3000 years ago, a cinder cone near the Sisters Mountains erupted and spewed lava down into the McKenzie River valley. The flow was partially stopped by the cold river water, but the downslope part of the hot lava managed to flow all the way to the far side of the valley, damming the McKenzie to a depth of over 200 feet. A deep narrow cold lake quickly formed and then off down the mountain went the now free McKenzie river. This new lake, now called Clear Lake, swallowed the mature tall Douglas Firs that grew in the bottom of the valley along the old river and completely covered them up to a height of 170 feet. The waters of the lake are so cold and pure, coming from glacial melt and filtering through miles of lava rock, that the big trees were preserved and their branchless trunks can still be seen rising out of the depths of the frigid clear waters. Think about that. You can row a boat out into this little lake and look down and see tree stumps that are 3000 years old. We may just have to do that.
But today, we wake up in the little rustic cabin where we are staying at Clear Lake Resort to find that the rain of the previous day has moved on and is replaced by glorious sunny blue sky. We really wanted to do a hike around the lake before we head home and this is our chance. We pack up our car and check out of our rustic cabin and get ready for a hike.
I believe I should say something about the use of the word ‘rustic’ in describing the cabin. ‘Rustic’ is the resort’s description of the cabin and my experience says that it is common usage in the cabin biz. When I think of ‘Rustic’ I think of a log cabin with a fireplace and perhaps bunk beds with a curtain door. Perhaps a hand pump for water in a basin. Maybe cooking over a wood-fired stove. Nope. Rustic means ‘no running water or bathroom’. The cabin we were in was a perfectly fine building with electricity and a gas stovetop and heater. Just no water or sink or bathroom or shower. There was a water spout and a place to dump dishwater out front. There was a shower and bathroom a 50 foot hike up the hill. Rustic.
Anyway, as I was driving our car to park in the regular parking lot (as opposed to in front of the cabin we were checking out of) I saw a little sign on the round-the- lake trail. It said ‘Bridge Out’. I had seen a similar sign yesterday down at the other end of the lake and so now I was wondering which bridge was out and how Out was Out? We asked the Ranger over at the lodge by the lake. She told us that she had not seen the bridge in a while, that it had always been a bit challenging, and that some people had recently told her it was 1) Impassible 2) Easy 3) Hard but doable. We could take our pick. She recommended that we go around the lake clockwise so that we would run into the bridge early in the hike and not have so far to retrace our steps if we should decide that it was too dangerous to cross. OK.
We started out. We had to hike back past our cabin and also some of the other cabins at this cute little Resort. Some of the other cabins are larger and have running water. They are also more expensive and harder to book. They were all full of families. They also had nicer views of the lake.
The trail starts out going North along the lake. The lake color is really nice up at this end, a bright blue-green. We are hiking up hill and quickly get to one of the creeks that feed into the lake. The creeks are NOT the McKenzie. The outflow of Clear Lake is where the McKenzie now starts. We crossed over a little bridge, evidently not the Bridge Out bridge. Even if this one was out, we could have hopped the stream. Perhaps the Bridge Out bridge is like that and we will be able to continue. We are now in an old growth forest area and the trees are huge and gorgeous. I really enjoy walking through a mature forest. Everything looks so natural and healthy. Even the fallen dead trees look healthy and are adding to the development of the forest by becoming nurse logs for the next generation.
We walk along the North shore of the lake. The lake is in two big open areas with a constricted area between them where the Lodge and boat rental is. No power boats on Clear Lake. Just human powered boats.
The vine maple down near the waters edge have started to turn to fall colors and some yellows and reds are making stark reflections in the blue lake below. The color of the lake is very suprising. In some places the blue-green is so vivid that it seems unnatural.
|This bridge is really out|
We turn a corner and are now walking up the sides of the second lake tributary. This one is evidently a larger stream and has steep sides. Not a good sign. We come around a corner, duck under some safety tape, and there is the bridge. It is a big one over a gorge. It had been a single tree log but that must have rotted and was in danger of complete failure. A team has been working to replace the bridge, however. There are pulleys and ropes in place and a cement foundation has been laid and a large iron I-beam now extends over the gorge 50 feet along side of the old log. There is a lot more tape and wooden barriers. Crossing does not seem like a good idea. Perhaps if I was 20 and stupid. We are 1.7 miles from the resort, and we turn back. We are on the McKenzie river trail, we could have not crossed the bridge, but instead continued on the McKenzie river trail up the side creek to the trail head, but we really want to explore the lake. If we can’t do it by land, then we will do it by sea.
Back at the Lodge, we arrange to rent a rowboat. There are a lot more people at the lodge today than the other days we have been here (the lack of rain and addition of sunshine may account for this, or perhaps it is just that it is a Friday). We rent one of the ‘large and more stable but harder to row’ boats. Why? Because I haven’t rowed a boat in half a century, that’s why. Turns out I still got it. That summer spent teaching Rowing Merit badge when I was 14 did not go to waste. I even remember how to feather! Such Finesse!
We paddle south into the large part of the lake and go over and look at the lava flows on that side. You can certainly see where the lava comes in. Paige says that the trail goes right through the lava and that part is much harder to hike than the part we did. I hear that. We did not see any huge perserved underwater trees, however. I think this was partially due to the fact that there was a bit of a breeze blowing through and creating ripples on the lake and so obscuring our view. We switched rowers and Paige took us back through the narrows over to the part of the lake that we had partially hiked around earlier. The water was calmer over there. Paige was looking to get some pictures of falls colors reflected in the water.
So that was nice. And then she said, “Hey, there is a tree”. Sure enough, coming up from the depths to about 1 foot below the water level was a dark pinnacle form. A tree. She rowed us over to it and then from that change in angle we could see lots of trees coming up in the water. Think about this. There is no way for these trees to have grown in the lake. They were there when the lake formed. The lake formed 3000 years ago. Those trunks have been sticking up like that for 3000 years. Oh My. It is a little hard for me to believe that some jerk hasn’t come out during those 3000 years and torn these things down. Just for fun. Or profit. ‘Hey, Vern, I bet those old trees out by that old lake could be worth some money. Lets go pull them out Of there with a chain and your old pickup truck. I bet we could get enough money to catch the new John Wayne movie at the Bijou”.
The most vivid picture I got of these trees was actually from the dock where you rent a boat. So you can always see that one, it isn’t going anywhere. Oh, the boats. They are rented out by Linn County parks and are very reasonably priced and perfectly fine boats. I recommend them. Just go out for an hour unless you are going fishing. A hour of rowing is plenty for any two people. The ranger at the lodge told us if we were staying in the cabins, we could rent for a day, and then come out at night and see the stars from the middle of the lake. Wouldn’t that have been something?
|That is a 3000 year old tree stump.|
Ok. Time to head home. I want to sleep in a room where I don’t have to walk 50 yards with a flashlight in the middle of the night to use a bathroom.