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Deeper into Clear Lake.

Deeper into Clear Lake

More than fishing and water-skiing. A new visitor center shows the lake's geology, wildlife, history Bass may be boss at Clear Lake, but landing largemouths isn't the only thing that California's largest natural lake has to offer. A new visitor center at Clear Lake State Park introduces visitors to the geology, wildlife, and original human inhabitants of the lake basin. For a more informed view of your surroundings as you hike, fish, or bird-watch in or around the park, plan to stop first at the small but well-designed center. Park and lake are at their best in spring, after winter's rains and chilly days have passed, and before summer brings temperatures that regularly top the century mark. Wildflowers and wildlife are both conspicuous now, while flocks of water-skiers and their high-decibel speedboats have yet to appear. Anglers usually have particularly good luck, too, with bass and crappie spawning in shallows.

Learn about Clear Lake's prehistory and natural history

A geology exhibit now under construction in the new visitor center explains how Clear Lake was formed, and cites evidence for the claim that it's the oldest lake in North America. Peering into a shadow-box you'll have an illusion of looking up the slope of an erupting volcano, re-creating activity on nearby Mount Konocti that last occurred 10,000 years ago (though the prominent 4,200-foot cinder cone is still considered active). Pomo Indians inhabited the lake basin for thousands of years before white men found their way over the surrounding coastal mountains. A diorama shows how a Pomo Indian village of tule reed huts might have looked at the park's present location. In front of the diorama's village mural, lifelike mannequins represent Pomos making and using the baskets for which they are justly famous. Dioramas also depict various natural habitats of the lake basin. Digger pines shade a woodland exhibit populated by deer, coyote, a black bear, and birds such as owls and woodpeckers. In the lakeshore scene, a wading heron holds a fresh-caught fish in its beak, while a raccoon frolics on shore and a turtle glides by underwater. Knotted tree roots backdrop bass, crappie, perch, and bluegill plying the waters of an 800-gallon aquarium. Through May, visitor center hours are 10 to 4 Saturdays and Sundays; it will also be open April 9 through 13, the week before Easter.

Fish from a boat or shore

According to the California Department of Fish and Game, Clear Lake rewards bass anglers with not only trophy-size fish (the lake record is over 15 pounds), but also with an average catch of a fish every 2 hours. In spring, try artificial worms, surface plugs, and shallow running lures. Some suggested locations for finding bass--and other fish, including catfish, crappie, and bluegill--are shown on the park's brochure. If you have your own boat, you can launch it at the park's ramp. Boat rentals (small outboards, bass boats with trolling motors) are available at nearby resorts; the closest one to the park is Ferndale Marina, 1 1/2 miles east on Soda Bay Road. However, you don't need a boat to wet a line. Kelsey Slough, a lush inlet snaking through the park, offers relaxed fishing from secluded spots along its banks.

View nature's spring displays on land and water

Kelsey Slough attracts a remarkable array of birds, too. Magnificent great blue herons, as well as smaller green herons and black-crowned night herons, are commonly seen winging gracefully over the slough or wading along its banks. Mallards and other ducks float along in groups; terns, ospreys, and egrets also make frequent appearances. In spring, you can also witness the fascinating courtship rituals and other breeding displays of the western grebe. At times, a pair of the long-necked birds will race across the water side by side, then dive abruptly underwater; resurfacing, they converge on each other while rising higher and higher out of the water, turning their heads from side to side and whistling shrilly. On land, the most impressive spring display is put on by western redbuds. The deep pink blooms of the large shrub contrast pleasingly with the green hills. Two trails loop through the park. The 3-mile Dorn Trail winds through oak, bay, buckeye, and manzanita; clearings reveal Mount Konocti's massive profile. Look in the park brochure for a key that explains how the Pomo Indians used local plants such as ones seen along the 1/4-mile Indian Nature Trail.

Lakeside camping

Of the park's four campgrounds, only the popular Kelsey Creek area is open in early spring. Campsites accommodate tents or recreation vehicles; hot showers are available in the rest rooms. Standard sites cost $10 a night. For an extra $2, you can reserve a "premium" one beside the lake, where you can pull your boat onto shore at your site.

PHOTO : Former private home, converted into visitor center by park staff and volunteers, now

PHOTO : houses dioramas of lake basin's natural habitats

PHOTO : Wings outspread, cormorant perched on lakeshore tree branch seems to greet sailors

PHOTO : motoring out of harbor at Clear Lake State Park
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Title Annotation:California
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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