~Big River & Big Winds!

I’ve dipped my paddle into Big River twice.  And, both times our return paddle has been against very strong winds.  Big River is about 2 miles North of Van Damme State Park, our home base for a long weekend of paddling, camp fires, good food and really good wine!

Parking is free and you can drive right down and launch directly on the beach.  Be sure to check incoming tides as they can certainly help move you along, or move against you and make you work for it.  We arrived at 9am and the wind was blowing towards us and out to the ocean.  Oddly enough, just as we launched, the wind flattened out a bit.


Once again I’m taking up the lead as I enjoy the peaceful morning.  My fellow paddlers are quite a ways in front of me.  But, that’s ok.  Sometimes being in the back has its rewards.


Like this harbor seal.  He’s busy watching the other paddlers as I approach from the side and zoom in to capture this shot.  I’m very well aware that we must respect all wildlife.  I was at least 100 feet away, on the other side of the river.


Teri is looking good in her Pungo 120.  Since this is our first paddle of the weekend, her kayak is pretty clean.  That will change later 😉


This is a nice capture of Mike with his buddy Duke.  Duke’s become a regular.



JC is cruising along..I don’t see him again until lunch.  Nice and sleek kayak JC!

Big River will take you back for at least 7 miles before the water gets too shallow to go much farther. There are many twists and turns as the dense forest gets closer to the water line.

The reflections of trees and golden grasses are pretty.  More evidence that Fall has arrived.


I love the feathery look of this Lichen dripping from the trees.  I recently read that Lichen is a good indicator of pollution.  Studies have taken place in the surrounding Los Angeles area that have shown a dramatic decrease in the amount of Lichen, due to pollution.  Another reminder we should do what we can to reduce our carbon footprint.


One thing I love taking pictures of are stumps that look like something from the deep lagoons.   This creature is coming up out of the water with one gleaming eye, ready to pounce!


While this reminds me of a couple of frolicking cobras.  Wait, do cobras frolic?  In my imagination they do, and the reflection is proof!


What does this one remind you of?


After paddling for about 1.5 hours we find the only suitable place to take out for lunch.  It’s muddy but it will do.  The tide is going out, so we eat with a purpose so we don’t loose our footing as we climb back into our kayaks.  I don’t have a picture of Teri’s boat after lunch, but let’s just say it wasn’t a clean as my earlier picture!

A few of us continue farther upstream while the rest of our group starts to head back.  We don’t make it too far before we make the decision to turn back around as well.

This is probably my favorite picture I took on Big River.  The reflection of Richard in his white kayak it nice.


Here is evidence of an old dock that’s been long since debilitated.  There are several along the way, some shorter and some in better condition.


One final picture of flat water as we head back to the put-in.  The winds will start picking up with each bend I move past.


Big wind?  Yes, big wind.  You need to hunker down and keep moving otherwise you’ll lose any forward progress you’ve made.  There are white caps on the water as I get closer to the sandy beach we started on hours earlier.  My camera is safely tucked away by this time, so you’ll just have to believe me.

You can start earlier, tides permitting, and try to avoid the winds.  Regardless, you’ll most likely be rewarded with a few miles of flat, glass like water, on your way upstream.


~A Little Misty on the Noyo

As I dipped my paddle into the Noyo River for the first time, the fog was drifting through the air above me.  It was a little chilly to start but I was excited to be here.  There wasn’t a bit of wind stirring and the tide would be moving in our favor; upstream.


The water was like glass and there were several sea lions churning the water as they each took turns keeping a watchful eye.  Before our journey upstream, we would head to the mouth of the harbor first.  The thought of doing this later in the day, when winds typically blow, was my main reason for doing this first.  As we paddled, there were several Black Crowned Night Herons flying out of a nearby tree.  I spotted adults and juveniles, but didn’t get my camera out in time to catch them in flight.

As we rounded the first bend the fog was already starting to burn off.  Seeing the bridge over the flat water was a nice site.  This bridge is Hwy 1, just as you enter Fort Bragg.


