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Saguaro Lake Kayaking
Butcher Jones Beach
February 10, 2021
by Chuck Parsons
  GPS Map 
by Wayne Shimata
Trailblazers man their paddles at the edge of Saguaro Lake. [photo by Lin]
Wayne, John, Lin, Chuck, Barbara, Kelley, Lynne, Yanis, Vanessa

The location is Butcher Jones Beach on Saguaro Lake. This beautiful sunny day in early February marks the very first Arizona Trailblazers day kayaking event. So today we’ll be getting our workout on the water, rather than on the trail.

The first step is getting our kayaks down to the lake. [photo by Lin]
Saguaro Lake is glassy smooth and calm today. [photo by Lin]
Some assembly required. [photo by Lin]
We’re slowly getting it together. [photo by Lin]

Under partly cloudy skies, temperature in the cool mid-60s, nine Trailblazers (or as John S. calls us, “Waterblazers”) gather at water’s edge for the requisite group picture and a quick round of introductions. At 9:45 AM we slide into our individual kayaks and start paddling away from the beach. Our goal for today will be Ship Rock, a large rock formation in the middle of the lake and 2.5 miles from the beach, and beyond, depending on how everyone feels after a leisurely lunch/snack/rest break.

And we’re off! [photo by Wayne]
Now we’re slowly moving away from the beach. [photo by Wayne]
Yes, this is more like it. [photo by Wayne]
Lin and her bright orange kayak. [photo by Wayne]
Kelley in her inflatable kayak. [photo by Lin]

Saguaro Lake is the last of four reservoirs on the Salt River, created with the completion of Stewart Mountain Dam in 1930. Theodore Roosevelt Dam, on Roosevelt Lake, was the first dam built on the Salt River, completed in 1911. Next was Mormon Flat Dam, on Canyon Lake, completed in 1925; followed by Horse Mesa Dam, on Apache Lake, completed in 1927. The Salt River Valley Water Users Association created these multipurpose dams for flood control, irrigation water, and the generation of hydroelectric power.

Are you sure that kayak is big enough for you, John? [photo by Wayne]
Wayne [photo by Lin]
Vanessa [photo by Lin]
Chuck [photo by Lin]
A kayaker’s paradise. [photo by Kelley]
The majestic Four Peaks loom on the far horizon. [photo by Wayne]
A classic “V” formation of kayakers. [photo by Wayne]
Fire in the sky over Saguaro Lake. [photo by John]
Secret cave entrance to another world? [photo by Kelley]
Elephant Rock appears to be a double arch. [photo by Wayne]
Lichen has found an ideal environment here.  Alice Algae and Fred Fungus have found the perfect home.
[photo by Wayne]
Lynne and Lin glide past Elephant Rock. [photo by John]

After almost two hours on the water, we’re all getting a little tired and hungry by the time we finally reach Ship Rock, 2.5 miles from our launch point at Butcher Jones Beach and prominently thrusting skyward in what was once part of the original Salt River Channel.

We continue paddling for another quarter-mile past Ship Rock to a take-out point that we’ve used in the past for lunch and rest breaks. There are better areas nearby, not quite as rocky, but none large enough to accommodate nine kayaks. So we all pull in here, carefully extract ourselves from our kayaks, stretch our slightly cramped legs, and find a handy boulder to plop down on for lunch, while admiring the surrounding scenery. What a perfect day to be on the lake!

Ship Rock dead ahead! Hard to starboard! [photo by Wayne]
Trailblazers pull ashore for a rest and lunch break. [photo by Wayne]
Kayaks come in every color under the rainbow. [photo by Lin]
Chuck, Lynne, John, Kelley, and Barbara break for lunch. [photo by Lin]
Wayne, Yanis, and Vanessa do the same. [photo by Lin]
Look! I found my cell phone! [photo by Lin]
Chuck, Yanis, and Vanessa admire the scenery. [photo by John]
Kelley and Lynne, with Barbara in the background. [photo by John]

Lunch and rest break over and muscles somewhat relaxed and rested, we slip back into our kayaks for the return trip to Butcher Jones Beach.

“OK people,” says Wayne, “Let’s move out!” [photo by Lin]
Trailblazers ready their kayaks for departure. [photo by Lin]
And we’re off once again. [photo by Lin]
Now we’re approaching the main body of the lake. [photo by Lin]
Man down! Man down! [photo by Lin]

We’re close to the main body of the lake when suddenly I hear a loud splash and thrashing in the water behind me. No screaming or yelling, only someone thrashing and struggling in the water. I quickly swing my kayak around 180° and see John in the water next to his capsized kayak about ten yards away. OMG! I quickly paddle toward him to see what I can do to help. Following is John’s personal account of events.

