Added 1 June 2008

Friday, 21 March 2008, Canyon Lake, Arizona

(Hover over images for captions. Click images for larger versions.)

I didn't get as early a start as I'd hoped this morning, so it was a little after eight o'clock by the time I was on the water at Canyon Lake. Even so, I was one of only 2 or 3 boats on the lake at that time.

I was conflicted as to the best plan for the day. I wanted to cover the entire lake, that much was certain, but the best way to do it was not. I knew it would be nice to head up the canyon before the motorboaters arrived in force, but I felt it was more critical to visit the coves by the marina before the crowd of drunken teenage revelers ruined them, so I opted to circle counter-clockwise around the main body of the lake then head up the canyon.

All was quiet at the marina when I paddled past and into the large, no-motors-allowed cove behind it. There wasn't a single soul in the entire cove, on the water or on the shore, and the water was smooth and glassy. I'd hit the jackpot. Paddling past the graffiti defaced cliffs that the ignorant teenage drunks frequently dive off of, I reached the spot where the cove used to end in a thicket of reeds and muck. What lay before me now was water out of sight around the next bend.

Over the winter, the lake was drained for dam inspections and maintenance. When the lake level was low, Arizona got a fair amount of winter precipitation. The canyon flooded and removed all of the sediment that had built up at the lake margin, exposing beautiful, unspoiled canyon. I paddled around the final bend and was greeted with the sound of running water. A small stream fell the last foot or two into the lake as an unassuming waterfall. I wedged my yak between the rocks to keep it from floating away, then got out to explore up the stream on foot. There were several fairly large pools in the stream and the entire canyon was amazingly beautiful. I also happened upon a little red-spotted toad in the rocky streambed. My day was turning into the antithesis of my previous day with the power boaters on Saguaro Lake. I was in heaven.

Knowing I had a lot of lake to cover still, and feet clad only in Crocs, I reluctantly decided to halt my upstream exploration and return to my yak. I'd heard that the other large cove on the eastern part of the lake had a similar revelation, so I was eager to see it too. Exiting the marina, I ran headlong into a rather stiff headwind. With white-caps kicking up over the bow of the yak, I angled across the lake and put a lot of power down hoping to find some shelter from the wind as quickly as possible. Once into the narrows the wind calmed considerably, allowing me to resume a more leisurely paddle. Here again was a nice little waterfall entering the lake at the end of the cove.

The stream here was much more bouldery and more difficult to navigate, so I didn't wander as far upstream as I did on the other stream. As I exited the cove, I encountered a few motorboaters. The power crowd had finally woken up. Traveling back west across the northern portion of the main body of the lake, I had a nice tailwind, so I largely just set my paddle down and let the wind push me across the lake, using my rudder to keep me pointed in the right direction. The wind pushed me along and a respectable 2 miles an hour or so. I should have had a sail!

Upon reaching the canyon part of Canyon Lake, I had to resume paddling, often against a headwind, but it was never severe. I collected trash as I paddled along. The peace was interrupted intermittently by motorboats that, by and large, respectfully throttled back and gave me a wide berth. I have found this to be fairly consistent with Canyon Lake. While there are certainly boaters who will scream by a paddler, I've found them to be more the exception than the rule. It seems that Canyon is more of a sight-seers lake, whereas Saguaro Lake is a play lake. Even those that didn't slow down were often traveling only at moderate speed, and they were often unheard not long after they were unseen, leaving me in peace much of the time.

Even though I was a bit concerned about having enough time to paddle all the way to the dam and back to the car, I couldn't resist exploring every side canyon on the eastern side of the lake. None are as long as those coming off the main body of the lake, but a couple are large enough that they provide a relatively quiet spot away from the motorboats.

Less than half way up the canyon to the dam I'd already paddled over ten miles, the longest distance I'd ever paddled in one day. As the afternoon drifted on and more miles of water passed beneath me, in addition to worrying a bit about the time, I hoped I'd have enough stamina to get back to the car. I've always been very much of a 'round-the-bender though, and it is extremely difficult for me to turn around and head home when untold mysteries and excitement lay ahead. If my arms completely deserted me, I hoped I could rely on the kindness of strangers and hitch a ride on a pontoon boat or something.

At one relatively wide spot in the lake I looked ahead and was surprised to see a couple of kayaks! They were coming down my side of the lake but much closer to shore, so I altered course a bit to pass near them without coming right up to them. They were an older couple and when one of them finally looked over at me I waved and was thoroughly ignored. I'd never met a rude paddler until then.