One of my paddling companions saw a dog sleeping under the dock.  I looked but never saw him.  I did see several fish carcasses laying on the dock and at that same time caught a whiff of them too.  Time to move forward!  The next shot was pretty cool!  Just beyond this flat glass like water is the pounding surf.  There are others with the skill set to paddle those conditions, not me.  I like flat water.


As we turn our bows back upstream, I see at least a dozen sea lions.  They bob their heads and dive under water.  As I paddled by where they disappeared, I catch one swimming just to my right looking up from under the water at me.  His big beautiful eyes caught mine and we had a moment.  Wow!  This is one of the reasons I paddle.  To be close to nature.

As we make our way back upstream the Coast Guard is loaded up and ready to head out.  I wave hello, they wave back.  They’re all so young.


I notice a Gull trying to pull a crab out of the water.  He made several attempts but had no luck.  Eventually he gave up and flew away.  I’m hopeful he came back for another try.  It was such a yummy looking crab.


The fog is completely gone now and the air is starting to warm up.  As the first paddler I’m lucky to capture this shot with a pretty reflection in the water.  The launch is just ahead on the right, where we started in the fog earlier.


The Noyo river winds and turns past old abandoned boats, a campground and a kayak rental place called Liquid Fusion.  The farther you paddle away from the ocean, the quieter and more peaceful the river becomes.  The trees are closer to the water and and the water becomes a little greener.


After paddling about 3-4 miles, we find a nice gravelly beach to pull out and have lunch.  It feels good to stretch the legs.  A few crazy paddlers decide to walk up the hill and onto the old abandoned train track.


Capturing the bridge with our kayaks and the reflection of the water is priceless.


I take a walk upstream to see how shallow the water is and just to enjoy the beautiful day.  As I start to walk back to my kayak, I capture this pretty shot.  The leaves have already fallen off these trees reminding me that Fall has arrived.


We load back up and head downstream.  The water level is a little lower as the tide slowly moves out and if you look closely you can see the little round pebbles underneath the water.


The sun is hitting the kayaks with just the right amount of light and the bright colors is pretty.


Winds aren’t much of an issue as we make our way back.  Ice Cream is on all our minds, as we’re planning to visit Cowlicks in Fort Bragg.  Home made and delicious!

Here’s a shot of the launch after we are done loading up.  Parking is listed as $3 per car, but there’s no where to pay, so it’s free and there is plenty of parking.  The cement launch is also free of slippery moss which can be common on boat launches.



Three shades of Blue and an Emerald Pendant

The cool morning air is just starting to burn off as I dip my paddle into Lake Tahoe.  We’re launching from Baldwin Beach and our destination is Emerald Bay.  But first, there’s about 25 yards of smushy, gravely sand to walk across, from the parking lot to get to the water.  We buddy up and carry the boats down one by one.  I’m ready to peel off a layer before I even start and am excited because it’s going to be a great day.

I mean just look at the color of the water and the backdrop of the mountains.


The clarity of the water is pristine.  The color changes to a deeper blue as you move away from the shore.


Nancy is excited and I’m excited for her.  This is her first time paddling on Lake Tahoe.  It took a little bit of arm bending, but I finally convinced her she would love it.



The wind is hardly stirring and I’m hopeful the forecast keeps its promise.  We make it to the mouth of Emerald Bay in about 45 minutes.  We approach slowly as most of us know this place can be a circus as boats are entering and exiting the little jewel.  What we find is amazingly flat water and the place to ourselves.  Should I pinch myself?  Wow!

I’m sitting in the middle of the mouth that leads to Emerald Bay here.  Far off in the distance you can see Fannette Island.  I think of Emerald Bay the green pendant of Lake Tahoe.


We decide to cross over and paddle along the Northern shoreline as we make our way to our landing spot for lunch and a good stretch.  The water here is just as pristine as it was when we started.