→   More pictures, by Lin
Supplemental Report
by John Scruggs

Capitan Capsize, your club Splash Test Dummy. [photo by Lin]

Our Saguaro Lake Kayak Adventure leader, Chuck, asked me to “write a paragraph” for the Hikeyak Report. As you might expect, if you know me, I need several photographs to do a paragraph of report. These photos and the video at the link cited below, are all the fine work of our Trailblazers Club President, Lin. Thanks Lin!


Is it just me, or does this shot make my butt look big? [photo by Lin]

Anyone with any experience kayaking will immediately see that I have a size problem. I am a size 5 guy in a size 3 boat. First lesson: Try before you buy. When I ordered my Payette 10" from Dicks, it sounded big enough. It has a One Person capacity and a 250-pound capacity. This does not mean that I was within this limit at 223 pounds. The weight capacity is the total weight of one person with all the gear they bring aboard. There is no comment about the height of the one person. At 6" 3", my center of gravity is much higher than average for 250-pounds. The result was very little freeboard, at 4" waterline to deck. The slightest false move will introduce you to the upside-down underwater world of Saguaro Lake. A chilling experience, as I can attest.


When I leaned back to stretch, my stern almost went under water. [photo by Lin]


Chuck doesn’t have any problem stretching, but his boat is a foot shorter.
OK, I guess he’s about a foot shorter, too. [photo by Lin]

The water in the lake is a moving river and the current on the lake is most intense at this narrow passage between solid walls of sheer cliffs. I capsized right in the middle of the stream, where the most distant kayaker is looking for my lost hat. You will note that my glasses, Personal Floatation Device (PFD) all stayed on. My hat came off. Even my Covid facemask stayed on. It is under my chin and looped over my ears under my glasses croaky. I have no idea what put me under, but my boat was very hard to handle in the current and I had to back paddle a lot to steer. I could not paddle forward fast enough to keep going straight. I think I was in the midst of such a struggle when the river got me.


The scene of the Capsize after self-rescue and link up with Chuck. Note that the bow of
my boat is under my waterproof bag, and all but the bag is under water. [photo by Lin]

My Red Cross SR Lifesaving training, with several summers of youth camp lifeguard work, and a propensity for stumbling upon hazards known and unknown, stood me in good stead. As my PFD popped me to the surface, I used that momentum and a good scissor kick to leap onto the upside down hull of my drowning Yak, grab the far side and, on the rebound, pull it back upright. The water inside sloshed toward and over me and then, as it sloshed back toward the far side, I lifted my side up to slosh out as much water as I could on the rebound. I am proud of that move. If capsizing was an Olympic event, I might have been on the podium. Okay, ... after this screwup, I needed some self-pat on the back time.


I get stuck in the current and my boat wants to run me into rocks to my right. I dig my paddle
in to steer back towards Lin. A move like this may have been my undoing. [photo by Lin]

I rounded up each of the tethered things I had attached to my boat, including the paddle, and flung them into the now half empty hull. I gave up on finding my Tilly hat. I looped my arm over the gunnel, about where the seat is, and I swam the boat over to the cliff face. I let the current carry me downstream. In the water like that, riding the current in my PFD and sidestroking with the kayak beside me, just like a lifeguard rescue, the kayak was way more maneuverable and easier to keep on course than it ever was when I was sitting in it. I found this sheltered niche in the tail end of the cliff where there was a bit of rough granite to sit on just underwater. While Chuck steadied me and my Yak, I pumped out almost all of the water with my bilge pump in just a few minutes. Watch the video. Thanks for the rescue, Chuck, and for leading this adventure.

John’s List of Essential Kayak Gear
1.  Bailing Pump: not cheap, but worth it.
2. Flotation Air bladder: I only had one in the stern, but Chuck reckoned that kept my boat from going UAV on me.
3. Bow Line: to tie up with at a pull-out, and to pull on when rising from the seat (Chuck’s suggestion).
4. Glasses Croaky: also keeps your Covid mask on your ears.
5. Tether Lines: attached to loose gear and to shock cords situated in the cockpit within reach.
6. Paddle Tether, with a detachable length connected to the boat and to the other part attached to the paddle, so you can disconnect it when you need your paddle away from the boat.
7. Paddling friendly Personal Flotation Device: your life vest. See the version I am wearing in my first photo. Note how it will not interfere with my paddling movements and note where it has lodged after my little underwater tour, not up to my armpits.
8. Lightweight lace-up water shoes, water flows through. Mine are from Under Armor and I got the quite some time ago. These shoes did not give me good grip on the footrests when the shoes were wet. My new Yak has moveable foot pedals.
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updated February 19, 2021