Free Fishing Weekend

Friday and Saturday, November 25 and 26, 2016


Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife:

Start a new Thanksgiving tradition:  Take family and friends fishing for free on Friday and Saturday, November 25 and 26.  It’s a free fishing weekend in Oregon and no licenses, tags or endorsements will be required to fish, crab or clam anywhere in the state.

Trout Update:  Lake Billy Chinook to Benham Falls: rainbow trout, brown trout.  Open for trout all year. Fishing restricted to artificial flies and lures. No size or limits on brown trout and no harvest of bull trout.

Algae Update at Lake Billy Chinook

Health Advisory Lifted – New water monitoring has confirmed that the level of blue-green algae toxins are below guideline values for human exposure.  It is safe to boat/swim in the Crooked, Deschutes and Metolius River Arms of Lake Billy Chinook at this time.

The Oregon Health Authority recommends that people continue to be cautious with their pets in the lake because toxins are still above the very low exposure levels established for dogs. (Health Advisories may still be in effect at Perry South)

Round Butte Dam and the Selective Water Withdrawal Tower. Photo by Greg McMillan.

Why is the lake green?

The term “Algae” refers to a broad scope of organisms.  Algae can range from the microscopic single celled organisms that can be floating in a lake, to large seaweed plants that are found in the ocean, like Giant Kelp.  Your common lake variety of algae is known as green algae.  (This is different from the toxic blue-green algae, which is actually a form of bacteria known as Cyanobacteria, that can make some people and animals sick.)

Single celled Green Algae, photo credit

Green algae is the single cell variety of green algae that most commonly turns Lake Billy Chinook green.  These tiny little micro-organisms live off of the nutrients in the lake and use the sunlight to photosynthesize, much like the plants and trees above the water.  These little organisms contain large amounts of “chlorophyll,” which is a pigment that makes all plants green.  (Chlorophyll is the essential pigment that allows plants to photosynthesize sunlight into food.)

Green Algae in Lake Billy Chinook

When the weather and the water temperature warm up, typically in late spring or early summer,  the entire lake can resemble a huge pot of split pea soup.  This occurs when the number of algae organisms begin to reproduce at an astounding rate.  These algae are able to reproduce because there is an excess of nutrients found in the water.  The algae can become thick and doesn’t smell very good.  Algal blooms are a naturally occurring phenomenon, and are essential to the overall health of the lake.  This excess bloom of plant life provides tons of food for other microorganisms and fish.


The Island, a National Natural Landmark

The Island is majestically placed between the Deschutes River and Crooked River where they enter Lake Billy Chinook.
The Island is majestically placed between the Deschutes River and Crooked River where they enter Lake Billy Chinook.

The Island is a peninsula with steep vertical cliffs on three sides, that rise 700 feet above the Crooked and Deschutes Rivers.  It measures about 208 acres on top. Due to the steep cliffs that surround it, the Island has never been grazed by livestock, except for one season of grazing by sheep in 1921. It also has not suffered from any sizable wildfires in the last century.  As a result, it contains one of the United States’ last remaining undisturbed communities of two native vegetation types: western juniper – big sagebrush-blue bunch-wheatgrass and western juniper-big sagebrush-bitterbrush.

The Island is significant in several ways.  This geologic feature is part of the Deschutes Formation which began forming about 11 million years ago, as alternating layers of basaltic lava, stream sediment, and volcanic debris flowed into the area from the Cascade Range.  Erosion by the Deschutes and Crooked rivers; as well as wind have continued to form and erode the plateau we see today.  It was a powerful cultural location to local Native American’s.  It also possesses exceptional value as an illustration of the Nation’s Natural Heritage and contributes to a better understanding of the environment.  

In order to preserve the integrity of the site, the Island is designated a Research Natural Area by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 1986.  In 1997, the BLM closed the Island to the public; permits may be issued to educational institutions and conservation groups seasonally.  Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, designated it as one of nine National Natural Landmarks in Oregon.

In 2011, the Island formation at Lake Billy Chinook was dedicated as a National Natural Landmark.
The Island at Lake Billy Chinook was dedicated as a National Natural Landmark in 2011.

Rangers Steve Bifano, Chris Rodgers, and Jay Walters located the perfect rock in which to set the National Landmark plaque this spring.

If you are driving toward Deschutes Camp, on the left side of the road, near the Petroglyph Rock pull off area, you will see a trail going back towards Group Camp.  Hike about a hundred feet and you will find the plaque.  Park Staff intend to install a bench for visitors in the future.


Planning for Summer 2014

camping graphicFor all of you that are already planning your camp outs for this summer at The Cove; park staff has been busy over the winter upgrading and improving the park for your visit.  Here are just a few things you will notice:

  • If you prefer the Deschutes Campground, you will notice that you can see a bit better.  Juniper thinning has been going on over the winter to protect valuable natural resources and you in case of wildfire.  Don’t worry, there is still plenty of shade available.
  • For your furry campers, the dog off-leash areas in both the Deschutes and Crooked River Campgrounds have been repaired and have better fences and gates allowing easier access.
  • Many of the old boat docks have been repaired or replaced.
  • New cabin furniture replaced the older, more heavily used pieces.
  • New way finder signs will point you in the right direction around the park.
  • All new programs will be added to our traditional campfire programs, junior ranger programs and night programs.  If you’ve joined us before, we welcome you back, if not, now is     your chance to see what you’ve been missing!

