Desert Beauty: Goose Lake Valley
Nothing beats the sublime beauty of a desert lake, its azure waters shimmering dreamily against the golden hues around it, green grasses waving invitingly in the breeze, beckoning to thirsty animals and weary travelers.
Such delights are, of course, rare, as water in the dessert is not a common sight, but if you find yourself cruising the dusty highways of southern Oregon, you’re in for a treat: Goose Lake, a large alkaline lake formed during the last ice age, which is located in the Goose Lake Valley on the Oregon/California border.
The lake abuts the historic Fandango Pass route, which was once used by settlers to enter California in the 19th century, and is part of a geological trough which runs from southern Oregon down to the infamous desert wasteland of Death Valley. It is a closed basin lake which is fed by runoff from the nearby Fremont Mountains, being supplied by Thomas Creek, Muddy Creek, Cottonwood Creek, and Drews Creek. Goose Lake is also fed by flow from the Warner Mountains, notably via Willow Creek and Lassen Creek. Some years, when melt waters have been less substantial, the lake has actually been known to completely dry up (and even on a good year, it’s only 24 feet deep).
Goose Lake Valley is home to a variety of diverse wildlife thanks to its unusual location, offering habitats ranging from marshland, riparian (stands of trees such as quaking aspen, alder, and willow), grasslands, sage steppe, and dry pine forest, to mountain rimrock. As with many mountain habitats, Goose Lake Valley can boast a wealth of wildflowers, including Common Yarrow flowers, Camas, Larkspur, Elephant-head flowers, Blazing Stars, and Crane Orchids. Fauna includes most of what you would expect in the region—pronghorn sheep, elk, mule deer, black bear, cougar, jackrabbits, bobcat, and coyotes—along with the annual presence of tens of thousands of migrating birds, including everything from Canada Geese to Tundra Swans to American White Pelicans. The lake itself is a sanctuary for rare fish species (as such, fishing is not allowed), such as rainbow trout, brook trout, and the threatened bull trout. The lake even boasts its own endemic fish species, the Goose Lake Redband Trout, which are found nowhere else in the world.
Naturally, this rare natural splendor makes the Goose Lake Valley an ideal spot for recreation; if you're in the area, check out the Goose Lake State Recreation Area, which is home to many of the region’s mule deer, and offers a grassy expanse to camp on and launch boats from while watching the many birds that visit the lake. The campground also offers showers, fireplaces, electrical hookups, telephones, and a dump station for RVs. If you’re adventurous, keep heading south to hit the Modoc National Forest, a vast natural reserve high in the mountains that offers a wealth of micro-climates to explore.