Added 12 February 2006
Wanting to get another volume of water under my new Advanced Elements kayak after it's maiden voyage in Montana, I searched my home state of Arizona for enticing possibilities. I had a 3-day weekend in October, which I could extend to four days. I had a number of options, but I needed to get away from humanity, so Chevelon lake kept coming up to the top of my mind. I called Jeff up, and he was in, and confirmed that Jeff could borrow a kayak from a mutual friend. As the weekend approached, Jeff had to cancel (school and work), so we pushed back to the following weekend and shortened the trip by a day. I was bummed about the shorter trip, but oh well.
I had a hard time finding the time to prepare for this trip, so when Thursday night was over, I still wasn't fully packed and ready to go. This was somewhat of a problem since I had planned on picking Jeff up straight from work on Friday. I ended up skipping lunch on Friday so I could leave early to get home and finish packing.
Even so, I didn't leave home until around 5:30. By the time Jeff and I left Tucson it was after 6:30. Our drive north was uneventful except for the brief rainstorms we encountered, and we arrived at mt parents place near Payson at around 10 o'clock. The four of us chatted until around midnight before going to bed.
By mid-morning on Saturday, we headed towards Chevelon Lake. Due to the lateness of the season and the lake's relative remoteness, I had thought that Jeff and I might possibly be the only people at the lake, but I was QUITE mistaken on that. Right after we arrived at the trailhead, about 20 people walked past us carrying camping gear. I was totally dumbfounded. Our only consolation at that point was that they didn't have a boat, so we could easily escape them.
There is a road that goes right down to the lake, but the last mile of it is closed to all vehicles wider than 42" (or something like that). That meant that we had to haul our boats and all of our gear, including about 60 lbs of firewood about a mile down the very rocky (and rather steep) road to the lake. We managed to do so in two trips, neither of them very pleasant. I tried hauling my kayak (uninflated) down on a large rubber-wheeled hand-truck. The road was so rocky and uneven, that it even using the hand-truck was exhausting. It kept tipping over, and I had to choose my route carefully to avoid the biggest rocks. The picture on the left was actually taken at the end of the trip, but it shows the road, which looks FAR easier to travel in this picture than it is in reality.
We got all of the gear to the lake by about 12:30, then proceeded to inflate my 'yak and get all of our gear aboard the yaks. As we did so, my Advanced Elements Convertible kayak got a lot attention. There were several people who were very interested in it. It is a pretty trick little inflatable kayak.
By one o'clock, we were on the water. Once we slipped out yaks into the lake, the rest of the world slipped away. Troubles, apparently, don't know how to swim, and thankfully they don't have a boat! It was a beautiful day to be on the lake, and once the people we left behind on shore became indistinguishable dots, we were the only people on earth. Desite the slightly ominous clouds rolling in, we had a nice leisurely paddle. Before long, Jeff and I split up as he went west up a short arm of the lake. Whether he realized it was a dead end or not, I'm not sure. Without knowing the lake, it would be easy to think that the west arm was the right way to go.
With Jeffers far behind me I took my time and explored each little alcove on the east side of the lake, partially just to see what was there and partially to scout for potential camp sites in case we couldn't find one further up. After about an hour and a half of nosing around I came to the canyon that looked most promising on the map. I beached the boat and walked around to explore the options. The beach itself was actually quite niceand would have made a pretty good camp, but there was a chill wind so I decided to walk up canyon a bit into the ponderosa pines.
I quickly found our camp site. Someone had put a great deal of effort into the spot. In a beautiful place amidst large yellowjack ponderosas, someone had built a four sided structure with no roof. Three of the walls were made out of weathered wood and though airy, were pretty well made. The fourth wall was the coup de grace. It was built completely of dry stacked sandstone and was complete with a large fireplace. Perfect!
