Crystal clear

Clear Lake is as clear as the menu saysThe McKenzie River drains a region of 1,300 square miles and is one of the primary tributaries of the Willamette River. Fish in the McKenzie River include spring Chinook salmon, mountain whitefish, and bull and rainbow trout.

Lava flows and volcanic ash from the eruption of the Little Nash Crater located on Sand Mountain blocked the McKenzie River, “allowing the river to slowly create a lake with nearly unequaled clarity,” reads the menu at Clear Lake Resort.



The McKenzie River drains a region of 1,300 square miles and is one of the primary tributaries of the Willamette River. Fish in the McKenzie River include spring Chinook salmon, mountain whitefish, and bull and rainbow trout.



QUICKREAD

CLEAR LAKE

Clear Lake is about 80 miles south of Salem and 86 miles northeast of Eugene, not far from the charming town of Sisters.



Geologically speaking, 3,000 years isn’t much. For a bunch of trees to be preserved that long, well, that’s another matter.

About 3,000 years ago, according to my irrefutable source, “An eruption of the Little Nash Crater located on Sand Mountain released torrents of lava into the McKenzie River Valley.”

The McKenzie River Valley is quite a few miles from here — about 974 miles northwest in the Oregon Cascade Mountains, to be precise. 

There’s a crystal clear lake there — Clear Lake — that was created when that eruption occurred. Lava flows and volcanic ash from the eruption blocked the river, “allowing the river to slowly create a lake with nearly unequaled clarity.”

Understatement.

During the eruption, the forest in this valley was covered with “extremely cold water, forever preserving the trees underwater that remain untouched by air.”

I was informed many of these trees still can be seen through the crystal clear water to depths of more than 100 feet. I checked it out. It’s true.

My irrefutable source? The cover of the menu at Clear Lake Resort, on the banks of Clear Lake, only 20 minutes from Hoodoo, your skiing, snowmobiling and snow tubing capital of central Oregon.

A visit to cousins brought me to this mystic place in the Cascade Mountains and headwaters of the world-famous McKenzie River.

I read on: “The lake is primarily fed by springs from underground caverns that filter through the lava for nearly 20 years before being released into the lake. Seasonal snow melt and mountain creeks also feed the lake making the water temperatures a chilly 35 to 42 degrees year-round.”

What’s not to believe, especially when this source also grills fabulous burgers and makes a mean razzelberry pie (the perfect pairing of ripe, red raspberries and sweet, juicy Marionberries)?

Clear Lake is about 80 miles south of Salem and 86 miles northeast of Eugene, not far from the charming town of Sisters, where one of my cousins manages the fanciest Best Western in the Lower 48.

The Cascade province is quite different than our own Rocky Mountains. It’s actually made up of two volcanic regions: the older, broader and deeply eroded Western Cascades, at least 30 million years old; and the dominating, snow-capped peaks of the younger, more easterly volcanoes of the High Cascades, approximately 3 million years old. Included here are such peaks as Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, and the Three Sisters (North, Middle and South Sister). Clear Lake is surrounded by the Sisters, so to speak.

Another High Cascade peak, Mount Mazama, was destroyed about 6,800 years ago by a catastrophic eruption that left a deep caldera later filled by what is now Crater Lake.

Fun facts, huh? My source here is nearly as irrefutable: the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

Lush conifer forests of the Cascades are dominated by Douglas fir, Pacific silver fir, mountain hemlock, Alaska yellow cedar and spruce. Way more Doug fir, way less spruce than we see in the Rockies.

Above approximately 7,000 feet, the conditions are too severe for tree growth, and alpine park lands and dwarf shrubs predominate.

These mountains have seen their fair share of fires, as one huge burn from the past decade left miles and miles of dead standing Douglas fir bleached white and appearing surreal with the green undergrowth of a new forest lawn evolving.

An average annual precipitation of between 42 and 89 inches allows things to grow back a little more quickly in the Cascades than they do in the semi-arid state we live in, where we’re blessed if we garner 12 inches of rain in a given year (18 inches if you live in Paonia).

The McKenzie River originates as the outflow of Clear Lake. It drains a region of 1,300 square miles and is one of the primary tributaries of the Willamette River. Fish in the McKenzie River and some of its tributaries include spring Chinook salmon, mountain whitefish and bull and rainbow trout. Cousin David hooked a couple nice rainbows in Clear Lake. The rest of us got skunked.

Dippers, mergansers, bald eagles, ospreys and various ducks feed on the fish. The endangered northern spotted owl inhabits dense forests on the west side of the upper McKenzie basin. 

I didn’t spot any spotted owls, but the osprey certainly loved to fish in this lake. They fished much harder than any of us that day. 

The setting was surreal, and the reason for the visit to Clear Lake was clear in our minds: to sooth our souls, seek solace in those 3,000-year-old preserved trees and spread the ashes of our beloved Matthew Haggerty.

As another irrefutable source, St. Francis de Sales, once wrote: “Let God gather to himself what he has planted in his garden. He takes nothing out of season.”


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