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Savoring the delights at and near Malone Springs

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Tules line watery passages of Crystal Creek.
Bright yellow wocus add color along the waters of Crystal Creek.
Crystal Creek's gentle water offers easy paddling.
Kayakers paddle along Crystal Creek north of Malone Springs.

The usual kayak route from the Malone Springs boat launch heads south along Crystal Creek toward the Rocky Point launch site. It’s a beautiful paddle that, with a series of variations, is part of the Upper Klamath Canoe Trail.

But when we reached the junction for the canoe trail, Dave Potter waved for us to head north.

So we did.

For the next one and half hours, we followed wide-open channels, nearly continuously passing alongside tule-lined marshes, including sections with a few blooming yellow pond lilies, better known as wocus. The few bright yellow, bell-shaped flowers offer a sharp contrast with their green, large-leaved lily pads.

Wocus, also spelled wokas, is a flower with a history. A traditional food source for Klamath Indians, gatherers, usually women, used dugout canoes to gather seeds. According to historians, pods with less mature seeds were picked and taken back to camps or earth lodges where they were cooked in a mixture of pine limbs and needles. The mass was pounded with a stone maul. Ashes were added to the pods to allow the mixture to dry more readily. The wocus flour was stored and used during the winter to make such nourishing foods as mush or pemmican.

The few brightly colored wocus flowers stood out, but there was much to see along and in the depths of the creek’s see-through clear waters. Among the frequent sights were beaver lodges, some neatly stacked alongside the stream or slightly back in the marsh bordering the creek. Evident, too, were trees that had been gnawed down by eager beavers for those lodges.

Located in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, Malone Springs and Crystal Creek follow the westernmost edge of Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. Pockets of various trees — aspens, willows and cottonwoods, along with ponderosa pines and Douglas firs — sometimes border or are near the canoe trail. The up-close sights are enhanced by sights farther away: the still snow-tipped mountains of the Cascades and the Sky Lakes Wilderness to the north and west, as well as the peaks that are part of the Mountain Lakes Wilderness.

To reach Malone Springs from Medford, take Oregon Highway 140 east toward Rocky Point. Before reaching Rocky Point at the signed junction for Crater Lake, turn left on Westside Road. The signed turnoff for Malone Springs Day Use Area, located on the right side of the road, is about 6 1/2 miles from the Highway 140 junction.

There’s little information on how Malone Springs got its name. According to “History of Rocky Point, Oregon,” researched and compiled by Willlam J. and LoEtta A. Cadman, the area is named for George Malone. He and his father-in-law, “a Mr. Young, had homesteads near Malone Spring, thus giving the springs their name.”

While the creek and its surroundings, near and far, offered a variety of delightful sights, we saw relatively few birds: a great egret, grebes and some stellar jays. But, according to birders, the area is known for its variety of species. It’s a long list, one that includes white pelicans, red-necked grebes, wood ducks, black terns, Forster's terns, osprey, bald eagles, blue and ruffed grouse, yellow rails, belted kingfishers, red-breasted sapsuckers, pileated woodpeckers, western wood-peewees, live-sided flycatchers, chestnut-backed chickadees, hermit warblers, Nashville warblers, MacGillivray's warblers, hermit thrush, common yellowthroats, western tanagers and black-headed grosbeaks.

Since we saw so relatively few birds, that might be a reason to return.

But really, no excuse is needed. The waterways of Malone Springs and Crystal Creek are beautiful and tranquil, an area with abundant delights. Whether paddling north or south, there’s no wrong way.

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