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Bartlett Lake Kayaking
December 12, 2023
by Chuck Parsons/b>
group A
Trailblazers are ready to get on the water. [photo by Cyd]
Burt, Norma, Lee, Chuck, Anna, and Ron.

On arriving at the SB Cove area of Bartlett Lake at 8:35 on a mid-December morning, I’m greeted by a bone-chilling blast of icy winds, cloudy skies with just a faint orb of sun trying to penetrate, choppy waters on the lake, and a launch area that looks more like a mud bog. I drive up and down the cove looking for a more suitable launch area but find nothing. And where the heck is everyone else this morning? Did they all decide to bail on me? Just as well, I suppose, since this situation doesn’t look very promising at all.

Four kayaks are almost ready to launch. [photo by Cyd]
Anna and her new foldable Oru kayak. [photo by Cyd]

Then one vehicle shows up, followed by two more, and within minutes all seven of us with seven kayaks are together on the lake shore. Minutes later a helicopter buzzes directly overhead, drops down lower, and someone barks out a warning over the sound system, telling us about rising water levels in the lake. But we already know about that. SRP is releasing water from upstream Horseshoe Dam at the rate of 2,000 CFS until Friday afternoon, with the goal of raising the water level in Bartlett Lake by 5 to 7 feet. Right now, the lake is down about 25 feet or more.

We’re all on the water at last! [photo by Cyd]
Norma with Santa Bear and Doggy Dog. [photo by Ron]

After dropping our kayaks and gear off near the edge of the lake, we park our vehicles higher up on the beach and hopefully out of harm’s way. Cyd and I help Anna assemble her brand new foldable Oru kayak. Although she had already put it together a couple of times at home, the task becomes more difficult this morning because the cold weather is making the material stiffer and more difficult to work with. But we finally manage to get the Oru assembled and ready to launch. By about 9:35 we slog thru thick mud on the lake shore and slide six kayaks into the choppy waters of Bartlett Lake and climb aboard with mud-caked shoes. What a clean-up job we’re all going to face back at home later today.

Anna’s maiden voyage in her new Oru kayak. [photo by Ron]
Burt is cruising the shoreline. [photo by Ron]

We paddle into a stiff cold wind through rough and choppy waters for the next 45 minutes or so, pretending to have fun, while at the same time wondering why the heck we left our warm and cozy beds so darned early this morning. Such are the joys of kayaking—at least some of the time. Thankfully though, the sun eventually peeks out from behind the cloud cover from time to time, warming us up a little, the winds slowly begin to subside, and the lake surface becomes much smoother and easier to navigate. Surprisingly, despite the weather conditions, we begin to see more and more power boats buzzing around the lake this morning, creating large wakes, but we’re the only kayakers on the entire lake today. Apparently, all the other kayakers we normally see on the water just decided to sleep in today. Probably not a bad idea.

Chuck with Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer. [photo by Ron]
Lee is checking out the scenery. [photo by Ron]

We continue paddling south along the west shore of the lake for two more miles, before Rattlesnake Cove finally comes into view. Thankfully, the snakes won’t be an issue for us today, since they’re all comfortably hibernating deep within their dens and have no intension of coming back out any time soon. Smart serpents. We beach our kayaks in the cove at about 11:30, climb out, and walk up a wide expanse of sand and gravel to reach the large covered ramadas at the top of the hill overlooking the lake, with restroom facilities to the right.

Yellow Cliffs near Bartlett Flat and SB Cove. [photo by Ron]
Chuck, Anna, and Burt. [photo by Ron]

When I first started fishing Bartlett Lake back in the mid-1970s and for many years afterwards, there were no such facilities here at all, and most of the 12 miles of Bartlett Dam Road and all four miles of North Lake Road into SB Cove were rough and rocky dirt roads full of large potholes. For many years there was a standing joke that you could always tell how much traffic was on the road recently by the number of car, truck, and boat trailer parts you could count along the roadside. What a difference now on all six SRP lakes along the Salt and Verde rivers.

Anna, Lee, and Norma. [photo by Ron]
This entire foreground is normally under water. [photo by Ron]

After a long, relaxing lunch and snack break, we amble back down to the beach for the three-mile paddle back to SB Cove. Although today’s forecast called for mostly sunny skies, it turns out to be mostly cloudy skies, with the sun only briefly coming out from time to time. But the winds still remain calm, and the paddling is easy all the way back. On almost all our kayak outings the day starts out with light winds and calm waters and ends with strong afternoon winds and rough waters on the return trip back to the launch area. Today turns out to be just the opposite.

Rattlesnake Cove is our lunch stop. [photo by Ron]
Lunch at the ramadas overlooking Rattlesnake Cove. [photo by Ron]

By about 2:15 in the afternoon we’re all back at SB Cove and see that some of the muddy areas have dried out a little. So, we pick out the least muddy area to bring our kayaks back ashore. After moving our vehicles back down closer to the water’s edge, we clean off as much of the mud and dirt as we can, load kayaks and gear back in, and head for home. Although the day starts off on a questionable note, it turns out to be a relatively pleasant day for kayaking after all. And this concludes the last official Arizona Trailblazers kayaking trip of 2023.

Anna and Norma returning to SB Cove. [photo by Ron]
Spectacular desert and mountain scenery surround Bartlett Lake. [photo by Ron]
Parting scene from Bartlett Lake. [photo by Ron]
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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona updated January 10, 2024
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