Located at the northwestern edge of the Great Basin in south-central Oregon, Playa sits at the base of Winter Ridge, which rises to 7,200 feet. Summer Lake is directly to the east of Playa, which lies at an elevation of 4,200 feet.
Summer Lake, 20 miles long and five miles wide, is a playa, a seasonal desert lake. It is shallow in the winter, and evaporates in the summer.
A 360-degree pan (place your cursor on the photo and move side-to-side) and view of the dry lake bed of Summer Lake from a point near Playa, is courtesy of Craig E. Skinner of the Northwest Research Obsidian Studies Laboratory in Corvallis. A month after this picture was taken in 2002, the 92,000 acre Winter Ridge Fire completely burned the hillside immediately behind the buildings.
At the north end of Summer Lake, the state-owned Summer Lake Wildlife Area is one of the finest desert wetlands in Oregon. It is a destination for birds and birders year-round. The surrounding semi-arid terrain has diverse wildlife and a varied geology. Thousands of years of human use of the Summer Lake basin has left a rich record of human habitation. Weather varies with wind, snow, rain, and sun.
Lake County, with a population of about 8,000 and over 8,000 square miles, is Oregon’s only county without a stoplight. Ranching, outdoor recreation, government land management, and a developing alternative energy industry are the primary economic base. Lake County was featured in a recent High Country News story, “Rural Oregon timber county seeks economic revival through renewables.”
Playa, rural and remote from many services, is located on Highway 31, two hours southeast of Bend, Oregon, one hour north of Lakeview and five hours northwest of Reno, Nevada. The nearest commercial airport is in Redmond, 17 miles north of Bend.