Out the Back Door Kayaking Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Current location: Rocky Point, Oregon Sunny and 50F at 6am, predicted high today 79F

launching at Malone Springs Ah yes, finally.  We managed to walk away from yard and house chores for a day and loaded up the kayaks.  I was appalled when I realized that the last time we had the boats in the water was back in Florida in March.  Sheesh.  As I wrote in the title, some of the very best kayaking in the country is right out our back door.  The Rocky Point boat launch is just a mile from our house, but yesterday we decided to travel a few miles north on Westside Road to launch at Malone Springs.  Crystal Spring_082

Yes, some of you know my last name is Malone, but no, the springs were named long before I arrived in the Klamath Basin in 2002.

Crystal Spring_081 We were on the water by 9:40 AM, and a big surprise was the lack of mosquitoes at Malone Springs.  The Forest Service boat launch site has two free campsites, but the mosquitoes can often be daunting during the early summer.  In fact, most of the east side of the Cascade range in Oregon is plagued with a heavy mosquito population, including some of the more lovely lakeside campgrounds.  Maybe not as bad as Minnesota or Alaska, but definitely something that requires planning.  Don’t forget the mosquito spray for shoreline activities!  However, once out on the water, mosquitoes and bugs are almost never a problem.

Crystal Spring_008 Skies were perfect and the temperature was cool enough that we wouldn’t get overheated out on the water.  Winds were light, coming from the north, so we had a bit of a breeze and a very little bit of current to paddle against on our way north to Crystal Spring.

native sedges in the marsh One of the great pleasures of working soil survey in the Klamath Basin was the opportunity to map the soils in the Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.  With more than 14,000 acres of organic soils supporting wetland plants, the marsh is directly adjacent to the forested lands of the Cascades.  The complex vegetation patterns provided endless riddles of soil and vegetation patterns to decipher.  Crystal Spring_032

Looking north as we paddle along the creek, we are treated to a view of the Crater Lake Caldera, still covered in snow. 

Unlike the spring runs in Florida, the waterway we travel here is fed by hundreds of springs that come from the pumice soils all along the eastern slope of the Cascades.  The water is cold, and there are a few large springs that are named, but many others feed the creek that flows through the marsh, as well as the thousands of acres of natural wetlands that are on the northern side of Klamath Lake.

famous for fly fishing for trout

The refuge canoe trail is famous for fly fishing.  These 3 guys were the only folks we saw on this day on the refuge.

Different kinds of soils support different kinds of vegetation, and this is true of subaqueous organic soils as well. One of my major accomplishments mapping these wetlands was figuring out the complex relationships between different types of organic soil and vegetation patterns.

Crystal Spring_015 Remember that old saying, “out in the toolies”?  These are the real tules, bigstem bulrush, that dominate the marsh.

They provide amazing cover for the many birds that we heard but did not see as we paddled along,  When the tules get tall, they hide the sandhill cranes, great egrets, and blue herons that we heard calling throughout our paddle.

sedgesOther major native plants that occur in the marsh are several species of sedge (carex). 

The sedges seem to like the organic soils that are less weathered, more fibrous, and the willows occur in areas where the fibers are the least weathered, soils that are peaty rather than mucky.  You have no idea how many holes I bored in this marsh to finally figure this out.  As they say “What difference does it make?”  Maybe none to the casual kayaker, but for the refuge managers it is helpful to know how to manage the refuge, and soil information has a big influence on refuge management decisions.

Crystal Spring_016 Other plants have colonized in some parts of the refuge, such as cattails and Canary Reedgrass, beautiful to look at, but not natural to the environment and detrimental to the existing plant communities.

several beaver dams along the way Beaver dams are plentiful along the route.

Crystal Spring_033 No houses along the route except for this vacation property where our fishermen were staying.

Crystal Spring_037 Just a bit more than 4 miles of paddling brings us to beautiful Crystal Springs. 

Traveling along Westside Road by car will lead to a roadside rest area with a trail down to the spring, but launching from this spot would be a bit of a pain.

Crystal Spring_040Crystal Spring_046 North of Crystal Spring is a well known bed and breakfast called Crystalwood Lodge, visible from the channel north of the spring that I am reasonably certain was dredged for spring access.

Crystal Spring_049 We turn around for the paddle down the creek, with current in our favor and no southern wind coming toward us from the lake.  The winds often come up about 2 in the afternoon and on this day we beat them.

Crystal Spring_050 There aren’t many places along the route that are conducive to landing, but back at the area where we saw the teepee, there is a rocky point that provides a place to get out of the boats and give both Abby and Mo and me a bit of a break before we continue back along the meandering route to return to Malone Springs.

Crystal Spring_053The snow is still deep on Pelican Butte.  Our home is at the base of that long slope below the mountain at the left side of the photo. The reflections on the return route are always mesmerizing to me, and I can’t tell you how many photos I have from this spot.

Crystal Spring_062 I paddle slowly, sometimes simply drifting along with the current, taking time to photograph the beautiful wocus, sacred and important plant to the local tribes for centuries.Crystal Spring_061We slide into Malone Spring once again, still quiet with no other campers or paddlers around on this Wednesday afternoon.  It has been a perfect paddle.  Crystal Spring_074

Crystal Spring_075 With the marsh vegetation providing great cover, the birds that we actually saw were a redtail hawk,  redwing  and yellow head blackbirds, and as Carol Herr would say, lots of ‘little brown birds”.  Later in the day I did have one great blue heron fly gracefully across the creek right in front of me, but the camera was in the dry bag by that time so no photo. I made a sound recording of a bird call I didn’t recognize at all, and hopefully I can get Judy or Carol to tell me what the bird might be.  I know the sounds of the herons and the cranes, but this one was completely new to me.  No snakes, turtles, or alligators are in these waters, and I found myself missing them a bit.

June 4 kayak I mapped our route with the Motion GPX app on my phone, just over 4 miles each way.

OR7-Area-of-Known-Wolf-Activity Here is another map that is related only peripherally to the kayak trip.

The black line on this map refers to the known wolf activity zone in the Cascades for OR7 or Journey, as he was named by Oregon schoolchildren.  If you haven’t read about him yet, here is the story.  There are many newspaper articles out there for this event, but I chose to share this one because it was written by the son of a good friend.

I call Journey “my wolf’, not because I have actually seen him, but because one night back in 2011, when he first began his journey to southern Oregon and California, while he was traveling through the Wood River Valley, Mo and I heard his howls during our evening time in the hot tub.  Liz Parrish, owner of the Crystalwood Lodge actually saw him near her place, no doubt interested in her pack of sled dogs.  Crystalwood is probably the most dog friendly lodge I know of!

140604pups-in-log640 “My” wolf is a daddy. 

For the first time in nearly a century pups have been born in the Oregon Cascades.  I believe we need to live in a world that includes predators for balance.  Some of my local Rocky Point friends are all up in arms over this wolf near us.  They are cattlemen, and ranchers, concerned for their livestock.  Journey and his mate are hidden high in the mountains, and in all his travels he has never approached any domestic animal.  I support the right of the wolf to live in Oregon, in this part of Oregon.  There are great ranchers who have figured out how to live with wolves, and I pray that here in the Wood River Valley they don’t ever lose an animal to a wolf.  I pray for Journey’s safety and I celebrate his new family.