Here’s a shot of Duke.  He likes jumping in the water, over and over, so he’s looking a little wet in this picture.


We continue along the shoreline, passing the Emerald Bay boat in camping area.


Oh, look.  An Osprey is waiting to have his picture taken.  He’s on the small side so I’m guessing he’s juvenile.  Well, he’ll enjoy a long life of catching fish.  Perhaps he’ll snatch up a Kokanee Salmon as they begin their short migration up Taylor Creek in October.


We reach the beach in front of the Vikingsholm, built back in the late 20s (1928), for a short lunch break and to walk around the grounds so we can stretch our legs.  If you’ve not visited this beautiful ‘castle’, you should.  The architecture is stunning.  Mrs Lora Knight visited Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland to gather ideas for her new home.  You’ll notice some similarity to these two chimneys up on top of her home, to those on top of a rustic Scandinavian home.


I walk down to my kayak to grab my lunch and snap a picture.


After we are finished with lunch, we load back up and head over to take a little spin around Fannette Island.  This is where Lora and her guests would occasionally be served tea, after they took a little motor boat ride to the island.  The tea room is 16 X 16 and used to have a little fireplace in the corner.


As we leave Fannette Island, the boat traffic has picked up quite a bit.  The water is starting to get choppy as the wind funnels into the mouth of Emerald Bay.  If you’re like most people who visit Lake Tahoe, the only way to see Emerald Bay is by way of a ferry made to look like a paddle wheel boat.  Here’s one as she departs and take her passengers out and back across the big blue water to Zephyr cove.


Our return paddle is much choppier, there are jet skis zipping by us and speed boats pulling skiers.  The wind is at our back though, so we’re moving along at a decent pace.  I see the sandy beach from where we started this morning.  We all safely pull up onto the beach and exit our kayaks.  The winds are picking up a bit and we know we were fortunate to have had such a wonderful paddle.

As I stand on the shore and look out at the lake, I notice there are at least three shades of blue water.  Beautiful, yes simply beautiful.




When you hear an Echo

Before I dip my paddle into Lower Echo Lake, I want to share all the stories I’ve heard about this lake.  If you, like me, have been paddling for many years, you will have heard of a few lakes that typically have gale force winds blowing on your return.  Well, Echo Lake is one of those said lakes.  I’ve heard story after story of paddlers starting out in perfectly clam or slightly breezy weather, only to find themselves struggling to paddle back to the cement boat launch that never seems to get closer, no matter how hard you dig that paddle into the water.

Well, today was going to be different.  The picture below is the cement launch.


Several of us were camping in Tahoe for a few nights and decided to paddle Echo Lake first.  After all, it’s on the way if you’re leaving Sacramento at “O-Dark-Thirty”!

We arrived at 9am, unloaded and waited for the nice gentleman to inspect our kayaks.  They take boat inspections seriously here, as to prevent the spread of not only invasive creatures but invasive water plants as well.  He asks me “what body of water has your boat been in, in the last 30 days?”.  I stop to think, I have a few kayaks and don’t always take the same one out.  “Oh, I remember”. I tell him.  “The lower American River”.  He proceeds to tell me about the many varieties of invasive plants living in that part of the river.  I open all my hatches, he pokes his head inside each one.  I knew this was coming, so I did a full clean and dry out the weekend before.  He stands up and tells me “It looks good, nice and clean and dry.”  So, we proceed to haul our kayaks and gear down to the cement launch, and one by one, we enter the water.  Can you believe how flat this water is?  I can’t believe it.  I had been watching the wind forecast for several days, but I just never completely trust it.  So far, the forecast was accurate.


I point my bow towards my fellow paddlers and we begin to paddle along the North shoreline, soaking in the beauty.  This is a first time for three of us.  The water is clear, the air temperatures are mild enough to start pealing off layers.  We’re heading to the back of the lake to see if we can get through the channel that separates Upper and Lower Echo Lakes.  We finally see the opening, and are thrilled the water levels still allow us passage through.


