Today emerged hot, cloudy, sultry, and hazy with smoke. Thunderstorms drenched us in the afternoon but the morning sprouted only a few pathetic rain drops. These only added to the sultry. A morning outside was about all we were up for. So we did two very short hikes which, when combined with a lunch outside at Beckie’s, made for a morning well spent. That there was pie 🥧 involved had nothing – Nothing I say! – to do with the quality of this day. 😉

When Crater Lake National Park was established in 1902, it was essentially as a rectangle of land centered on the lake. The Park Service made several attempts in subsequent years to enlarge the park but with minimal success, mainly due to opposition from the Forest Service. 🙄 An extension to the southeast boundary (the “panhandle addition”) occurred in 1932 and some private land within the original boundaries was purchased in 1940 and 1941. In 1980, Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon (a rational, conservation-minded Republican from a now by-gone era 😪) negotiated the last modest extension of the Park, including a little blip to the west that brought in Spruce Lake for its “scenic value.”

In 1969, the Rogue-River National Forest put out a hiking guide for the area around Union Creek on the Upper Rogue River. It included a short (0.5 miles / 0.8 km) trail (then the #1037) to Spruce Lake. Per the Forest Service at that time: “Spruce Lake lies in a crease on top of a Mazama pumice flow. Not particularly scenic and having no fish, its greatest interest is that it is there at all. The surrounding forest is, as always, a pleasant sight.” The 1956 topographic map for this area shows a Crater Creek Motorway and a trail leading to the lake. By 1985 (the next time this area was mapped), the trail was gone and the motorway had been replaced by Forest Road (FR) 6535-900.

USGS 1956 Prospect quadrangle

But what of the lake? Aerial imagery from August 2020 showed a puddle of water in it. But a drought is on, so who knows where it stands almost a year later. Inquiring minds wanted to know. So we drove FR 6535-900 east to a recently revitalized spur road (FR 6535-968) and parked there. After a short walk on the spur road, we went into the forest, crossed the well-marked park boundary, and headed for the lake. We soon came across the old road / trail that went to the lake back in the day and followed that instead of thrashing through the undergrowth.

Into the forest
The park boundary
On the old road/trail to the lake
A hug for an old growth tree
The old road was obvious
Crossing a patch of vanilla

We arrived at the lake to find the outline of a lake but no water. Judging from the luxuriant growth now filling the lake bed, there was water here in the recent past but not enough to stay on the surface. Sort of what you expect for a lake sitting on a pumice field.

We reach the lake
Luxuriant growth
Spruce Lake
Colorful growth
A brief flash of sunlight illuminated the “lake”

We walked the length of the lake, noting the profusion of different plants that had found a home on its formerly wet bed. There was also a lot of elk sign in the grass but none were actually seen. We walked to the far end of the lake bed, then back along it, into the forest, and followed the old road almost back to where we’d parked.

Back into the forest
And along the old road

Will Spruce Lake ever be wet again? Hard to say. The lake isn’t connected to any stream or river and, perched as it is above a drainage, relies on rain and snow melt to fill it. So maybe we’ll see it again if the drought breaks or we have a particularly wet year. Otherwise we might eventually be talking about Spruce Meadow. 🤔

Our short track to and from Spruce Lake