Thursday, July 28, 2005

Lake Talquin, west of Tallahassee, FL

The bank temperature sign said 96 degrees at 10:30. Kind of hot to go paddling, but I had decided to return to Lake Talquin after a long absence, and lake paddling is generally simple since there is no current to fight. This is an 8800-acre reservoir that is a very popular place for fishing, power boating, water skiing, and jet skis. But on a day this hot?

When I got there a little before noon the parking lot was nearly empty, only about 4 pickup trucks with trailers. I was putting in at Coe's Landing, which is off Hwy 20. It's very clearly marked with signs alerting you to the boat ramp before the turnoff from Hwy 20 onto Coe's Landing Rd. There is a campground with facilities adjacent to the boat ramp.

The lake was mirror-smooth and the prettiest I have ever seen it. So I unloaded and got ready to launch.

It appeared I had the whole lake to myself, though the boats that went on those trailers had to be someplace. They may have gone up the Ochlockonee River, which feeds into Talquin. I headed that way myself.

I saw a great blue heron, a reddish heron, an egret, and a large bird that may have been some kind of hawk (almost bald eagle-ish looking but not big enough)--but birds on this lake are evidently camera-shy, I couldn't get close enough to any to get a picture.

It was hot. But it was certainly peaceful. The river is completely unpopulated, at least in this area, making for some great scenery. It's very wide near the lake.

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I didn't go far up the river before turning around to return to the lake. I stopped at a place where it was easy to get out and stretched my legs a bit. This end of the lake is a super place to paddle around and explore, with many little islands of vegetation.

I need to make a point of getting back to Talquin when it is a tad cooler and more comfortable out. The water was very warm, which seems strange in comparison to the Wakulla and Wacissa, which are 72 degrees year-round. Much more refreshing...

It seems my paddle destination choices are dwindling right now and the Wacissa is the best place to go. The water is guaranteed clear since the put-in is at the headspring, the water level stays constant, and submerging in that water after the paddling is done is a high point of the trip on days when temps are in the upper 90's!

I'm guessing that will be my next trip out. Stand by.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Wakulla River

Well, the Wakulla is still as silty as it was last time I was there almost 2 weeks ago. Like paddling the Muddy Mississipp (no "i" on purpose, though I don't know why). The water level was also about 4' lower than I have ever seen it, which the guy at the boat rental place next to the public ramp attributed to tide. The tide had at that time been coming in for 4 hours, and it was only predicted to be a foot-something in height, so I'm not sure if that's the reason for the extremely low water level...but it could be. At any rate, I've never seen it like this. Wide expanses of mud that used to be river bottom stretched out on either side of the river. I thought this might force the wood ducks out into the main part of the river and I kept watch for them. Saw a female from some distance but that's all. Some day I'll get another picture of them.

The current at the top was extremely swift and provided the day's exercise.

I did see this heron on the way downstream, as I went zooming by riding the current.

I think I will give this river a few weeks to clear itself up before going back. If you plan a trip here close to today's date, you might want to rethink it and go to the Wacissa or the pools at the St. Marks NWR instead.

Stand by for the next trip report.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Calderwood Lake, North Carolina

This is a very, very strange lake. It's long and narrow like a river (and has a current), it was dug out like a trench, and it's known as a lake.

The water is 400 feet deep in the center. The water temperature--in July--is 50-some degrees. This is water that one should not paddle in without some sort of wetsuit ("dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature"), but we risked it and stayed very close to the shore.

When we got to Calderwood it was around 11 am. There was so much mist coming off the water you could not see your hand in front of your face. Given this total lack of visibility and the water temperature, we hemmed and hawed awhile at the boat ramp, deciding whether to go out. As we stood there, the mist started to lift somewhat and we decided, somewhat hesitantly, to give it a try. It's a gorgeous lake, with the mountains rising steeply alongside it. Needless to say, there are no signs of civilization once you leave the ramp area, which is also a camping area. So we head out.

We encountered some people in a canoe, and someone going extremely slowly in a fishing boat. Sound carried remarkably well in the misted air, which made it seem even more eerie. You could hear people talking but could not tell where or how far away they were. Staying close to the shoreline brought the increased risk of being tipped by an unseen underwater obstruction--there were tree branches and logs everywhere.

Finally the mist had totally lifted and we could see the lake. I was paddling barefoot, as usual in the summer, and the cold water was making the bottom of the boat very cold, which made my feet cold. Just strange for July.

This is a really interesting place to paddle. It can be found along Hwy 129 north of Robbinsville, just past Tapoco Lodge (if you are coming south, just after Tail of the Dragon). If you are going to be heading down (or up) (or over) that way, you may want to take a look at it for a day paddle. Just don't fall in.

Go here for more Calderwood Lake pictures from this trip.

NOTE: I made another trip to Calderwood in July of 2010, five years after this trip. That post can be found here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina

Spent some time in a nice house on Lake Santeetlah, which is near Robbinsville, NC. My brother Gary came down from Ohio to join me for part of the time, bringing his kayak, of course.

