This summer my husband and I visited two Clear Lakes – one in Iowa, and one in Oregon. Despite their same names, the lakes are quite different. But each lake delighted us with surprising features and surroundings.
We stopped by the Clear Lake in Iowa on our way back to Kansas City from Minnesota in early July. We happened to arrive at the town of Clear Lake, IA, about dinner time, so we decided to spend the night.
After checking into a hotel, we drove downtown to look for a place for dinner that would be more interesting than the chain restaurants along the freeway. Once downtown, we encountered a small-town carnival on the lake shore, complete with midway, cotton candy, and souvenirs. After dinner, we walked through the carnival, enchanted by this Americana, but more enchanted by the lake.
Most man-made lakes in the Midwest are controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Corps does not permit development on its lakes. But Clear Lake in Iowa is surrounded by houses, hotels, and marinas – a vacation oasis in northern Iowa. However, I didn’t think the lake lived up to its name. The water was not clear the evening we were there, but was choppy from wind and boats. It was covered with algae in some spots.
The next morning, we got back on I-35, and headed south toward home. When I got home, I researched the lake’s history.
Clear Lake in Iowa was formed by a natural spring. The lake was a summer home for native tribes before the white man reached the middle of the continent. It was first surveyed and charted in 1832 by Nathan Boone (son of the famous Daniel), but was not settled by whites until the early 1850s. Today, Clear Lake is best known as the location of the Surf Ballroom, where Buddy Holly performed just before he was killed in an airplane crash.
In August, on our Oregon vacation, we hiked around another Clear Lake. There are actually several “Clear Lakes” in Oregon. The one we visited is in Linn County and is the source of the Mckenzie River, which runs from the Cascade Mountains into the Willamette River. This Clear Lake was created by volcanic flow 3,000 years ago and is now fed by snow from Mt. Washington. The lake itself is 3,012 feet above sea level, in the middle of mountains that soar over 10,000 feet high.
The differences between the two Clear Lakes were immediately obvious. First, there was no paved road around the Oregon lake, though the hiking path was well-maintained. Second, the Oregon lake was small enough to hike around, unlike the Iowa lake, which required an hour’s drive to circumnavigate (with a few stops). Third, the Oregon Lake in fact was clear – we could see to the bottom of the lake at most points along the shore.
And the Oregon Clear Lake was undeveloped, if not quite pristine. We passed a state park and one small “resort,” though its cabins looked quite rustic. Boating is permitted on the lake, but the small boats we saw left no wakes or waves, unlike those in Iowa.
Along the 5.5 mile trail we hiked, we were surprised by a diversity of biospheres and microclimates – from evergreen forest, to river marsh, to lava rocks.
When we finished our hike, we drove back to Sunriver, OR, through the 5,335 foot Mckenzie Pass on Oregon State Highway 242. The highway surprised us again with several miles of hair-raising switchbacks. I was glad I was not driving. But the views of the Cascade peaks and the lava flows were spectacular, and a fitting end to our hike.
Prairie oasis and mountain jewel – two Clear Lakes. On the whole, I thought the Oregon lake was more striking, but both were pleasurable summer experiences.
When have you been surprised by something you encountered on a journey?