Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wacissa Afternoon

If we didn't learn a lot today,
At least we learned a little!
And if we didn't learn a little,
At least we didn't get sick!
And if we got sick, at least we
weren't plucked naked and
served on a platter with
roasted potatoes!
So, let us be thankful!
~Harriet, the Zen Hen

What a great day to go paddling! I got there just as the Wilderness Way group was returning, so I had the river to myself almost the entire time I was out.

As I was drifting downstream (this is a downstream-first river), I spotted this egret along the shoreline, highlighted in the sun.

He made his way forward at about the same pace as my drift. Apparently he didn't want company, as off he went; up,


and away!

I don't normally photograph coots or moorhens or gallinules, but this young one was posing so nicely on a stump in the water, I couldn't resist.

The sun was beaming down on this great blue heron doing a plausable swan imitation (this is a shallow river, it was no doubt actually walking on the bottom).

There is a tree branch near the Blue Spring inlet that almost always has some kind of bird perched on it. On this day it was a tricolored heron, with one leg tucked up.

Speaking of Blue Spring, of course I paddled to it. Very pretty, very quiet, and very without birds when I was there. So, back to the river proper.

There were, as last time, a lot of white birds--egrets, ibis, and juvenile little blue herons. I was approaching a very pretty snowy egret fishing in the surface greenery and wanted to show you how great he looked in the sun against all the green leaves. But, er...well...these things don't always work out. Here he is, anyway....

I was sitting back in the kayak enjoying the ride, and almost didn't see this young ibis--talk about effective camouflage. He was blending in very well.

I came to a juvenile little blue heron doing that wing thing where they spread their wings to create shade over the water, which attracts the little fish that they are after. I watched this one do it for a long time.



And then he left to try somewhere else...

I also very rarely photograph cormorants. They are as common as moorhens. But this one was just sitting there, and I liked the red leaf behind him, so I raised the camera.

Uh oh, a shy cormorant, guess he didn't like being photographed.

Once again, as happened last time, I was pleasantly surprised to come up on a group of wood ducks that included males.

I was about to turn around and head back upstream when I saw the unmistakable outline of a great blue heron on a little vegetation island ahead of me. Ok, maybe I will drift just a little while longer.

Here's the thing, though. The current is a little stronger as you get to this point and so I was moving closer to him as I set up and captured that image. There was a nice little break in the greenery for me to pass by him on the right, but I didn't think he would like me being so close. Sure enough, he began his escape,

achieved liftoff,

and off he goes.

I turned around then and paddled upstream. This tricolored heron was standing at the edge of the water.

As I was coming to Duck Island, near the boat ramp, I came to more woodies!

My car was the only one in the parking lot when I got back to the boat ramp--this is definitely my favorite time of year to paddle this river!

I've got a lengthy camping trip coming up but will get back out paddling after I return. Stand by.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Back on the Water!

I saw old autumn in the misty morn
Stand shadowless like silence, listening
To silence
~Thomas Hood

Hi there. Remember me? Been awhile, eh? Well, summer is finally packing up and leaving and it's cool enough to enjoy being out on the water again. So back to the Wacissa!

I was glad I had waited so long to return; waited until it would be comfortable enough to be fun. What a great day it was. A bit of a brisk downstream wind, so I didn't go far, but I spent about 3 hours on the water.

There are a lot of white birds along the river, egrets (both great and snowy), juvenile little blue herons, and ibis.

Shortly after leaving the boat ramp, I was thrilled to see a great blue heron, standing with the wind ruffling its feathers.

There's a lot of surface growth on the water, as happens every summer. The water level is down considerably.

This egret was standing on a log; it had just raised its one leg up just before I took this picture.

As I was drifting along, kind of wondering where the night herons were since there were so many young ones out and about last time I was on the river, I was thrilled to see this somewhat rare sight:

Such striking birds. And of course the reptiles were enjoying the day, some of them lined up on this log.

I saw a large egret perched by the side of the river and paddled over in that direction. As I drifted closer, I could see through my camera's viewfinder that it was about to leave. Sure enough, it did.