This is a huge lake, but only populated in spots, while much of the shoreline is wooded. The bottom rises gradually, making it easy to step out almost anywhere along the shore. We did our paddling in the morning and early evening, so we were not plagued by the power boats and jet skis that zoomed across the lake in the middle of the day--although the lake is large enough that even at the busiest times it didn't seem overly crowded.

Every morning the clouds would make their way up the mountains.

The lake was very still in the early part of the day, making for ideal paddling--and you can't beat the scenery!

You may note the orange flag. Given that power boaters, if they are looking where they are going at all (Gary got a very telling picture of a boat zooming through the water with every occupant, including the person steering the boat, looking out the back of the boat), are looking for other power boat profiles, which means that we kayakers, sitting so low in the water, are usually completely under their radar, we thought we would try to raise our profiles just a bit by sporting 6' orange flags. I don't know if this made a bit of difference with the power boaters, but I do know that when we drifted apart to look at different things, it was easy to spot each other later!

Gary went home a day before I did. I decided to explore a different part of the lake and so I put in at the Cheowah Recreation Area. While there is a concrete boat ramp, and while the swimming area does have a No Launching sign, I decided to put in there on the sand rather than subject my hull yet again to hard concrete.

While out on the water, I came across some kids jumping off a rock. Similar to the kids that jump off the bridge on the Wakulla... it's a common theme when I paddle, I guess. Grace, the jumper here, got herself to the top of the rock and then was too scared to climb back down. It took a lot of coaching from her mother, in a boat on the water, but she finally got up her courage and made the jump. Way to go, Grace!

I was out on this lake three times during this trip, and I hope to get back again some time. The water is very clear and clean and the scenery is superb!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Wakulla and Wacissa

I thought I'd go back to the Wakulla this morning. I had plans to meet someone there but she bailed (so to speak) on me.

Dennis, our most recent hurricane, blew through the Wakulla area recently. As a result, the water was very silty. Very silty. The current was also the strongest I have ever encountered there, regardless of tide conditions. Normally it takes me from 45 minutes to an hour to reach the dock at Mysterious Waters. Today I had still not reached it after 90 minutes of paddling against the current. (You didn't miss anything, Scott!) I decided that perhaps there were other places to paddle today so I turned around after those 90 minutes. It took me about 30 minutes to drift back to the boat ramp, with little paddling involved. I saw no downed trees, but the rushes that normally line the river had been relocated to assorted docks. In addition, some of those docks had not fared well.

I decided to continue on up Hwy. 98 to investigate Spring Creek, an area someone I had met on the Wakulla had told me would be "perfect" for kayaking. His directions were spot on, but the area had been hit hard by Dennis and there were policemen monitoring traffic in and out. Interestingly, they waved me through. I drove to a logical place for a boat ramp, but found no such thing. A local resident was cleaning her yard and she told me she knew of no public boat ramp in the area. (If you know of one, tell me where it is.) Ok, fine. I thought I might take a look at Shell Point, a Gulf put-in area. Some day I would like to get out into saltwater. Not today, but I thought I would check it out. I asked those same policemen about whether Shell Point was accessible. Turns out that whole area was closed. A few days after a hurricane is just not the best time to be reconning Gulf paddling spots.

My next plan was to return to the St. Marks NWR pools and finally get all the way around at least one, if not both. Guess what? St. Marks NWR was closed today. Not the best day for a paddling trip.

I was still in paddling-time deficit since I had left the Wakulla so soon. I pass the Wacissa River on my way home...might as well see what's up there.

Finally! A paddle spot for the day that worked out well! It looked as good as always.

So off I go. Since the put-in is at the headsprings, the water was its usual crystal clear. While steering around some greenery, I came upon this Reddish Heron, who seemed totally unconcerned with my presence. There was little downstream current and so this was a very leisurely paddle. A little farther downstream I spotted a larger heron, my favorite of the big birds (though this wasn't a Great Blue Heron...I was not that lucky today).

A bit farther on (I only went a couple of miles downriver; the birds were really out today..) I heard a very distinctive barking sound from some bird. I steered toward it, searching the ground and trees for the source. It was a limpkin in a tree, really going to town yapping at something on the ground. Very strange birds.

I was on the river a couple of hours, a super paddle to end the day. This was my last paddle before I leave for North Carolina on Monday, where I will be staying for about a week on Lake Santeetlah. Stand by for reports of that trip.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Back to the Wakulla

Headed back to my favorite river again today. It's interesting--I normally crave variety in all things, and yet I can return to paddle this same river over and over and never tire of it.

Had the river to myself most of the way upstream, except for a large party of kayakers, mostly young with a few adults. It was very quiet otherwise, the only sounds being the songbirds, fish jumping, turtles slipping into the water off of their log perches, and the water coming off my paddle blades. Just perfect.

Got up to the upper bridge, where I found that both dogs and kids were finding some relief from the heat in the water.
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Then back downstream. I was very surprised to come upon an ibis--it's been a long time since I have seen one of those--at least March or so. This one was oddly colored, I can only guess it might be a juvenile just losing the brown coloring.

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Another 4-hour paddle, my usual.

Stand by for the next trip report...