A little lake in the Elkhorns has gone nameless long enough

By JAYSON JACOBY Baker City Herald July 10, 2009 02:36 pm

A lake ought to have a name, mainly so I can tell people where I was when I got pierced by a gaggle of mosquitoes.

Or swarm, or whatever you call a bunch of ill-tempered mosquitoes.

A lake ought to have a name, mainly so I can tell people where I was when I got pierced by a gaggle of mosquitoes.

Or swarm, or whatever you call a bunch of ill-tempered mosquitoes.

I know this is a silly reason for adding to the cartographers’ already daunting workload.

(You think it’s easy? Try to wedge words like “Massachusetts” into a space the size of a postage stamp.)

But it annoys me to have a compelling mosquito story ruined when, in answering the inevitable question about the lake, I am forced to admit “well, it doesn’t have a name.”

This is lame.

Also, it calls into question the truthfulness of my whole tale, and since the welts from mosquito bites, the only real physical evidence I’m apt to collect from such an encounter, rarely last more than a week or so, an anecdote that ought to have real staying power instead loses most of its luster about the time the itching subsides.

Besides which, a map seems to me incomplete when it shows a round blue circle with no name printed nearby.

I used to like “Mad Libs” but the concept has no place in the navigation business.

I could perhaps forgive such omissions in, say, Minnesota.

But there exists just such a blank space on certain maps of the Elkhorn Mountains, and this, I think, is unforgivable.

The Elkhorns don’t exactly teem with lakes, is the thing. My tally is 25, and that includes Phillips Reservoir, which isn’t really in the Elkhorns and wouldn’t even be a lake except a group of farmers and ranchers persuaded the Bureau of Reclamation to dam the Powder River in 1968. Which the Bureau did, so far quite successfully.

My point, though, is that each of these bodies of water, whether natural or artificial, has a name.

Yet another lake in the Elkhorns, one which is bigger than at least two of those that were christened, including Meadow Lake, which is basically an ambitious pond, languishes in anonymity.

(Although it doesn’t languish alone. It has all those mosquitoes to keep it, and its unfortunate and unwary warm-blooded visitors, company.)

What surprises me most about this lake remaining nameless is that it’s not at all secluded, at least by the standards of the Elkhorns.

Nor is it possible that I’m the only person who’s ever seen the lake. If that were the case it would be a relief, in the sense that I’d finally know why the lake has no name, but in another sense this would really worry me, because I don’t want to be seeing lakes, or any other significant geographic features, that nobody else can.

But on Sunday we hiked up to Angell Pass and my wife, Lisa, not only saw the lake (although she could have been, at least initially, patronizing me, the way you sometimes agree with a disturbed person to keep him calm) but she photographed it as well.

Our daughter Olivia noticed the lake, too. In fact, when the trail passed through a thicket of whitebark pines that temporarily blocked our view of the lake Olivia immediately asked me, in her admirably succinct speaking style, “Where the lake go?”

The lake, so far as I could tell, didn’t go anywhere. It seemed to be precisely where it has been since I became acquainted with it (and its mosquitoes) a couple decades ago: a few hundred feet below the Elkhorn Crest Trail, at the base of a granite boulder field just to the southwest of Angell Pass. The pass is about three miles south of Anthony Lakes Basin, which has for many decades been for both locals and tourists the most popular spot in the northern half of the range.

I mention this because I’ll bet a lot more people have seen this lake than have seen, for instance, Willow Creek Lake. The latter occupies a depression on the northern shoulder of Hunt Mountain, which juts into Baker Valley like an aquiline nose.

The isolated nature of Willow Creek Lake is due largely to there being no trails anywhere close to it. You have to really want to see the lake, is what I mean, and most people, I suspect, don’t want to see it that badly. I have seen it, and I know I don’t want to again. At least not the way I went.

Yet even though thousands of hikers who have crossed Angell Pass must have looked down on the lake, no one apparently bothered to try to affix a name to it. Not even an obvious one like Angell Pass Lake.

This would have been in keeping with local practice, though, because the people who named most of the other lakes in the Elkhorns rarely dipped too deep into the well of creativity.

Rock Creek Lake. Pine Creek Reservoir. Lost Lake. Summit Lake (and its smaller neighbor, cleverly known as Little Summit Lake). Twin Lakes.

Scintillating, all.

(Although Crawfish and Bucket aren’t bad names for lakes. And Killamacue is quite good. Its name derived from some white person mangling an old American Indian word, according to McArthur’s “Oregon Geographic Names.”)

I haven’t alerted the Oregon Geographic Names Board to my concern, an oversight which I suspect would not bother the board overmuch were it aware.

If, however, the board ever gets around to the matter of this lake in the Elkhorns, I have a suggestion.

I recommend Brinton Lake. This to honor the late Byron Brinton, owner, editor and publisher of The Record-Courier newspaper in Baker City.

Brinton, who died in 2005 at the age of 93, was instrumental in creating the ski area at Anthony Lakes, and his family owned a summer cabin at Floodwater Flats nearby. Byron must have seen the lake in question many times.

He also cared deeply about the names of Oregon places. So deeply, in fact, that he served on the Oregon Geographic Names Board.

I don’t know if this disqualifies By from having his name preserved on the state’s landscape. I don’t think it ought to, though; we’ve named other places for governors, after all.

I suppose I could write “Brinton Lake” on my own maps, and start referring to the lake as such.

But I’d prefer a more official change, with a sign and everything.

I know the ideal place to put it up, too: beside the Crest Trail in a gap between the whitebark pines, where nobody has to ask, “Where Brinton Lake go?”


Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.