At over 14 total miles I reached a no wake zone. I love no wake zones. My GPS was showing over a mile to the dam, so I wasn't entirely sure to make of this one though. I could only guess that the lake didn't extend all the way to the dam for Apache Lake, the next one in the chain. Rounding a bend I saw all of the boats that had passed me, most beached and several competing with their music. One friendly guy out with his family saw me passing by and said, "You made it! That's one looong row!" I just smiled and said, "Don't I know it!" then wished him a good day as I paddled on by.

For everyone else, there was a nice beach to play on, for me, there were more bends to round. On the outside of the next horseshoe bend, the side canyon for Fish Creek came in to the lake. As soon as I poked inside I knew I'd have the place all to my self. It was narrow, and the channel, though generally fairly deep, contained large prop eating boulders lurking beneath the surface.

After reaching the spot where lake met creek I got out of the yak and had a late lunch, even though I was surprisingly not all that hungry. I would have loved to have relaxed there for a while, but it was mid-afternoon, it appeared as if there was a fair amount of lake yet ahead, and I still had a long paddle to get home.

Upon rounding the rest of the horseshoe bend I saw a mixed blessing in the distance. I continued paddling towards two large no trespassing signs and a string of large red floats extending across the entire width of the lake. Combined, they legally and physically blocked access to the extreme upper end of the lake and the tiny remnant of the Salt River that presumably remained between there and Apache Dam.

I went right up to the blockade and peered as far as I could around the next bend and up the canyon. I wanted to go on. I thought about carrying my kayak around the blockade. I could claim that I can't read and assumed the blockade was only for motorboats. I sat in my kayak for several long minutes. I turned and paddled away.

I really needed to start heading home and the restriction was the only thing that cured my otherwise incurable round-the-bend syndrome. Even then, if I hadn't seen an official truck 15 minutes earlier, I don't know if the signs and barriers would have been enough.

As I paddle back past the play beach there were only a handful of boats left. I hoped that meant there wouldn't be as much boat traffic for my return trip. Whenever a boat passed me going back home I counted down. Then I started encountering boats still going up the lake so I had to start adding. The number kept going up and down but essentially stayed the same so after a while I just quit counting.

I stopped a few times to check out a side canyon or do some birdwatching, but with fewer side canyons to explore on the western side of the lake, I made better time going back to the main part of the lake. As I topped 20 miles of paddling I was amazed at how good I felt, and that I was still able to maintain a 3.5-4 mph pace.

Before I knew it I was back on the main part of the lake with more than an hour to spare before sunset. I decided to go to the generally quiet cove in the southwest corner of the lake. It was crossing the lake to get there that I got the first hint that my arms were nearing the point of failure. The slight cramping passed quickly without me having to slow my cadence though and I didn't slow down until I entered the quietl waters of the cove.

Once I got past the first part of the cove, I had the place to myself, which was exactly what I'd hoped for, but didn't expect. Like the coves near the marina, winter floods had scoured the sediment and thick vegetation out of this canyon too, and the cove ended where a small live stream entered.

I stopped only when my kayak could float no further, and simply sat and enjoyed the evening. As I sat there though, the lake receded leaving me not exactly high and dry, but significantly beached. The water then returned and floated my boat. But out it went again. Intrigued, I set about to measure the periodicity and magnitude of the seiche. The water rose and fell on almost exactly a three minute interval evenly split between waxing and waning. What truly amazed me was that the water level fluctuated a full six inches in height. It was really quite interesting, at least for this nerd.

When I was ready to leave, I waited for the water level to rise then floated back with the tide. Paddling out of the cove I was just about the only person left on the lake. By the time I got to my car I'd paddled over 24 miles, it was near dark, and I started working fast to get on the road. As I was loading up, a woman approached me and started asking me about my kayak. She was interested in getting one for her and her daughter and wanted some more information. By the time we stopped talking it was well after dark.

As I unloaded the kayak and loaded the car I kept looking for my glasses, but to no avail. When I'd finished and still hadn't found them I tore the car apart trying to find them. When I still didn't find them, I realized I must have lost them on the lake and gave up. As I started driving away, now after seven o'clock, I saw them resting on the outside of the windshield. Phew! I could have gotten by without them, but driving at night is much nicer with them.

I didn't get cell phone service until I was almost all the way in to Mesa, so by the time I called my wife she was more than a little worried about me, as expected. I still needed to get dinner, too. I didn't arrive at my door until after ten o'clock, a long day to be sure, but a wonderful one as well. I felt really good for having spent all day out in the sun and for having paddled almost 2.5 times further than I'd ever paddled previously.