I turned around shortly after seeing that one and headed upstream into the wind. It's not that difficult to paddle directly into the wind, but there is a problem if you want to stop paddling to take a photo. Before you know it, you are drifting backwards at a good clip! I parked in the surface greenery to prevent that and got this photo of an ibis.

Off to the right of the ibis was a snowy egret posing nicely along the shoreline.

There were several tricolored herons here and there along the river. This one watched me paddle by.

I took the route back that goes to the left of Duck Island. Aptly named; I was again surprised to see a male wood duck, this one with two females nearby, swimming toward the island.

And off they go, into safe seclusion.

I was about to pack up the camera since I was very near the boat ramp when I spotted what might have been that same great blue heron that I saw at the beginning of this trip. I wedged the boat into some greenery and eased off on the lens since I assumed it was going to fly off--they are usually pretty shy. It didn't leave. I waited. It didn't leave. So I took this one of it standing there, and then I moved on.

It still hadn't left when I had moved a fair distance away. Must be used to paddlers.

It was a good start to the paddling season here, and I can't wait to get back out. This is also the start of camping season. It's wonderful to be active again! I'll be back. Stand by.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lake Santeetlah from Robbinsville, NC

I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can
adjust my sails to always reach my destination.
~Jimmy Dean

It's been five years since I last paddled this lake--way too long! I rented a house right on the lake with a little beach in front, perfect for kayak launching. My friend Deb from Indiana drove down to join me for a couple of days. I got there several hours before she did. I unloaded the car and then took my water hammock down to the lake for some peaceful floating to cool off (of course it was significantly cooler and less humid than the weather I left behind). Here in Florida there are very few, if any, lakes that you would want to flop down in on a water hammock with your legs and arms dangling over the sides into the water, totally unconcerned about drifting away from the dock as the waves rock you back and forth....there's always that pesky possibility of a gator mistaking one of your limbs for a tasty treat. I floated in Santeetlah for over an hour, just occasionally making an effort to not end up in the middle of this large lake. What a joy.

Lake Santeetlah is crystal clear and, even in the heat of July, comfortably cool--not too cold, not too warm. The shoreline is 80% national forest, with no houses or other development, just woods, with a few primitive campsites available here and there. It is surrounded by mountains.

Before we begin with the photos, I want to mention that if your monitor tends to favor greens, some of these photos will likely seem oversaturated with green. The leaves were green, the water was green, the shoreline reflections were green. There's not much I can do about how that green appears on your screen except hope it isn't too bizarre. It's really green around there!

Here is the view from the porch of the vacation rental:

Deb arrived safe and sound. The following morning we headed out paddling. We quickly left the houses and docks behind and had only woods and mountains around us.

This lake has many coves and narrow fingers to explore. We followed along the shoreline, making our way generally clockwise. We came to an area that showed signs of being one of those campsites; there were remnants of a campfire laid out near the water. In most places the bottom of the lake rises gradually and so it's simple to get out of the boat. So we got out there. We had found a styrofoam "noodle" along the edge prior to getting to this point. We took turns using the noodle for flotation and our life vests (which we were both pleased to find would actually support us while floating....good to know....), and were in the water for quite a while. Suddenly we heard a loud splash, and a chocolate lab started swimming toward us. A woman had come walking down a trail carrying a tent and two bag chairs. Evidently you can set up your stuff at one of these primitive sites early, as a way of reserving it. She was going to be camping there the next night with two others and had come in to claim the spot. We talked for a while, she set up her tent and left. We paddled out shortly afterward.

This lake has water-skiers, jet skis, and other motorized traffic on it, but they don't tend to come into the coves, so we had no trouble from them. Aside from their wakes, the lake was very smooth and very easy to paddle. Smelled good, too.

Back at the house, we had a pretty sunset that night.

The next day we headed out to paddle Calderwood Lake, about 15 miles away. There isn't a lot of info with photos out there about Calderwood, so I have decided to post all that separately, so that anyone specifically interested only in the Calderwood post, coming from a Google search, doesn't need to page through all the Santeetlah stuff to get there. The Calderwood post follows this one (or, if you are only seeing this post on your browser page, it's here).

