It was a lovely paddle, with mostly calm winds and clear water until we approached the southern end of the lake where algae was accumulating in the water and the bugs found us.  As the sun rose higher, it was time to turn around.  We didn’t make it all the way to the river, but there is always next time.  We did see an eagle, cormorants, ospreys, and several types of ducks. 

Once we got back to our little beach, I made a small attempt to rise from my boat, and realized that my original plan for getting out of the kayak was needed.  I simply slid my legs over the side and rolled into the water on my knees.  It worked perfectly.  Looks like I will be able to continue kayaking for a bit longer without having to worry about getting in and out as long as we find nice smooth launch sites with no current to take the boat away while exiting.  I was thrilled to say the least, and all that underlying worry was gone.

We settled in after our late breakfast in our chairs, opening our awning for some nice shade and read our kindles to while away the hours until we decided it was time to do a bit of exploring in the car.  Cultus Lake wasn’t too far from where we were camped and it looked like an inviting place.  Within a few miles, we were driving up the graveled road to the resort and were shocked to find a completely different atmosphere from our laid back family campground.  Cultus Lake Resort was busy and crowded, and the beach was full of people with all sorts of water craft and kids.  It was noisy. 

The lake itself was quite lovely, deep and dark blue and I would imagine with it being a lake rather than a reservoir it might not turn green or lose water to an irrigation project.  We checked out the nearby campground, which was incredibly tight and crowded, and completely full.  I think it might be a nice place at a different time of year, but in spite of the beautiful lake, we weren’t particular entranced and made no plans to return.  Our favorite kind of kayaking includes inlets and side streams and waterways that we can explore and this pretty blue lake seemed to have every shoreline completely visible from where we stood at the parking area.

Back to camp after our foray we had another easy supper of great food brought from home.  As evening approached the afternoon winds died down a bit and we again launched at our little beach.  This time we paddled in the opposite direction, around the small peninsula at the other end of the campground toward the Crane Prairie Resort and a full hookup RV campground.  The camp looked quite extensive through the trees, and the little store was small and tidy.  We had visited the resort the previous afternoon so had no need to get out of the boats.  When we checked it out we saw that on the door was a sign saying only 4 people at a time were allowed inside and only if they were masked. 

It was a perfect sunny warm day in a quiet campground with a great view and a sweet little beach.  Perfect kayak weather, dark night skies, and a roaring campfire and roasted marshmallows to complete the evening. We needed a good night’s rest because our adventure for the next day included an early departure with plans to kayak the beautiful Elk Lake as early in the morning as we could manage.