October 9, 2007

Fall at Marion Lake

photo by Gary G. Newman/copyright Redmond Spokesman

The first time I saw Marion Lake was about 22 years ago. I was hiking part of the Oregon Skyline Trail and I dropped in from the Santiam Lakes area. I remember being surprised at the size of the lake. It was a placid giant compared to the smaller alpine lakes west of Three Finger Jack.

The lake is close to a mile and a half long and at its widest point three-quarters of a mile wide. Back then I hiked through pristine wilderness forest and then climbed out of the basin through a stand of big old growth fir. Their bark was festooned with light green beards of moss.

That’s all gone. The 90,000-acre B&B Complex fire burned to the lake’s southern shore in 2003 and in 2006 the 6,348-acre Puzzle fire burned the ridges north of the lake.

Still, a hike to Marion Lake is worth the time. Approaching from the west the forest is alight with the fall fire of vine maple.

Getting there is as simple as a 60-mile drive to Marion Forks, about half way to Salem and 17 miles east of Detroit Lake. At Marion Forks cross the bridge on the highway, and then turn right on the north side of Marion Creek. Follow the Forest Service road past a development of cabins and stay on the main road 4.5 miles to the trialhead.

There are some roads branching off, but the main road is obvious. There is a Forest Service restroom at the trailhead.

The hike looks easy on the map. I guess most do, but this one climbs 500 feet in two miles. The hike is steady up hill with one switchback, but it is mostly an easy walk over a broad trail. There were only a few places where you have to pick you way through a boulder field.

It took me about 40 minutes to hike to Lake Ann, Marion’s pretty neighbor. Trees and cattails ring this lake. The outlet gurgles through the rocks under the trail before it emerges as a creek that falls away to Marion Creek. A few Mergansers swam in the quiet waters and a Steller’s jay clamored in the trees.

The trail climbs on up to Marion Lake another 15 or 20 minutes up the trail. You first see the lake through a window of forest and the shore curves away to the east like a fiord. The lake’s size and tranquility made me wish I had brought a canoe.

Halfway along the north shore a trail branches northward toward the burn, but the north shore is still well forested and most of the trees remain on the south shore. The hills were shrouded with clouds on the day I was there so I couldn’t get a feel for the scope of the burned area.

After some minutes sitting by the trail at Lake Ann on the way out, I noticed a huge old Douglas fir – the kind with thick branches snaking out of the top. It felt good to be around the old guy.

-- story by Gary Newman

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