When we head to destinations like Eugene, Salem or Portland, Rick prefers to drive north on 101 to Reedsport, then hang a right onto Highway 38. This scenic highway follows the Umpqua River, meandering near herds of elk, historic landmarks on quintessential Main Streets, past a couple of wineries and even a butterfly pavilion before meeting up with Interstate 5 south of Cottage Grove.
It seems we're always in a hurry to get somewhere - usually Salem where our granddaughter lives - and zip past the sign for Loon Lake, just 13 miles east of the Reedsport turn off. Rarely, though, as we drive by, does Rick miss the opportunity to reminisce about the days spent with his family on the lake, and his memories of the youngest of the Duckett girls.
The Duckett family owned and operated the campgrounds surrounding Loon Lake, a body of water formed about 1,400 years ago when a major landslide in the Coast Range sent a mountainside of debris into and across the deep and narrow river canyon. The dam created a lake about a half-mile wide and 2andfrac12; miles long with a depth of 150 feet. "I used to know every inch of that lake," Rick told me.
In the early 1950s, Rick's family began the tradition of an annual migration from the heat of Portland to the shady retreat at Loon Lake. From the time he was a young boy until he graduated from college, Rick joined his folks, aunts, uncles and cousins for a couple of weeks of camping and fishing at the lake each summer.
They stayed in simple rustic cabins and chased an endless supply of bass and trout. For years the lake held the record for biggest bass and Rick recalls how the Mayfly hatch was more spectacular than any he's ever seen since, how he first learned to water ski there, how the croaking of the bull frogs kept him up at night, and how Joanne Duckett was someone he looked forward to seeing every summer.
Robert Duckett, who hailed from Humboldt County, opened Loon Lake Resort with his son Pierce in 1943. Joanne's parents were Pierce and Althea, and Joanne was the same age as Rick. She made a huge impression on him the first time he saw her - driving her parents' pickup through camp, emptying the trash cans, at the ripe age of 11.
Rick's reminiscences prompted me to suggest that we go there together. I wanted to see Rick's lake and wondered if there might be some visage of Joanne still lingering there. I went online and reserved the two-bedroom "premium cottage" that was available the weekend we wanted to go and invited our almost 3-year-old granddaughter and her parents to join us.
As we turned off Highway 38 for the 9-mile drive into the resort, I put my cell phone in the glove box and began to relax. We lost cell service just outside of Reedsport, which I hadn't anticipated, but as the view of the lake came into sight I knew that it wouldn't be hard to tune out the rest of the world while we were there.
The lodge was new, Rick said about the combination check-in desk/market/restaurant/gift shop that was the first stop on the way to our cottage. Next door was a six-room motel, also new to Rick. Farther along the road was the RV park with campsites, yurts, park model cabins, "regular" cottages and our premium one, which was actually a duplex. Rick remembered it as being an original cabin, but it had been totally updated and renovated inside.
A white sandy beach skirted the lake near the boat rental dock. The water was dark green and seemed a little murky. In the three days we were there we didn't meet a single person who admitted to catching a fish. As we sat by the fire pit at night we strained to hear the bullfrogs, but there were none.
Trees that once shaded mid-century campsites were worn down stumps now and new, young trees had been planted recently. I could tell when I looked in Rick's eyes the reflection was not exactly the Loon Lake of his childhood. And I was pretty darn sure that Joanne would not round the corner in the family's Ford pickup.
But our children and our granddaughter didn't notice. The lake water was warm enough, the sun was hot enough, the trees were tall enough and the camp fire produced the gooiest and yummiest (with homemade marshmallows from chef Anne Boulley) s'mores we've ever had.
Rick and I and the kids were making our own memories at Loon Lake.
For a virtual tour of a drive on Oregon's Highway 38 from Reedsport, go to:
Reach Michele Thomas, the Del Norte Triplicate's publisher, at firstname.lastname@example.org, 464-2141 or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.