Except for road signs and small billboards, a lake, especially this size, would be the last sight you'd expect in this otherwise parched, dusty environment - but this acquatic wonder of approximately four-thousand acres, gobbles up the attention like a belly dancer in a barber shop.
Lake Billy Chinook could pass for a million-year-old natural geologic creation, when in fact, it's younger than the hula hoop craze of the 1950's. While towering basalt cliff surrounding the lake give it an antediluvian appearance, no pterodactyl, those flying reptiles from the Triassic/Cretaceous Period, ever soared over Lake Billy Chinook - not because they exist, but rather, the lake didn't.
In 1964, Portland General Electric (Oregon), in an effort to stabilize a power supply to private utilities, built Round Butte Dam on the Deschutes River. At a cost of sixty-two-million dollars, it is primarily comprised of compacted rock material, as opposed to an earthen dam. The Deschutes, Metolius and Crooked Rivers fill the reservoir (the lake), to power the dam. It's overall dimensions, four-hundred-forty feet tall, thirteen hundred-twenty feet wide, and fifteen-hundred-seventy feet thick at the base, make it a pretty impressive creation.
So, what's with the name Lake Billy Chinook? Is that a fish - like salmon, or, a person? Actually, Billy Chinook was a Wasco Indian. Orphaned as a child, he grew up at the Wascopam Mission in The Dalles, Oregon. Many successful achievments on behalf of his people garnered him the honor of having the lake named after him. So, what 'achievements' are we talking about? Billy Chinook was part of the John C. Fremont expedition into Oregon in it's statehood infancy, and as an advocate for his native tribe in the negotiation of the Treaty of 1855.
But, it's not just the lake in itself that draws attention. What's that old realtor's mantra? Location, location, location. The landscape of sagebrush and juniper-covered buttes, doesn't exactly conjoin with that much water, but it draws a lot of wildlife - mule deer, coyotes, bobcat, and occasionally elk, from surrounding pine forests, and bird-life galore.
The lake however, has more than purpose, it gives pleasure. Thousands of residents from nearby cities and towns, and tourists from every state and many countries, use the lake for various forms of year-round recreation - swimming, boating, fishing, camping, hiking it's seventy-two mile shoreline, the possibilities are practically endless. If you're a fisher-person you can try your luck at Kokanee salmon, bull trout, Dolly Varden and bass. There are several campgrounds located at the lake, with Cove Palisades being it's premier provider of kayak and houseboat rentals.
Lake Billy Chinook is located approximately thirty miles north of Bend, Oregon, off Highway 97, near the small community of Culver.