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Kayaking
Watson Lake, Prescott
May 18, 2022
by Chuck Parsons
group
Yanis, Chuck, and Barbara at Watson Lake’s North Ramp. [photo by Barbara]

The start of another beautiful day on Prescott’s Watson Lake, one of our favorite kayaking locations in Arizona. Under clear blue skies, with the temperature hovering in the low 70s, we launch our kayaks from the lake’s South Ramp at 8:30 AM and began paddling northeast toward the scenic Granite Dells area at the north end of the lake.

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Cormorants drying their wings in the sun and wind. [photo by Barbara]

Although today’s forecast called for only light winds until 10:00 or 11:00 AM this morning, the maximum forecasted winds of 10-12 mph begin to hit us shortly after pulling away from the launch ramp area. And on at least several occasions later in the day we get buffeted by sudden wind gusts of 20+ mph that seem to come out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly. But they last just long enough for hats to go sailing off into the wind, as well as my kayak’s splash skirt, which is a lot heavier than a hat.

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Yanis and Chuck paddling thru the Granite Dells. [photo by Barbara]
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This Great Blue Heron patiently waits for breakfast to swim by. [photo by Barbara]
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A rare White Pelican sighting on Watson Lake. [photo by Barbara]

We continue leisurely paddling up the west side of the lake and reach the Granite Dells area in about 30 minutes. The Granite Dells consists of huge granite boulders, some the size of a large truck or even as big as a house. After the dam was built and the lake filled with water, many of these large boulders became partially or even fully submerged.

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Paddling our way thru the scenic Granite Dells. [photo by Barbara]
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Yanis and Chuck explore another passageway along the shore. [photo by Barbara]
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Sunlight reflecting off the water’s surface appears as a cluster of small bright white orbs. [photo by Barbara]
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Balanced rock (on the left), overlooking the lake. [photo by Barbara]

The result is a kayaker’s paradise, with a labyrinth of passageways to explore, weaving among the many boulders. And the north end of the Watson Lake Loop Trail threads its way among many of these granite boulders that still sit high and dry above the waterline. By foot or by kayak, this area is definitely the most scenic part of Watson Lake.

After spending well over an hour or more exploring the Dells, we paddle over to the nearby dam and check that out and then look for a good take-out point for a rest and snack break. Finding nothing suitable, we head for the North Ramp area instead and pull into a small bank adjacent to the ramp at 11:00 AM. Next, we find an empty picnic table on a nearby hill overlooking the lake and sit down to a well-deserved rest and lunch break. This has to be one of the best vantage points on the entire lake.

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The high water mark can clearly be seen in this picture. [photo by Barbara]
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Watson Lake Dam, built in 1915. [photo by Barbara]
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The North Ramp of Watson Lake. [photo by Barbara]

Watson Lake is one of two reservoirs, along with nearby Willow Lake, that were created in 1915, when the Chino Valley Irrigation District built Watson Lake Dam (then called Granite Creek Dam) on Granite Creek. Its amazing how well this old concrete dam, now 107 years old, has held up over the years. Apparently, everything was built to last back in those days, especially concrete dams. Look at Hoover Dam, standing at 726 feet high and completed in 1936 during the height of the Great Depression. It will likely still be around 100 years from now, testimony to superb human ingenuity and engineering.

At some point later in the day, we see what initially appears to be a large brown dog swimming across the water. Instead, it turns out to be a large calf. Apparently, the calf had lost its footing on slick rock along the shoreline as it was attempting to get a drink of water and fell in the lake. But, instead of trying to extract itself where it fell in, the calf decided to swim across to the other side and was struggling to climb back out among a jumbled collection of large rocks and boulders.

The owner was trying to coax the calf back to her side of the water and asked us to paddle out of the calf’s view since our presence was likely spooking it. So we continued on our way, wondering how things ultimately resolved themselves with this calf. Hopefully, it was finally able to swim back to its owner and get back onto solid ground once again. A cow swimming across the water is certainly something you don’t see every day on the lake. Horses maybe, but not cows.

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Just to the left of my kayak, in the rocks, a calf is struggling to get out of the water. [photo by Barbara]

After lunch, we start making our way back to the South Ramp. But instead of calling it a day when we reach the ramp, I suggest paddling to the southwest end of the lake and checking that out for a while. The last time we kayaked Watson Lake the water level was so low that this end of the lake was completely high and dry. But today it’s full of water and beckoning us. Soon we enter an enchanted forest area surrounding the water that Yanis jokingly refers to as bayou country. Desert and bayou country—that would be an interesting combination.

We eventually enter a narrow channel of water, its surface covered with algae, weeds, and fallen leaves, and slowly paddle beneath a canopy of towering cottonwood and willow trees, lining both sides of the water. We continue onward, not knowing just how far this narrow channel of water will carry us. As we make our way deeper into the “bayou”, the water begins to get shallower, forcing us to shift from the left side of the channel to the right side and then back again as we continue paddling.

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Watson Lake bayou country. [photo by Barbara]

But this narrow channel of water just keeps going and going, as the area actually starts to look more and more like classic Louisiana bayou country, and we begin to wonder if we’ll eventually see an alligator or some other large creature slide silently into the water from the shore. What a completely different environment this is from the rest of Watson Lake, particularly the Granite Dells area at the opposite end of the lake.

After well over a half-mile or more of paddling up the channel, the water gradually becomes too shallow to continue on, so we reluctantly turn around and begin the long journey back to the main body of the lake. But before that, we take refuge beneath the broad canopy of a huge cottonwood tree, as it casts deep shade over the water. Here we take a break from paddling and cool off in the welcoming shade. Then it’s back to the South Ramp, where we disembark from our kayaks, pack away all our gear, and head back home. What a beautiful and adventurous day this has been on Watson Lake, between sudden bursts of wind, swimming cows, and discovering Arizona’s secret “bayou country”.

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updated May 23, 2022