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Fish Lake: Food for the soul and the stomach

Photo by Lee JuilleratSections of the Fish Lake Trail follow alongside North Fork Little Butte Creek.
Photo by Lee JuilleratHikers pass beneath a tree with an "old man's beard."

A bubbling steam. Riparian meadows. Forest thickets of tall-topped trees. Splashes of colorful wildflowers. And as a reward, lunch and dessert at the Fish Lake Resort.

Our out-and-back 6.6-mile hike started from the Fish Lake Trailhead across Road 37 from the North Fork Campground. It’s a great beginning because the trail parallels the North Fork Little Butte Creek for about a half-mile before angling left at unsigned junction. The early section offers up-close views of the rumbling, whitewater creek as its tumbles through diversions created by fallen trees and beaver dams.

At the junction, the side trail leads to the base of the Fish Lake Dam, which was built in 1921-22. According to William Sullivan’s “100 Hikes in Southern Oregon,” rocks for the dam were hauled in by horse-drawn railroad cars. The man-made dam tripled the original size of the lake formed thousands of years ago from the Brown Mountain lava flow, which is visible on the south side of the creek and lake. Water from Fish Lake is used by the Medford Irrigation District for Rogue Valley orchards.

As it does along its way to Fish Lake, the main trail weaves along the north shore through an old-growth forest of dense stands of towering fir trees and wildflower displays. Viewed earlier this week were occasional sightings of fading trilliums along with bursts of phlox, spirea, dogwood, lavenders and, on many of trees, “old-man beards,” or beard lichen or usnea. The mostly pale grayish-green lichens droop off tree branches like tassels, often hanging a foot or longer.

According to internet sources, beard lichen/usnea species have been used to create orange, yellow, green, blue and purple dyes for textiles, while one species is used in cosmetic production for its antimicrobial and antifungal properties as a preservative and deodorant. And, wait, there’s more, including using the “beards” in mouthwashes, gargles and lozenges for inflammation of oral mucus membranes.

Instead of mouthwashes or lozenges, we saved our appetites for the lush forest scenery and lunch at the Fish Lake Resort restaurant. Along the way, the trail passed along openings with lakeside vantages that offered views of the declining lake, occasional boaters and, better yet, ducks, geese and other waterfowl. The trail also passes side trails that lead to summer homes and the Doe Point and Fish Lake campgrounds before reaching the resort area.

From the resort it’s possible to continue another half-mile along the lake edge and a forest bordered by large blocky basalt lava to the High Lakes Trail, which later intersects with the Pacific Crest Trail and, farther along, passes through lava flows to the Great Meadow and the Lake of the Woods.

We didn’t see those sights but, instead, stopped at the Fish Lake Resort. Our hungry group filled two side-by-side outside tables with an epicurean variety of salads, hamburgers, veggie burgers, sandwiches, french and sweet potato fries and beverages, refueling for the three-plus mile trek back to the trailhead.

The food was tasty, but not as delicious as the scenery.

To get there from Medford, take Highway 140 east toward Klamath Falls for 30 miles. Between mileposts 28 and 29 turn right to Road 37, then drive a half-mile to the Fish Lake Trailhead and roadside pullout opposite the entrance to the North Fork Campground.

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