On our way back from Calderwood, we stopped at a scenic overlook with a view of Santeetlah. It was fairly well obscured by the growing trees, but still scenic.

Deb left after those two days. I decided to take a drive along the Cherohala Skyway, which is similar to the Blue Ridge Parkway, only shorter. There are several overlooks you can pull into, each one marked as to whether it provides a hiking trail, picnic area, or photo opportunity (or all three). There was a place to pull over en route to the actual Skyway that offered another, less obscured, view of the lake.

I drove for several miles, stopping now and then. I reached an overlook that offered both a hiking trail and a picnic table, so I stopped to have the lunch I had packed. There were some pretty orange flowers near the picnic table (I'm about as clueless about flower names as I am about songbird identification).

I took the hiking trail to the overlook, which was, again, nearly totally obscured by new tree growth. On the way back, I noticed how full and verdant the woods to my left looked. I have been wanting to get a photo of just greenery to print in a large size, mat, and frame, and this seemed like a good opportunity for that. This is my favorite of the bunch that I took:

I continued on. This was the view at an overlook:

It was getting late and so I decided to turn around at the next overlook. Shortly before the turn-in, I saw this view off to the right side. I pulled into the overlook and walked back to capture this, my last photo on the Skyway:

Lake Santeetlah is a fantastic lake any time of the year, but particularly nice for a Floridian in summer. Cool temps and low humidity, no biting insects, no gators in the water. I know I will be going back next summer... In the meantime, check out the Calderwood post after this one.

If you are going to be in the Robbinsville area and would like to paddle this lake, I know of two public access points (I'm sure there are many). There is a marina north of town---head out 129 about 7 miles from town until you come to a set of two signs that say Lake Santeetlah and Thunderbird Mountain and turn where they indicate. The marina is a right turn just ahead; you will be able to see it when you have the choice of turning right or left. You can also head up 143 toward the Cherohala Skyway (turn off 129 at the Chevron gas station about 2-3 miles north of town). There is a really nice little public access boat ramp on the right that is in a very quiet cove.

Since our days are all going to over 95 degrees as far as the forecast predicts, it could be a while before the next post! Stand by.

Calderwood Lake near Robbinsville, NC

The simplification of life is one of the steps to inner peace.
A persistent simplification will create an inner and outer
well-being that places harmony in one's life.
Peace Pilgrim

My last visit to Calderwood Lake was in 2005 (link to that post is below). I have been waiting for five years to get back to this lake. And this time around I took a lot more photos (last time I was with someone who freaked out at the depth of the lake (400 ft.) and the water temperature (about 50 degrees) and insisted on getting out after about 15 minutes, hence the few photos)!

My friend Deb, a far more intrepid paddler, joined me in NC for some paddling. I was very excited at the prospect of finally returning to Calderwood to go farther than a few hundred yards. I made a point of warning her about the cool air temperature and bone-numbing water temperature I had encountered last time.

A quick note about the photos in this post: It's very green on this lake. The trees are green, the water is green, the foliage reflections in the water are green. If your monitor tends to favor green, these may look oversaturated. Not much I can do about that, but I did want to mention it in case these photos look strangely tinted. They look fine on this end.

We got to the lake and pulled up to the large, gradually-sloped boat ramp.

I hopped out of the car and walked over to put my foot gingerly in the water. Wait....what is this? The water was no colder than the Wacissa on any average day. I had also noted that although we got there at the same time of day and the same time of year as last time, the mist that had been rising off the water last time was also absent. Interesting, and I felt foolish for all my warnings about it.

We launched easily, with no worries about cold water. The bottom of the boat did not chill my feet, as it had last time (I recalled having to wrap them in my paddling towel--I always paddle barefoot).

Calderwood Lake is 8 miles long. The shoreline is completely undeveloped, with a few primitive campsites here and there. There is no discernible current. The water is supernaturally clear. Off we went.