I’m the lucky one as I’m in front, so I get the pleasure of the mirror like reflection in the water.  I slowly move my way forward and spot two female Common Mergansers.  They’ve been doing what I like to call “snorkeling” for fish.  The hair on the back of their heads is still wet and a little spiky, as they continue to move away from me.  I ease up on my stroke a little to allow them to increase the distance between us.


As the channel opens up into Upper Echo Lake, I’ve almost the same reaction as I had when I saw Lower Echo for the first time.  “WOW!”


It’s almost prettier than the last body of water we just left.  We continue to explore looking at all the little cabins dotting the shoreline.  Most are made of wood, but a few are made of stone.  Windows are boarded up for the winter as I imagine most owners have already left for the Summer.  I capture a really nice shot of my dear friend Nancy, who’s also one of my paddling buddies.  Her smile says it all!


This reminds me of one of Santa’s reindeer.  All that’s missing is the red nose.


We continue until we come to a nice little sandy beach with a couple of picnic tables and a large lawn of what looks like golf turf.  We decide we’ll get out and stretch and eat lunch before we start back.


Lunch is quite relaxing as we soak in the sun and enjoy the view from our picnic table.  A little breeze is starting to pick up so we decide it’s time to move along.  We load back into our kayaks and we’re off again.

One of our paddlers talks to a nice fellow on the shore, who’s busy working on one of the cabins.  He tells us these cabins have no water, no electricity and no sewer lines.  But, you’re in luck as there’s one for sale…..for only $750,000!  Not to mention you only get a 20 year lease with the deal.  Hmm, I think I’ll just visit.

As we first wind our way back through the channel to take us to Lower Echo Lake, we’re blasted with a big gust of wind.  Here it is, I thought to myself.  I hunker down a bit, look back to see where my paddling companions are, and push forward.  A few of us are farther ahead, so we stop behind a big rock and wait for the others.  And then, as if it never was there in the first place, the wind was gone.

As we move along in the water we hear the cries of a pair of Osprey.  I look up and they’re taking turns flying overhead and calling out to each other.  Then, all of a sudden, one of them contorts his body into an arrow and falls down and down and down until he’s completely submerged below the water.  In all my years of paddling and watching Osprey hunt for fish, I’ve never seen one dive under the water.  He came up empty handed, shook himself off and flew towards shore.  I got my camera ready, but he was either too fast or too far away to capture a good shot.  I did get a nice shot of my buddy Randel as he watched the Osprey dive for another fish.


We finally make it back to the take-out and are all in amazement of the lucky day we had here.  I’m thankful to have experienced both of these lakes with the conditions as they were.  Hopefully, the next time I come back, we’ll have the same luck.


The Many Wonders of Mono Lake

I have had the pleasure of dipping my paddle into Mono Lake on three different occasions.  And, as it turns out, I’ve been in a different kayak each time too!

Mono Lake has one of the largest populations of migrating California Gulls.  Up until I visited Mono for the first time, I thought they were called Sea Gulls.  Hmm, turns out, a bird by that name doesn’t exist.  There are a few different varieties of Gulls, but no Sea Gulls!  Well, those pesky birds most of us are used to in the Bay Area as they beg for food are not anything like the beautiful Gulls you see while visiting Mono Lake.

Watching the Gulls run along the shoreline with their beaks wide open as they feast on flies.


Or, watching them float on the water as they scarf up a few brine shrimp.


Brine shrimp?  Yes, gazillions of them!  In fact, they are the same freeze dried squares of fish food you might pick up at your local Aquarium store, or maybe you were lucky to have been giving Sea Monkeys as a gift when you were a kid?  Well, the Gulls and other migratory birds common to Mono Lake will make these Brine shrimp as part of their daily diet while here.

If you arrive early enough, which I highly recommend you do to avoid high winds that can be quite treacherous, you will be rewarded with beautiful mirrored reflections of the Tufa, Mountains in the background, or even the moon.


