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Watson Lake kayaking
April 18, 2023
by Chuck Parsons
group A
Trailblazers at Watson Lake’s North Ramp. [photo by Sally]
Eva, Burt, Sally, Mimi, Sandy, Lee, Chuck, Norma, Lynne.

On a bright and cool sunny morning in mid-April, nine kayakers from the Arizona Trailblazers gather by the shore of Watson Lake, with the iconic Granite Dells in the background. We actually launched earlier from the South Ramp at 9:45 a.m., but in our rush to get on the water neglected to get the usual group picture. Turns out that this is a more scenic location for a group picture anyway. In any list of the Top Five most scenic lakes in Arizona, Watson Lake has to rank close to the top of the list.

Bayou country in Arizona? Actually, yes. [photo by Barbara--from May, 2022]
Lee tries to find a safe passageway thru the trees. [photo by Norma]

Since Watson Lake, along with almost all of Arizona’s lakes, is now at full capacity thanks to our above-normal rain and snowfall over this past winter and spring, we’re going to first start exploring a seldom-seen part of this lake that’s only accessible during high water. As the lake level slowly drops over the summer months, this entire end of the lake is left high and dry. We spent some time paddling this part of the lake on our May, 2022, trip to Watson (picture above) and I’ve always wanted to check it out again since then.

While also taking a breather from time to time. [photo by Norma]

At the far southwest end of Watson Lake lies two narrow channels of water, both lined with a canopy of towering cottonwood and willow trees providing deep shade and relief from the heat on warmer spring and summer days. Yanis, one of our kayakers on that 2022 trip, described this part of the lake as “Arizona’s bayou country”, and it really is somewhat similar to southern Louisiana’s iconic bayou waters. You almost expect to see an alligator or two slide silently into the water from the shore. On our 2022 trip we paddled a full half-mile up one of these channels.

This Canadian Goose navigates a tangle of brush and debris. [Norma]
While this pair is more at home in their element. [Norma]

I’m hoping to do the same on this trip, but unfortunately Mother Nature has different plans for us today. Numerous heavy rain and wind storms over the past several months have knocked down a number of these tall cottonwood and willow trees, while stripping others of their branches and massive limbs. Both water channels are now choked with all this debris and virtually impassable. We manage to carefully maneuver around both channels for a while, before eventually starting to paddle over to the Dells at the lake’s opposite end. Maybe next year.

Kayakers paddle around among the trees—standing and fallen. [Sally]
Eva and Lynne seem to be paddling in opposite directions. [Norma]
Watson Lake is a waterfowl paradise. [Norma]

I’m hoping that once we reach the Granite Dells and the shelter of its massive granite boulders, some the size of a semi, we can escape some of this wind. Today’s forecast is calling for steady winds of 9 to 15 mph and occasional gusts to 22 mph. But we’ve kayaked with winds like this plenty of times in the past without problems. And Watson Lake is always on the windy side anyway. There is no such thing as a completely calm day on this lake. At least in six or more years of kayaking Watson Lake, I’ve never experienced one.

Sandy and Lynne paddle along the Dells. [Norma]
Mimi and Sally in Mimi’s new inflatable tandem kayak. [Norma]
Eva is all smiles today. [Norma]

Mimi even asks me at one point today what happened to our usual 10 mph rule for kayaking trips. She’s referring to an unwritten rule that we don’t normally kayak if wind speeds exceed 10 mph. The fact is that if we went strictly by that rule now, we wouldn’t have kayaked at all for the past six months or longer. Because wind speeds have far exceeded 10 mph on almost all of our kayaking trips for the past six or more months. Climate change? Who knows for sure, but over the past year or more we’ve seen more than our usual share of winds here in Arizona.

From this “bathtub ring”, the lake is not quite at 100% capacity. [Sally]
Look for part of a scowling face on the right edge of this picture.

About a half-hour later, we finally reach the spectacular Granite Dells section of Watson Lake. And, thankfully, we do manage to escape the wrath of the wind and the choppy waters, if only for a while, as we paddle quietly among the massive boulders and monoliths at this end of the lake. This is usually the favorite part of the lake for most people, and it certainly doesn’t take too much imagination to see why. Eventually, we begin paddling toward the North Ramp, where we can pull our kayaks up on the shore and hopefully snag the single picnic table near the ramp.

We beach our kayaks near the North Ramp. [Sally]
View from the North Ramp area. [Sally]

Thankfully, only a few people are here feeding the ducks and geese (not recommended, by the way), so we manage to acquire the empty table for ourselves. Talk about a picnic table with a view! After lunch and a relaxing rest break, we climb back into our kayaks and begin the journey back to the South Ramp. True to form, the strong afternoon winds appear right on schedule. And these winds are strong enough to create whitecaps on the lake. Whenever you see whitecaps on the water, it’s time to batten down the hatches and hang onto your hats and anything else that could blow away in the wind. Every few strokes forward, and the wind pushes us back several feet. It’s a struggle all the way, but by 1:15 we all arrive safely back at the South Ramp.

From his high vantage point, this Canadian Goose keeps an eye out for intruders. [Sally]
Sandy, Lee, Chuck, and Burt are heading back to the South Ramp. [Norma]

I received this message from Norma shortly after arriving back home from the lake:
Out of curiosity I checked the observed wind for Prescott while we were kayaking. It listed gusts between 24 to 32 mph!! I'd say we did very well. See everyone at the next kayak.

Parting view of the Granite Dells. [Sally]
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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona updated May 14, 2023
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