After a short time of paddling, we came to the sound of waterfalls coming from an inlet. We paddled down it to investigate. It was on the left side and turned out to be Slickrock Creek. The water gets shallow and the inlet is fairly narrow. Here are the falls as we approached them:

We had the little creek to ourselves and paddled closer to the falls, hovering around there just enjoying the sound and scenery.

Deb decided to get out and maneuvered her boat into a rocky area. I have discovered that the shorter you are, the harder it is to get out of a kayak in water of any depth. I'm short; it was obvious that I was not going to be able to just swing a leg over the side of my boat and step out, so I stayed in the kayak and enjoyed the view from there. As I recall, Deb decided not to get out after all--there's a reason for the name Slickrock. We finally paddled out of the inlet to continue on the lake.

As I mentioned, this water is incredibly clear. I dipped my paddle in and took a photo of it to try to demonstrate this. You can't really tell, but my paddle blade is about two feet into the water.

The shorelines of this lake are forest and slope steeply upward, with some very rocky areas.


We passed what looked like a picnic table on the left side of the lake; we were paddling on the right. We turned around to head back shortly after that and pulled up to the spot with the table. It turned out to be a campsite, complete with the table, two tent pads, a metal fire ring, and a metal hanger that was not tall enough to keep food away from a bear, but might work against a raccoon. Not sure what that was for. There was even a rope by the water to tie up a boat.

I would estimate that campsite to be approximately 3-4 miles from the boat ramp.

The views on this lake (which is really just like an 8-mile river with no current) vary with every bend and of course change completely when you turn around. It's a beautiful paddle for every minute.

We stopped again in Slickrock Creek on our way back--I had noticed a very shallow area that even a shortie like me could get out in. This time there was a tent set up on what we now saw was a tent pad. There was a canoe on shore as well. We wanted to stretch our legs so we chanced intruding and got out. While we were sitting in the water (which was still Wacissa-temperature), a man and his dog walked back from the falls area. We chatted briefly (this was the gentleman who told us the lake was a mile and a half long and his dog, still sporting puppy fuzz, was six years old) and then got back in our boats and headed out. I would choose that as a camping spot because of the falls and shallow water, Deb preferred the other campsite.

Speaking of camping, you can set up a small camper right near the boat ramp, basically along the side of the road. When I was there in '05, the roadside was lined with campers (some people even had tents set up there). This time there was only one camper:

Here is the boat ramp as seen from the lake:

As we approached the ramp, still a short ways out, I noticed my feet getting cold. I put my hand in the water. It was freezing. The cold was coming through the bottom of the boat. We got out at the ramp and I walked back into the water. My ankles almost immediately stiffened up from the icy water. Ok, that's what I was talking about! Deb barely experienced it at all, which I see as a good thing. I mentioned this to several people over the next few days and the general consensus was that the power company, which owns and is located on this lake near the boat ramp, must have released warm or hot water at about the time that we launched, and that water, perhaps aided by the sun, warmed the lake near the surface for as far as we paddled, only dissipating at about the time we got back to the ramp. Very strange.

To get to Calderwood Lake from the south, follow Hwy 129 north towards Tail of the Dragon, heading north from Robbinsville. You will pass Tapoco Lodge (to reopen in 2011!) on your left. Shortly after that you will go over a bridge and see the large power plant on your right. Immediately after crossing that bridge (start braking when you are on it), turn onto the unmarked road to your left. No sign is visible from the road but after you make your turn, you will see a white sign to the left, and the lake to your left. This is how the road looks, though this is the view as you drive out toward 129:

If you are coming on 129 from the north, first: congratulations on making it down Tail of the Dragon. I have never been farther north on 129 than Calderwood, so I don't know what landmark there may be to tell you that road is coming up on your right. Hwy 129 will be curving left at that point and it may be hard to spot. However, you will see the bridge and power plant and can turn around before or at Tapoco Lodge, if you miss the turn into Calderwood. When we were there this time, there was a porta-potty set up, and of course a woodsy trail. When I was there in '05, the cold air coming off the lake made a light jacket necessary.

The previous post from this lake is here.