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Klamath Junction and the shock of Emigrant Lake

I’m trying to imagine the labor required to move an 1800s cemetery in the 1920s. More on this later.

Once upon a time, there was a small but motivated settlement, which sat alongside Emigrant Creek about five miles south of Ashland. In the 1920s, an effort was made to attract tourism to Klamath Falls from Ashland by building a small stopover at the junction of Highway 66 (Greensprings Highway) and what we now refer to as Old 99.

They named the town Klamath Junction. According to an interesting 10--minute YouTube report from Todd Kepple, manager of the Klamath County Museum, Klamath Junction consisted of a filling station, camping area, dining hall and an impressive exhibit building with items promoting Klamath Falls as a gateway to Crater Lake. A few residents called the area home.

When Emigrant Creek was dammed in the 1920s for the purpose of farm irrigation, a reservoir was formed. In 1960, they enlarged the dam, raising the water level of the lake about 100 feet and ending Highway 99’s connection. Emigrant Lake also marked the submersion of Klamath Junction. Residents vacated, and a pioneer cemetery had to be moved. The video is worth watching and shows a picture of Klamath Junction in its heyday.

Portions of former foundations are visible during recent years because of extreme drought conditions. Emigrant Lake has become a pond version of its former glory. Swimming, fishing and boating happened there. Peggy Dover as a teen trying to water ski looked incredibly awkward there.

Lane is always on the scout for new spaces to paint outdoors, and I’m open to fresh hikes and walks to share. He suggested we check out Emigrant Lake, since he’d recently visited and started a piece that clearly reveals the stark contrast of what once was a thriving recreation spot.

Today, the lake is only 7% full. Docks stand high and dry surrounded by grassland, boat ramps are closed, and water birds compete for space. The restrooms are closed, though there are Port-a-Potties. We felt OK spending the $4 entry fee to avail ourselves of the facilities since we support Jackson County Parks. There’s plenty of free hiking space. The main area with the waterslide resembled a new ghost town. I could almost hear former celebrations.

Despite the alarming water conditions, camping will reopen soon — March 11, and there’s plenty of room to stretch your legs and throw a Frisbee. You could probably sail one across the lake.

We started our hike from a parking area that took us across what had been a shoreline. The lake appeared far below as a mirage. The old road that once skirted Klamath Junction runs into the water and out again. We saw tiny Emigrant Creek trickling along. We found Hill Cemetery.

There are recent burials within the small enclosure. One resident who passed in 2020 had received a gift from a friend who felt the deceased needed a belt of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, as a bottle two-thirds full lay reposed against his tombstone. I was curious about the man. After finding and reading the gentleman’s obituary, I’m certain it was gratefully received.

Most graves are from the 1800s, and many names etched there left this world far too soon. Looking out over the hills to the lake below, it may sound odd, but I considered this a special way to spend an afternoon.

The world can be a noisy place. I found an interesting account of Hill Cemetery at http://wrightarchives.blogspot.com/2012/11/hill-cemetery-or-hill-dunn-cemetery-on_2054.html. The land was donated by Isaac Hill as a free community cemetery in 1853 during the Indian war. Several folks buried there were slain fighting deadly skirmishes with Rogue River Indians at Evans Creek.

We hiked back to the car, stopping at Dana Campbell Vineyards on the way back. A blinding winter sun was setting against the hills, and we drank a toast to the day. Visit the Emigrant Lake area while the weather is cool. I’m praying for rain, again.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer/author. Find her books at RebelHeart Books, Rogue Gallery and Art Center, Jackson County libraries, and Amazon. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.