Trip Out: Morgan Lake

Photo of Morgan Lake at Sunset

If Oregon was a carnival, and each town hosted its own game based on natural contour and outdoor amusement, La Grande– in association with Morgan Lake– could be one fantastic game of Skeeball.

See, you’d start at the valley floor, wind-up, and hurl some colossal sphere with all your might, southwesterly into the forested foothills. Up, up it would roll, through evergreen and conifer, hawthorn and elderberry– a 1,300-foot rise in a scant four-and-a-half miles– until finally cresting and kerplunking right into our prized  backyard fishing, swimming, boating, camping, hiking, singing, dancing recreation haven for a hundred points. Luckily for everyone, Skeeball of this size and scope has yet to gain so much as a permit or recreational one-off, and thankfully so, for the wreckage is almost too much to fathom. Such a tidal wave would whisk away occupants of those dozen or so campsites (free for up to three days) and send them gliding and tumbling (hooks and hot dogs dangling from their mouths) on a one-way Class VI whitewater thrillride to Davy Jones’ locker. This is to say nothing about the fish (some 23,000 finger length and 2,000 legal size trout dumped in annually!)  Yes, decimated would be the shaded nature trails that meander through the lake’s eastern and southern rim and its several offshoots which lead to day-use areas furnished with benches, fire rings and floating docks. The ponderosa grove– the public restroom, ADA accessibility, migrating elk herds– gone like the snows of yesteryear.


Photo by Molly Paugels

To have lived out nearly half my existence in the Grande Ronde Valley, and made countless escapades to Morgan– sometimes in a Summer’s lunch break, and sometimes in a Winter’s treacherous charge up her snowy slope– it’s seems futile to take a place– with so many facets and functions, nostalgia and subjectivity– and paint it with any one sweeping, all-encompassing brushstroke of tourism fluff. So much of what makes this place what it is lies with one’s own experience– with the happenstances and cosmic collisions offered by the symposium of nature, which float on down and nestle in your pocket as a spiritual keepsake. Ask the fella who got hit in the ear by a little brown bat just before sundown. Ask the gal who stood for a half-hour gazing toward Mt. Emily, as a thunderhead slowly emerged from over the peak and crept across the sky toward her like a secret.  Inquire with that group of close-knit friends, long since scattered, who erected an 18-hole disc golf course for a weekend soiree among her pines and plains. Track down the old curmudgeon who swears to have yanked a two-foot rainbow from her murky depths “so old it had a beard, nose hair, and an anchor tattoo!” Talk to the wildflowers– the drunken, dangling effigies of Prairie Smoke, and munch on the succulent white stalk of the Yellow Fawn Lily. Harvest some of the Wild Onion to compliment your upcoming meal. Pull a tick from your friend’s skull. Mosey down to the twin lake below– an oversized pond ever-igniting with the honks of waterfowl, birds of prey screeches, and croaks of invisible amphibians.


Image of wooden trail bridge at Morgan Lake

Morgan Lake: the impossibly close, impeccably undisturbed, impishly discrete Skeeball bullseye beckons… come play.


This concludes chapter two of Trip Out! Roadmaps to Recreation. Join me soon for the next installment of this series, as we explore the intricate trails and infinite splendor of MERA (Mt. Emily Recreation Area). Gregory Rawlins signing off– and remember… life’s a trip, so trip out!