Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and river, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. —John Lubbock (1834-1913)
My husband and I were in Winchester Bay in late October. The weather was perfect, the sun was warm, and shorts worthy, the sand cold, and the waves gentle. In the Umpqua River, crabbing was in full-swing. Gulls wailed overhead looking for tidbits of crab bait and seals spy-hopped in the harbor. Our plan was to have lunch at the Crabby Cafe, but we were early. I love their lightly breaded, hand-cut fish & homestyle chips. It’s also where we buy the local tuna along the dock, smoked on the spot.
With some time to kill, we crossed Salmon Harbor to Lake Marie. Tucked in a forested Umpqua dune, Lake Marie sparkled like a gem. Approximately 88 feet above sea level, this small, coastal dune oasis is part of the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park; Oregon’s first lighthouse built in 1857 that still operates a first-order Fresnel lens that flashes red and white.
Lake Marie is a natural, elongated, six-acre dune lake fed by Marie Creek. The lake drains at the Northwest side of the lake near the lower parking area near a small, public, sandy beach. The outlet flows north underneath the park road, then through a small wetland, and briefly crosses private property, and flows underneath Salmon Harbor Drive and enters the Umpqua River. Lake Marie is one of the few remaining, unspoiled coastal dune lakes in Oregon, and highly protected by law. The lake area is vital habitat to approximately 115 species of birds, 23 species of mammals, 17 species of amphibians, and 5 species of reptiles.
From the upper parking lot and picnic area, under a cloudless sky, we followed the forest trail leading clockwise around Lake Marie. Along the way, we met a fly-fisher who talked of three-pound trout, which made us wish we’d brought our fly rods. Lake Marie yields yellow perch and largemouth bass and is routinely stocked with rainbow trout. We could only imagine the thrill and vowed to bring our fly rods next time.
The trail was easy with gentle up and down slopes that quickly leveled out. The dune forest was enchanting, and the ocean air fragrant with a blend of fir, spruce, hemlock, pine, cedar, and myrtle. Beyond the woods, Lake Marie reflected the most incredible shades of blues and greens that changed like a chameleon with every turn of the trail. Huge huckleberry shrubs loaded with berries hung over the bank, and just out of reach. Up ahead, my husband spotted a great-blue heron across the lake. Two clicks of the camera, and the gangly bird flew off.
At the halfway point, we crossed the Skunk Cabbage Bog at Trickling Creek, and though the skunk cabbage was out of season, the creek lived up to its name. It was here that the conifer forest gave way to a thick understory of Pacific rhododendron, evergreen huckleberry, and wax myrtle. In places, they created enchanting tunnels reminiscent of a fairytale that reminded me of the summers spent as a child playing in the coastal woods of my aunt and uncles home.
All too soon we reached the lake outlet, and the little beach that gave us a last look at Lake Marie. A fork in the trail led to a viewpoint overlooking the dunes that we decided to save for next time. On our way back to Fishpatrick’s Crabby Cafe, we made a brief stop at the Umpqua Lighthouse, where just offshore, gray whales spouted.
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