The disappearing lake

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Wed 28 Jun 2017 22:58

45:54.46N 121:41.48W

Every spring the thick blanket of snow covering the Cascade Mountains melts, and a lake forms, only to suddenly and mysteriously disappear two months later, making way for a lush meadow.

We hoisted the canoe and a couple of kayaks on top of the camper van, packed paddling kit and food for a few days and headed off towards Washington State on the motorway. We were going to check out this lake for ourselves.


The Glyn & Sue Mobile with Franco

We stopped in Stevenson, by the broad river Columbia, to eat our sandwiches and watched wind and kite surfers exploiting the strong winds funnelling down the Columbia Gorge. Some of the kite surfers didn't leave a wake behind them which seemed strange until we realised that their boards had foils, like the America Cup catamarans. 

Later we saw a sign: 

'Stevenson is a small drinking town by the river with a windsurfing problem.'

The access track through the forest to South Prairie was badly potholed and Sue had to concentrate hard to avoid the larger ones. Eventually we arrived at the 'disappearing' lake and luckily for us it was still there so we carried on to the campsite and went for a short paddle before tea on a small (permanent) lake nearby.


Launching the canoe

Oregonians were out in force fishing from all sorts of crafts. Sue and I went to inspect what looked like a floating veranda only to be chatted up by a lad young enough to be our offspring. When we told Franco and Glyn, Franco said "Beer goggles!" and he was right of course. 

As we prepared our tea that evening, we were subjected to the revving of large 4x4 pick-up trucks with crazy suspensions and the red neck loud music to suit. Franco and I were ecstatic, it was the genuine 'Made in the USA' experience.


South Prairie Lake

Nobody really knows why the disappearing lake drains so fast. The favourite theory is that the plughole, so to speak, is an underground lava tube which becomes choked with ice in the winter and that once it thaws, the water drains away. I was amazed it hadn't melted yet as it was sweltering, in Portland the temperature had been 39 degrees Celsius. A lava tube forms when the surface lava cools enough to solidify forming a crust but the inside magma is still hot enough to flow away, leaving a tunnel behind. 


Just launched

We launched the canoes and spent a pleasant few hours exploring. It was certainly unusual weaving a way through the large cottonwood trees.




Sue and Glyn among the cottonwoods 


Could the 'plug hole' be below this lava?

On our way back to the van, we noticed a wet ring around the trees just above the water level. The lake had started to drain, and in a few days' time there would be no water.


Glyn, Sue and Franco at the pub on the way home