I walked back to the lake and waited for Jeff to arrive. I showed him the options and he immediately chose the fort. With dark clouds still rolling over head, we wasted no time in getting our tents set up and our gear organized. As I walked back to my yak to get the third load, I happened upon a cool black tarantula near the trail. We watched him for awhile before letting him go on his merry way. By then it was late afternoon, too late to do much exploring, but too early for dinner. So while Jeffers did his own thing, I grabbed my cameras and bird book and got back out on the water.
I first paddled over to a cliff on the west side of the lake where I saw two Pied bill grebes. There I also saw a large mass of large twigs curiously packed into a small recess in the cliff, extending above and below the water surface. It looked suspiciously like a beaver den, but I didn't think there were any beavers in the area, so didn't quite know what to make of it.
As I sat there admiring the cliff, a juvenile Great blue heron flew to the base of the cliff not 50 feet away. I watched in contentment as he speared a small fish out of the water and gulped it down with one swift motion. Soon after, he flew further north down the lake. While sitting there, I had also noticed someting floating on the water that looked like a small stick, but it seemed to be floating with some purpose.
After the heron flew away I decided to check it out. As I approached the twig flipped its big ol' flat tail out the water and brought it back down with a slap as he dove under water. It was a beaver! While perhaps not the last thing I would have expected, especially given the aforementioned mass of twigs against the cliff, its presence certainly came as a shock, and a happy shock at that.
I let the kayak drift as I scanned the lake for the beaver until I finally found it. Or rather, it found me; quite unexpectedly! It scared me as it slapped it's tail on the water again right next to my kayak. We was out of sight the instant he made me aware that he was even there. For about ten minutes I tried to follow him around the lake to get a picture of him, but he was very uncooperative. Eventually I gave up and paddled further south up the lake. I had a goal in mind.
Years go I worked on a Mexican Spotted Owl project in the area to the west of Chevelon Lake. On one occasion I was by myself tracking a radio collared owl whose signal kept leading me east. I walked and walked and walked, eventually walking down a steep slope to the deserted shore of Chevelon Lake. And still the owl's signal pointed east. Across the lake. And me without a boat. But then I looked around and noticed that there were some boats up on the shore. I checked them one by one to find them all locked to trees, save one.
Only now I had a solution without a paddle. I searched again, but couldn't find a paddle. So I searched the forest for something paddle-like. I finally found something . . . sort of. It was a ponderosa pine branch that fanned out to some smaller branches on the end.. It would have to do.
I pushed off from shore with my tracking equipment safely stowed in my commandeered boat powered by a tree branch. I've come a long way since then!
I branched my way across the lake in fine fashion, occasionally checking the owl's radio signal to make sure I was still heading in the right direction. The signal directed me to a small canyon on the east side of the lake, where I beached my borrowed boat and continued on foot. The canyon was narrow, rugged, and thick with vegetation. The terrain was bouncing the radio signal hither and thither, but I finally homed in on the owl, sitting in a large Douglas Fir. I spoke to her for a while about the adventure she had lead me on, then quietly departed and returned the way I came.
So one of the things I wanted to do on this trip was to go back to that canyon. I didn't have time to explore it that evening, but I at least wanted to locate it for potential further exploration later. So I paddled back over to the east side of the lake to a likely candidate. It was indeed the right canyon. I was surprised how well the reality of it matched my memory of it. Wading along the shoreline at the canyon, I encountered a species of bird I've never seen before, a Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes). There were five of them and I had fun watching and photographing them as I drifted nearby.
By then it was getting on into the evening and darkness was approaching, so I made my way back, enjoying the twilight and the beauty of the golden leaves of the oak trees reflected on the water.
When I got back to camp, Jeff and I started the fire and made dinner, enjoying a wonderful evening chatting about this and that, or simply sitting in silence. We retired to our tents at around nine o'clock, but I stayed up for an hour or more writing.
Stats for Day 1: 3.5 paddle miles, 3.5 hiking miles (WITH TONS OF GEAR)