Don’t forget, camping and cabin reservations can be made up to nine months in advance so reserve your spot today!  Reservations can be made online at or by calling Reservations Northwest at 1-800-452-5687.

Rattlesnakes at the Cove

Many of our visitors don’t realize that they’re in rattlesnake country when they descend into the canyon walls of the Cove Palisades, but with a little bit of awareness, there’s very little to fear.

We only have one type of venomous snake here: the Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis). There are lots of misconceptions about rattlers, formed out of fear and misunderstanding. Sadly, lots of rattlers get killed for these reasons. Rattlesnakes are important members of the ecosystem and deserve our respect, not our disdain. Knowing the facts will keep visitors and snakes alike happy and healthy!

Juvenile Western Rattler, from Wiki.

This post is designed to give you all the information you need about rattlers at the Cove, so it’s a little longer than usual posts, but knowledge is power! Click on “Read the Rest” to go to the full article. Continue reading “Rattlesnakes at the Cove”


The Cove is home to many great little critters.  This unique hub of the high desert attracts some super cool insects, reptiles, rodents, and other creatures and if you enjoy the view close to the ground, or low in the grass or sage, you are bound to see ‘em!

Just the other day on a walk near the Crooked River Day Use, I was walking in between some big boulders and I noticed a little flash of rainbow out of the corner of my eye.  I looked over and there was an awesome little Plateau Striped-Whiptail Lizard, enjoying the sunshine with me.  That flash of rainbow I saw was it’s crazy coloration that blends into a bright, lightening-blue tail.


As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, the Plateau Striped-Whiptail is a pretty unique species to our park.  The lizard is only found in Oregon at the Cove Palisades, and then some random places in Arizona.  How cool is that?  It is my favorite animal in this park, and I’m so excited because in June, these little whiptails like to hang out on the front porch of my office early in the morning.  Like I spilled a hundred crazy marbles, they will zip off my porch in all directions, over my boots and into the sagebrush.  They are probably the quickest lizard I have ever met, and it’s a fun wake-up to start my day.

I was inspired after seeing this little lizard yesterday to write a post about the lizards in our park, and some interesting tidbits about them.  I have chosen our 4 most popular lizards for you to read about, and maybe when you come to the park you can take a lizard trek to try and identify them.  They are hilarious to watch and very curious, they might try to identify you first before you even notice them!

Side-blotched Lizard  

This lizard has a very unusual mating strategy, known as the “Rock-Paper-Scissor” strategy!  There are 3 different types of “colorful” males (Orange, Blue and Yellow Throated) and each have their own unique mating patterns!  The 0range-throated males are the strongest, and do not form bonds.  Instead, they just steal partners from the blue-throated males.  So, to put it in perspective, they are like that cowboy that doesn’t ask your lady to dance at the bar, he just kinda well, grabs her and dances with her and makes you hold his beer. All male side-blotched lizards use a hilarious “push-up” display to defend their territory and attract the ladies!

side blotch1

The blue-throated males forms a strong bond with their mate and although they can’t fight off the orange-throated desperados, they can successfully fight off the yellow-throated lizards.   And then last, and in this case least, the yellow throats.  It’s a little harder for them to find a second date.

Also, this particular lizard is short-lived, only living for about a year.

side blotch

The side-blotched lizard is really sensitive to ecological environmental changes, so if there is just the tiniest fluctuation in the amount of rainfall in the area or the amount of other Side-Blotched Lizards around, they will hit the road in search of a better territory!

Sagebrush Lizard

Sagebrush lizards like open spaces with low growing brush, especially sagebrush (no way??!) and the juniper forests of the high desert country.  They are rather drab and well camouflaged, being gray, brown, or cream-colored with dark and light stripes running down their backs.  To me, they like to chill out more than other lizards in the park, making them slightly easier to get a closer look at.  Females have yellow or maize-colored bellies surrounded by cream or gray. Males have blue or purplish patches on their bellies and on their throats.  Like most lizards, these patches grow darker and more vivid during mating season.  Ooo la la!  Lizard!  I have to ask…who are you wearing?!

side blotch1

Western Fence Lizard

The adult western fence lizard has an abdomen that is characteristically blue, so this lizard is also known as “blue-belly”.

blue  These lizards are commonly seen sunning on paths, rocks, and fence posts, and other high places, which makes them an easy target for predation by snakes and birds of prey. They protect themselves by employing their fast reflexes, which are common in many other lizards.  You better be able to move at mach speed to catch one of these buggers, but I have seen some quick campers who can do it!

side blotch1

Plateau Striped-Whiptail Lizard

These lizards are dark brown or black in color, with six to seven light-colored stripes running down their backs. They have long tails that fade to a light-blue color at the ends.  As is the case with most relatively small lizards, the diet of the plateau striped whiptail consists mainly of insects.

The craziest fact of all, are you ready?!  To impress all your nerdy, science friends?  All plateau striped whiptails are females, and thus reproduce via parthenogenesis (eggs are not fertilized, but still develop). Individuals lay a single clutch of three to five eggs during June or July.

side blotch1

Most dry-climate lizards spend the majority of their active time stationary, waiting for prey to come within range. Prey is usually detected visually. This is referred to as sit-and-wait, or ambush predation. Whiptails, on the other hand, forage actively, rarely sitting in one place long enough to even come close to catching, and their prey may be detected visually or by smell.

For view more Liiiizards in person, come out to the Cove anytime in the Spring or Summer, and to learn more about Lizards and other Oregon herps, click Lizards!