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Eagle eyes along Eagle Ridge

Eagle Ridge, as we learned, is appropriately named.

The first bald eagles we saw from our kayaks were perched in tall trees flanking the shores of Shoalwater Bay as we paddled toward Eagle Ridge. Their white heads stood out. One flew off but another remained atop the tree, statuesque and motionless.

A short while later, one flew over me, gliding like a seasoned hang glider in the thermals.

But it was while paddling back along Eagle Ridge that a trio of eagles that we’d seen farther out on Upper Klamath Lake diving and doing aerial acrobatics that we viewed a different, more eye-popping scene. While making their way back to the lakeside trees they flew in weaving, ever-changing formations that would make Flying Thunderbirds pilots envious before eventually setting down on hidden branches.

We also saw immature bald eagles, younger birds waiting for the transformation that turns their browns heads and tails to the distinctive vanilla white coloring.

With our own eagle eyes we found much else to see: A soaring turkey vulture with its vibrantly colored wings patrolling the waters in search of a meal. Scads of grebes, some motorboating across the water, many disappearing under water if they felt we were paddling too close and, most endearingly, mothers with babies sitting on their backs. What else? Soaring pelicans. Great egrets that lazily spread their wings to take flight. Black-crowned night herons that exploded out of trees and brush. A lone river otter lolling far off shore.

More otters appeared. Close to shore, three or four weaved in and out of sight along branches and bushes, always moving.

My otter delight experience came later, while paddling ahead of the others. At first glance it looked like the head of a cat swimming close to shore. I halted. With cat-like curiosity the otter swam toward me. Only its head was visible, the rest of its body unseen. It paused, continued, paused again, changed course and eventually swam off and out of sight.

In sight the entire two hours were views of the Cascades, from the peaks of the Mountain Lakes Wilderness north past snow-tipped Mount McLoughlin to other high points in the Sky Lakes Wilderness to the mountains that frame Crater Lake. Enjoying the sights, smells and sense of solitude from a kayak or canoe on the wide-open expanses of Upper Klamath Lake on a sunny, serene day is pure pleasure.

Well, not pure. The waters of Shoalwater Bay off Eagle Ridge are anything but pristine. Close to the Eagle Ridge Park boat dock the water is thick with algae. The green layer prompted one paddler to remark, “It’s like kayaking on a lawn.” Sometimes the watery lawn looked like the grass of a well-groomed golf course, in others like the surface of a finely manicured putting green. In some sections the green was streaked with strands of chocolate caramel.

Decades ago, Eagle Ridge was seen by others boaters, people traveling on steamboats.

A century ago, a hotel-tavern was located at the tip of Eagle Ridge. According to “A History of Rocky Point, Oregon,” by William and LoEtta Cadman, the hotel was built by Dan and Mary Griffith and opened July 20, 1909. Because it was inaccessible by road, visitors came by steamboat. In 1910 the nearby marshland was partially reclaimed and used for hay and pasture by Dr. W.H. Gaddes. In 1921 he leased 220 acres of marshlands for a mint-growing operation, a venture that failed. From 1920 to 1923 a tavern was operated by a Mrs. Weston and Mrs. Kilbourne. Later, the Eagle Ridge Hotel Company bought the property and tavern from Gaddes. The tavern was leased to the Eagle Ridge Rod & Gun Club in 1925 but, according to the Cadmans, was little used and closed. The tavern burned to the ground Dec. 8, 1932.

From the water our eagle eyes yielded no evidence of the tavern or the hotel or steamboats. No matter. We were creating our histories.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

Mount McLoughlin rises in the background as a kayaker makes his way across Shoalwater Bay. Photo by Lee Juillerat
A group of kayakers paddle along Eagle Ridge. Photo by Lee Juillerat