This high elevation lake, 17 miles south of Sisters, Oregon, is a popular spot with visitors. Tam McArthur Rim towers over the south and west sides of the lake, making beautiful reflections at any time of the year. As you paddle around the lake (no motorboats are allowed), you will hear creeks babbling over the rocks as they enter the lake. The water level of this natural lake is controlled by a small dam at the outlet.
We went kayaking at the lake on a cool September morning after the Labor Day crowds left. We had the lake all to ourselves. The small general store was boarded up and closed for the season. A few inches of snow were on the ground.
Ground squirrels, chipmunks, and a scattering of birds were seen along the shores. When I brought my kayak back to the car, I almost had a couple unexpected house guests. Two ground squirrels had climbed into my kayak. I circled them in the picture above to show them running away. They are certainly entertaining!
A couple deer watched us from the distant shore.
These two mallards had the lake to themselves.
In summer months, you’ll see and hear osprey working the lake. You’ll hear the distinctive call of nuthatches and see Clark’s nutcrackers in the trees. This lake has a narrow border of sedges and the plants don’t offer as much cover as other lakes nearby.
About Three Creek Lake
This 28-acre lake has a depth of 11-28 feet. It is at an elevation of 6,550 feet and water temperatures stay cool throughout the year. Eastern brook trout and rainbow trout inhabit this lake. The rainbow trout are stocked in the lake but the brook trout are self-sustaining. Though you can fish from shore, most people fish from boats. Trolling with a flat fish lure from a kayak landed us a nice pan-size rainbow trout. Most fish here average around ten inches. For more on fishing, click here.
There’s a primitive boat launching area with limited parking at Three Creek Lake. A Northwest Forest Pass is required here. You can rent a boat from the Three Creek Lake Store but the store is only open from July to Labor Day in September.
Have they been “playing God” at Whychus Creek near Sisters, Oregon? I have witnessed the destruction of habitat before but never the restoration on such a huge scale. I went to the Whychus Canyon Preserve recently with the Deschutes Land Trust on a tour of the project. They and the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, with the support of several other agencies and nonprofits, started to do field work on rehabilitating six miles of the creek in 2016. It is an enormous undertaking and it’s expected to take around seven years to complete.
Restoration in progress
Whychus Creek is a 41-mile long waterway that has its origin in the Cascade Mountains. It flows through the city of Sisters, forested, and agricultural lands to eventually enter the Deschutes River. Historically, it provided prime habitat for spawning, rearing, and migration of redband trout, spring Chinook, and summer steelhead. Continue reading →
In late October I visited the Indian Ford Preserve, which is located several miles northeast of Sisters, Oregon, with Deschutes Land Trust (DLT) leader Kelly Madden. This is the flagship property of the group and it was purchased in 1995. Preserves are purchased outright, donated, or are protected through easement agreements with the owners. This property is 63 acres in size and consists of meadow, forest, and stream habitat. Indian Ford Creek meanders through the property. It is on the border of land dominated by Ponderosa pine or Western juniper.
Willows along Indian Ford Creek
There is a wide variety of wildlife that uses the preserve. I could see sign of mule deer and saw a herd nearby on my drive there. It was a quiet day for bird life the day I was there but I heard California quail, Steller’s jay, and pygmy nuthatch and saw a song sparrow, bald eagle, and a fleeting glimpse of a warbler. I wasn’t there for long but can tell you that based on the bird checklist for the site and observing the edges of different kinds of habitats; it’s probably pretty active in the spring and summer. DLT is always looking for help in doing bird surveys on their preserves. If that interests you, go here: http://www.deschuteslandtrust.org/get-involved/volunteer/bird-surveys
Aspen grove with Black Butte in the background
I went on this walk to see fall foliage. I learned that warm fall days, cool nights, and no frost create the brightest foliage. Elevation, moisture, and genetics can also affect how the foliage looks. The golden leaves of quaking aspen fluttered on the west side of the creek but there was little other color on this trip. The drought has adversely affected plant growth and fall color.
I learned more about Western juniper from our guide. This slow growing, long-lived species can change its sex from year to year. They are sometimes hermaphroditic – or both sexes. When the trees are younger than ten years in age, they send down tap roots that are 51” long. At around the age of ten, the roots start expanding out laterally. The root system can be five times the height of the tree. They like to start to grow under sagebrush but they don’t do as well in shaded areas as they mature. They start maturing when they are around 25 years old and are full reproductive maturity by age 75. Their growth form is pointy and triangular until they are about 100 years old. At around 120 years of age, the tree splits and takes on a more open form.
Ponderosa pine and aspen with Black Butte in the background
I also learned some new facts about aspen. The main tree in a grove is called the “Grandma” tree while the rest are referred to as the nursery. The grandma has the darkest bark in an aspen stand. We learned that early settlers often left a blaze mark, otherwise known as an arborglyph, on the tree trunks.
I recently saw a sign at a local nursery that said, “Buy one aspen and get one free!” and it cracked me up. Knowing that they are clones and sprout up from one “Grandma” I wondered how many trees an unsuspecting customer might end up with.
DLT has rehabilitated the habitat on this preserve. Invasive and non-native plants have been pulled. Willow has been planted along the streambanks. Cattle and other livestock are fenced out of this piece of property. In the past as many as 30,000 cattle grazed in this region. As a result of the Deschutes Land Trusts’ habitat rehabilitation efforts, salmon have been observed in the creek for the first time since 1964.
Ponderosa pine and meadow
Native Americans regularly camped in this area and forded the creek here. The Northern Paiute and Molalla tribes lived in this area. It has been used for over 10,000 years. From here they may have gone on excursions to collect obsidian near Paulina Lake, collect food at Abert Lake, or trade with other tribes. One of the things local tribes here created were ornately decorated gloves. They were much sought after. The gloves were made all the way up until the 1920’s.
Some tribal members went up to the 10,358 foot peak of South Sister on vision quests. It is thought that Native Americans went up there to mourn a death in the family, to celebrate the start of puberty, or to deal with a stressful time in their lives. They made rock piles and likely did not eat or drink and exercised to the point of exhaustion. The 5-6 foot high rock stacks were discovered on the summit by explorer Adolph Dekum in 1883.
Explorers, trappers, and settlers started coming to this area in the 1800’s. In 1825, Peter Skene Ogden, of the Hudson’s Bay Company, camped nearby at Whychus Creek and let his horses graze in the meadows of Indian Ford. John C. Fremont explored areas near here in December of 1843. A military camp was established at Camp Polk in September of 1865 to protect resident miners and settlers. It was only used until May of 1866 and there were never any wars with local tribes. After the military camp was abandoned, Samuel Hindman and his family moved into the area and had a post office and store. In 1888, the post office was moved into present day Sisters. The name of the town was changed from Camp Polk to Sisters after the nearby mountain peaks. The town was located along the Santiam Wagon Road and it soon prospered from all of the business generated by travelers. In 1901, the town of Sisters was formally established.
A visit to this preserve gives you a magnificent view of the nearby peaks and buttes and a look at a meandering creek that has been carefully restored to its former glory. The preserve is rich in recent and ancient history and you can see why native peoples and settlers chose to visit and live here.