Skiing at the Running Y Ranch is for the birds

    Thousands of birds take to the air near the Running Y Ranch Resort. <br><p>Photo by Mary Williams Hyde{/p}

    We heard them before we saw them.

    The distant cacophony of sound was harsh, raucous and loud, the sounds of thousands of snow geese. Like a pack of baying hounds, their nasal honks filled the air.

    Snow geese are sometimes regarded as the noisiest of all waterfowl and, with thousands gathered on nearby snow-covered fields and marshes, they seemed to be excitedly and obstreperously celebrating their noise-making notoriety.

    We also heard and saw other birds, including, most memorably, tundra swans that glided gracefully and noiselessly overhead, their wings seemingly translucent against the sky.

    There were bald eagles, rough-legged hawks, white-fronted geese and herons, plus goldeneye, bufflehead and other ducks, along with enough varieties of waterfowl and raptors to fill several pages of “The Sibley Guide to the Birds.”

    Over a multiday period a mix of friends and I cross-country skied along the Skillet Handle Trail and adjacent marshland dikes at and near the Running Y Ranch Resort, the popular destination resort/upscale residential area just miles from downtown Klamath Falls and about 70 miles from the Rogue Valley.

    None of us were true Audubon-knowledgeable “bird watchers,” but it was impossible for us not to hear and watch — and appreciate in a very non-Alfred Hitchcock threatening way — the birds.

    The Skillet Handle Trail is located on the eastern end of Cooper’s Hawk Road near the northeast corner of the 360-acre Running Y Ranch Resort, which in a previous incarnation was a working cattle ranch. It’s a community also known for its Arnold Palmer signature golf course, Ruddy Duck Restaurant, Bill Collier Ice Arena, lodge, six miles of paved bicycle paths, horseback riding and the Skillet Handle Trail, which is actually three distinct trails that run parallel along an area flanked by Upper Klamath Lake and by farmland that was once part of the Caledonia Marsh.

    Most of the year the Skillet Handle trails are used by walkers, mountain bikers and, from corrals near the trailhead and parking area, horseback riders — from about Memorial Day to Labor Day people can saddle up for concession-offered rides. The main trail is designated for mountain bikers and walkers, while the birding trail that weaves through pine forests and woodland oaks is especially designed for birders, and the horseback-riding trail is for budding buckaroos.

    But during snowier months the Skillet Handle’s trail network is popular for cross-country skiers, usually following the main trail, a two-track path that extends to the Skillet Handle’s north end. A group of us enjoyed skiing through the forest canopy, although during lighter snow conditions it’s necessary, and sometimes difficult, to avoid occasional rocks and occasional views of the marsh. By taking indistinct side routes, it’s possible to find coves and perches overlooking or fronting Upper Klamath Lake for the sounds and sights of an ever-changing variety of birds.

    Cross-country skiers often branch off from the trail and follow dikes that crisscross farm fields, some stretching toward and alongside the fairways along the first several holes of the golf course.

    Ski outings can be a few easy gentle miles, or stretched out longer depending on snow conditions. With its gentle, mostly flat terrain, the Skillet Handle is a great place for beginning skiers — and beginning birdwatchers. It’s a place where, in the best possible way, skiing can be for the birds.

    Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at or 541-880-4139.

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