Lake of the Woods

Mount McLoughlin from our campsite.

It was quite a surprise when our good friends offered us their reservation for 4 nights at Lake of the Woods. Not far from Ashland up the Dead Indian Memorial Hwy, we’d passed the lake dozens of times but hadn’t camped there in years. Even better, they’d reserved the premiere campsite (#51) that is spacious and includes a boat friendly beach. Facing west, we enjoyed early morning kayaking on calm water and later, when the wind picked up, we hiked or hit the trails on our bikes for pleasurable riding.

Sunset Campground is ½ mile from Lake of the Woods Resort and is connected by well-maintained trails that meander beside the lake and through adjacent wetlands. With our trailer set up on the flat pad and good sunlight energizing our solar panel, we had the mobility to explore nearby birding and hiking hotspots. On one outing, we revisited South Rye Sno-Park, a popular snow mobile launching point. Access to the Sno-Park is a small plowed area off of State Highway 140 very near the intersection with Fish Lake Road. In warmer months it’s another one of those nondescript forest roads that head off into the hills. This one we’re familiar with, however, and we maneuvered a mile or so around (and over) fallen trees and debris to a small pond that’s part of the Medford municipal water system. We’ve seen many species bathing in the cool water and greatly appreciated our truck for it ability to get us there.

Fish Lake trail $1013 along the North Fork of Little Butte Creek. Click to enlarge.

From there, we continued west on 140 and turned left on Hwy. 37 that connects with Indian Memorial Road (DIM) farther south. Our destination was the North Fork Campground, elevation 4,574 feet and a mere ½ mile off 140. Not that we wished to camp there, but it’s a good landmark for the lovely Fish Lake Trail (#1013) whose trailhead is across the road. The trail parallels the North Fork of Little Butte Creek that originates from nearby Mount McLoughlin (called Snowy Butte on some historical maps).

Above the beaver dam on Little Butte Creek.

Decades earlier, water was desperately needed to irrigate orchards in the Bear Creek valley (home of Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, and Medford). The Fish Lake Reservoir was created to divert that flow, and runoff from the dam feeds the much quieter creek. It passes through a corridor of old-growth forest and opens into a small riparian meadows dotted with wildflowers. There were some riffles and, above a beaver dam, a glassy pool where Brook trout feeding on insects dimple the water in the morning and evening hours.

Hairy Woodpecker leaving the cavity nest in search of food for the little ones.

Being mid-June, the birding was quiet (although their songs were plentiful) since many species were tending nests. Across the creek we spotted a female Hairy Woodpecker darting in and out of its cavity nest. On each return, its beak was full of insects, worms, and other tasty items for either its mate (or a pack of nestlings) inside the cavity. This was a perfect environment to do what we enjoy most—hunker down, get close with our binoculars, and enjoy the show. At one point, we  saw the male (with its bright red top-knot) pop its head out for a look, but it wasn’t going anywhere so we moved on before seeing it strike out for snacks.

Sooney composing in Big Meadow amidst zillions of Camas, Penstemon, and Lupine. Click to see her image!

After about a ½ mile, the trail forks and a side trail to the right takes you to the base of Fish Lake Dam. The main trail turns left, leaving the creek and winding north through the woods before following the north shore of Fish Lake. From there, it intersects with the High Lakes Trail that meanders through old growth and lava fields and, 8 miles later, you’re at Lake of the Woods. Our plan was to ride the trail another day, and on the way back to camp we passed Big Meadow that was the most beautiful purple imaginable—a blend of Camas, Penstemon, and Lupine.

On our fourth day, we enjoyed a visit with our dear friend Trisha who drove up from Ashland (about 45 minutes away). After brunch, she and Sooney walked a bit on the trail toward the Lodge and I kayaked a similar direction with the intent of boat birding the wetlands adjacent to the trail. It was pretty quiet, however, and we attributed that to the nesting population higher up in the canopy. In fact, we discovered a dropped egg on our trailer that was perhaps kicked out of its nest by a rambunctious sibling. Another, more morbid, possibility was the egg was stolen (and dropped) by ever-present Corvids (American Crows, Ravens, and Steller’s Jays) that are prone to such activity. Either way, it was partially dried and the yoke was a tough cleanup.

Nick is circled riding through the lava field on the High Lakes Trail.

That afternoon we set off for Fish Lake on the High Lakes Trail that begins at the Lodge. It’s a beautiful route for the first couple miles; well maintained and nicely canopied. Approaching Brown Mountain, everything changes as the trail passes through another couple miles of ancient lava fields. The trail is wide enough to be safe, but care was required that our pedals didn’t inadvertently catch one of the lava rocks bordering the trail. A fall here would have been painful. Once through the lava fields, we made it as far as the Pacific Crest Trail intersection and had a snack. Someone had thoughtfully left a neatly-folded pile of clean clothes and socks for a through-hiker in need. With 6 miles already covered, our butts were sore so we passed on Fish Lake and returned to our camp.

Great Gray Owl at Hoxie Meadow.

Check-out is at 11am, and on Friday we chose to drive to Bend to see Alicia perform with her band at the Silver Moon. It was great visiting with her community and fans. After helping out in her ever-expanding landscaping project the next morning, we headed back to Ashland. En-route, we opted to check out one of our favorite spots in search of a Great Gray Owl. It was there, as anticipated, and I’d say that punctuated up a mighty fine week in the woods.