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Summer Lake
Summer Lake
Location Lake County, Oregon, USA
Coordinates 42°50′N 120°45′W / 42.83°N 120.75°W / 42.83; -120.75Coordinates: 42°50′N 120°45′W / 42.83°N 120.75°W / 42.83; -120.75
Lake type Endorheic lake
Primary inflows Ana River
Primary outflows None
Basin countries United States
Max. length 20 mi (32 km)
Max. width 10 mi (16 km)
Max. depth 30 ft (9.1 m)
Surface elevation 4,229 ft (1,289 m)

Summer Lake is a large, shallow, alkali lake in Lake County, Oregon, United States. It is approximately 20 miles (32 km) long and 10 miles (16 km) wide, and is located five miles (8 km) south of the small, unincorporated community of Summer Lake, Oregon. The lake was named by explorer John C. Fremont on his expedition into Central Oregon in 1843. The marshes around the lake support a wide variety of birds and other wildlife.


Ancient lake

The arid lands around Summer Lake were once lush. During the Pleistocene Era, vast areas of this region of south central Oregon were covered by lakes and wetlands. As the last ice age was ending, rain and runoff from melting snow filled the lowlands throughout this region of the Great Basin, creating an immense, freshwater lake called Lake Chewaucan. The lake covered 461 square miles (1,190 km2) at depths of up to 375 feet (114 m).[1]

Lake Chewaucan covered the Summer Lake basin and drainage system much of the late Pleistocene Era. The last high water period is thought to have occurred about 13,000 years ago. There is no archaeological evidence of human utilization of Lake Chewaucan during this time. The earliest evidence for possible human occupation of the basin comes from the Paisley Caves excavated by Luther Cressman in the late 1930s. Cressman found some inconclusive evidence that humans could have begun occupation the Summer Lake area around 11,000 years ago.[2]

Lake Chewaucan began to dry up at the close of the Pleistocene Era. As it shrank, salts and alkali were concentrated in its remaining waters. The exposed lake bottom sediments were blown by the prevailing westerly winds to form the sand dunes that still lie on the east side Summer Lake. [3]

Today, Summer Lake and Abert Lake are separated by twenty miles, and are the only remnants of Lake Chewaucan.[1] Summer Lake is approximately 20 miles (32 km) long and 10 miles (16 km) wide;[4] however, the lake shrinks during summer and expands, sometimes dramatically, in spring time.


Summer Lake was discovered and named by Captain John C. Fremont during his 1843 mapping expedition through central Oregon. Fremont and his Army Topographical team were mapping the Oregon Territory from The Dalles on Columbia River to Sutter's Fort in Sacramento, California. On 16 December 1843, the expedition struggled down a steep cliff from a snow-covered plateau to reach a large lake in the valley below. Fremont named snow covered rim "Winter Ridge" and the temperate waters "Summer Lake." [5] Fremont described the discovery and naming of Summer Lake as follows:

"At our feet...more than a thousand feet below...we looked into a green prairie country, in which a beautiful lake, some twenty miles (32 km) in length, was spread along the foot of the mountain...Shivering on snow three feet deep, and stiffening in a cold north wind, we exclaimed at once that the names of summer lake and winter ridge should be applied to these proximate places of such sudden and violent contrast." (Captain John C. Fremont, 16 December 1843, Report of the Second Fremont Expedition) [6]

Wildlife refuge

The Summer Lake Basin supports more than 250 species of birds including bald eagles, Canada geese, white faced ibis, yellow-headed blackbirds, goshawks, hermit thrushes, red-tail hawks, great blue herons, and numerous species of ducks. This makes Summer Lake a favorite bird watching and hunting area.[7]

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife maintains the Summer Lake Wildlife Refuge on the north side of the lake. The refuge consists of a large marsh with associated uplands with an 8.3-mile (13.4 km) tour route open to the public most of the year. The refuge headquarters is located adjacent to Oregon Route 31 in the town of Summer Lake.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Ancient Lakes", Oregon Historical Marker, Summer Lake, Oregon.
  2. ^ Jerrems, Jerry, "An Archaeological View of Summer Lake Valley, Oregon", Sundance Archeological Research Fund, University of Nevada, Reno, Reno Nevada, 27 April 2007.
  3. ^ "Broken Bedrock", Oregon Historical Marker, Summer Lake, Oregon.
  4. ^ Morris, Elizabeth and Mark, "Summer Lake", Moon Handbooks: Oregon, Avalon Travel Publishing, 2004.
  5. ^ "Fremont Memorial", Oregon Historical Marker, Summer Lake, Oregon, 2008.
  6. ^ Nevins, Allen, Fremont Pathmarker of the West, University of Nebraska Bison Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1992, p. 149.
  7. ^ "Summer Lake Wildlife Refuge", Southern Oregon Visitor Guide, Southern Oregon Visitors Association, Ashland, Oregon, 2006.
  8. ^ "Summer Lake Wildlife Area", Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Salem, Oregon, 19 October 2005.

External links



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