As you paddle around South Tufa, the most popular, you’ll witness Osprey flying overhead and landing in the nests built high above the water, on the Tufa ‘towers’.  I counted at least three little chicks while visiting this past July.  How many do you count?


Here’s mom or dad keeping a watchful eye on us as we paddle by.


My first time paddling here was in July 2011.  The water quite a bit higher and our group had the luxury of paddling East from Navy Beach about a mile or so, and exploring some Tufa towers that are no longer in the water.  Debbie was in her 9 foot Otter for this trip!


Of all the years I’ve been paddling, I think this is by far my most favorite picture.  The bubbles, the birds and just the color of this picture are amazing.


If you have a bucket list, this has to be on it.  Whether you paddle or just explore by foot, there is a lot of history here.  The lake didn’t always look like this and it always won’t.  Water levels could continue to drop, or we could have a few very wet winters and levels could rise.  Be sure to stop by the Mono Lake Visitors Center, located off Hwy 395 near the town of Lee Vining.  There are park rangers who will be more than grateful to share what they know.




Under a breathless moon

As I dip my paddle into the shimmering water I know we’re in for a real treat.  Full moon paddles are one of my most favorite things to do.  Soon the sun will sink and the full breathless moon will start her assent up into the sky.  As she slowly drifts up the most common color is orange or red.  This is usually due to the layer of smog that surrounds our beautiful earth.  Regardless of the reason, the color is amazing.  We started our paddle while the sun was just starting to sink, this allowed us to position ourselves in the middle of Loon Lake.


We left a lantern on the shore, to serve as our beacon and to help guide us in, once we were done.  It’s easy to lose your course once darkness has descended on the water.  Even with a big bright full moon above you, it can be difficult to see.  I’ve learned that little red bike lights work best for night time paddles.  Bright white lights just impair your vision and blind your fellow paddlers.

Once we’ve located our perfect spot, we raft up and wait.  Tonight we won’t have to wait for long.  I watch the smiles curve upwards on the faces of those new to such a great experience as they witness this for the first time.


We sit silently watching as the moon continues up and up.  I paddle around the group to capture a few pictures of a few paddlers with the moon behind them.


The sun is completely gone now and the moon is one of our only sources of light, while out on the water.  It’s starting to get cold and we decide it’s time to head back to shore.  We’re thankful for another wonderful memory on the water.


As the river turns

As I dip my paddle into the Russian River each and every time, I’m awestruck by the beauty here.  Each paddle has been unique.  Perhaps my favorite was a full moon paddle in March 2015. Paddling upstream from Jenner as the sun sets and as the night sky gets darker by each stroke.  It appears I misjudged when the moon would rise.  So, I paddle very slowly, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.  I’m in the lead and there are 10 paddlers behind me.  I finally decide to turn out my headlamp, as the reflection off the water isn’t helping.  I can hear things moving in the water.  Perhaps a sea lion, a hungry Great Blue Heron, or something my imagination has created that sends goose bumps up my arm.

I’m pretty familiar with the river, as I’ve paddled here many times by now.  I know there are shallow sections and also know to stay as close to the center as possible.  This knowledge offers a little comfort.

After we paddled about a mile upstream, we re-group and decide to put two paddlers behind me with headlights.  This helps me see the shoreline without blocking my vision.  Ah, much better.  I guide us upstream as cautiously as I can.  Now I see bats flying in front of me, I hear my fellow paddlers chit chat and humor, which tells me they feel more at ease now too.  We’re talking to each other so we can keep tabs on all paddlers as we continue on our way.  The distance to our destination, Casini Ranch from Jenner, is about 7 river miles.  This is a much easier journey during the daylight, I tell myself.

We all arrived safe and sound, and the paddlers who were lucky enough to be a part of the journey still reflect and talk about this great adventure!

This is the launch spot in Jenner.  It’s a great place to stretch the legs and go for a bite before you start to head back.