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Bartlett Lake
March 1, 2022
by Chuck Parsons
Six trailblazing kayakers gather by Bartlett Lake. [photo by Barbara]
Diane, Barbara, Ron, Anna, Norma, Chuck

Six Arizona Trailblazers converge at the Bartlett Flats area on the upper end of Bartlett Lake on Tuesday morning, March 1, for a few hours of quality kayaking time. On a cool and breezy morning, with clear blue skies overhead, we begin preparing our kayaks for launch. This trip had to be postponed for two consecutive weeks due to high winds on the lake, with weather forecasts calling for steady winds throughout the day, gusting to 25 mph or even higher. Definitely not good kayaking conditions.

So apparently, as the old saying goes, the third time really is the charm after all, with today’s forecast almost perfect, calling for sunny skies, light winds 3 to 8 mph, and temperatures in the mid to upper-70s. It just doesn’t get much better than that. It’s close to 10:00 AM when we finally push our kayaks into the water and begin paddling to the northwest and into the upper arm of Bartlett Lake.

Barbara, Diane, and Chuck fan out across the lake. [photo by Norma]
The signature Yellow Cliffs of Bartlett Lake. [photo by Norma]
Chuck and Diane take a breather near the lakeshore. [photo by Norma]
Barbara glides along next to a field of boulders. [photo by Norma]

Completed in 1939 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and funded primarily by the Salt River Project, Bartlett Dam was the first dam built on the Verde River, creating Bartlett Lake. Named after Bill Bartlett, chief government surveyor on the project, the primary purpose of the dam was to provide irrigation and drinking water for the growing metro Phoenix area. In 1994 the dam was raised an additional 21.5 feet in height to provide more storage capacity for both flood control and increased water supply.

Shortly after we get underway, we start paddling into a steady headwind that seems more like 18 mph instead of the 8 mph in today’s weather forecast. But at least the wind is not as strong as it was earlier this morning when I met two of our kayakers at the junction of Bartlett Dam Road and North Lake Road.

Diane gives a quick thumbs up. [photo by Norma]
Norma is in her element, enjoying the experience. [photo by Barbara]
Chuck attempts to gauge the height of the lake’s “bathtub ring”. [photo by Wayne]
Ron and Anna glide along in their 15-foot tandem kayak. [photo by Norma]
Sunlight reflects off the lake around Barbara. [photo by Norma]

Before I was able to step out of my car, the wind snatched the car’s door right out of my hand and almost blew away all the paperwork I was carrying. At that point I estimated the winds at 30 mph or higher. Are you kidding me? Are we going to have to postpone this trip yet again? Thankfully, though, the winds calmed down somewhat by the time we drove down to the lake.

Diane digs her paddle into the water. [photo by Norma]
Chuck paddles along, in search of a good lunch spot. Nope—we sure can’t get out here. [photo by Norma]

As we continue paddling into the upper end of Bartlett Lake, the Bartlett Flats Camping Area seems to stretch on and on, with one campsite after another. It’s hard to know just where the camping area actually ends, until the dirt and gravel pathway that serves as a makeshift road eventually runs out, or, more accurately, cliffs out.

From this point travel by water is the only option. As we continue moving further up the lake, the water becomes noticeably muddier, and we start to encounter a stronger current. Both of these conditions would seem to indicate that water is being released from Horseshoe Lake Dam, just a few miles upstream of us.

As we approach noon, I begin to look for a good takeout location where we can beach our kayaks and get out to stretch our legs and take a lunch/snack break. We eventually round a large rock formation in the lake and find a shallow sand and gravel beach area on the opposite side to beach our kayaks. We do a little exploring and then park ourselves on some large rocks in the shade. By 12:45 we’re back on the water once again and heading to our launch site.

Lunch stop on Bartlett Lake.  Yes—this looks much better. [photo by Barbara]
Parting shot of the Yellow Cliffs. [photo by Norma]
We approach our launch site. [photo by Norma]

The winds have calmed down, but have also shifted almost 180 degrees, once again in our faces for part of the way. Then the wind shifts yet again, this time to our backs. Between the wind and the current pushing us along, we’re still somewhat surprised to arrive back at the launch site by 1:45 PM, in half the time it took us to reach our turnaround point and lunch stop. We stow away our kayaks and gear, say goodbye to one another and head back home, already looking forward to the next Arizona Trailblazers kayaking adventure.

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updated March 6, 2022