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Kayaking Saguaro Lake
Butcher Jones Beach, Saguaro Lake
November 15, 2022
by Chuck Parsons
11 Trailblazers line up on Butcher Jones Beach. [photo by Eileen]
Anna, Ron, Mimi, Barbara, Karen, Eileen, Kim, Norma, Scott, Burt, Chuck.

About 9:15 on a beautiful Tuesday morning in mid-November, and 11 Arizona Trailblazers gather near their kayaks on Butcher Jones Beach, with the calm and serene waters of Saguaro Lake in the background. The temperature is a cool and refreshing 55 degrees under sunny skies, as we commandeer a volunteer photographer to take our group picture. Since we started doing these monthly kayaking trips in February, 2021, today’s turnout is an all-time record for us, with 9 kayakers being the previous largest number.

Norma and Chuck take a break from paddling. [photo by Scott]
Five kayakers head for the main channel. [photo by Scott]
Norma and Kim, with Ron and Anna in their tandem kayak. [photo by Scott]
The majestic Four Peaks loom over this part of the lake. [photo by Barbara]
The sun is rising higher in the sky. [Barbara]

After a round of introductions and a brief discussion about kayaking safety, including paddling close to the shore and what to do in case of a capsize, at 9:35 AM we push our kayaks into the lake, climb aboard, and start paddling in the direction of the main Salt River Channel on the lake.

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 and rest break.

Burt in his slick Sundance kayak. [photo by Scott]
Barbra and Mimi paddle near a large cottonwood tree displaying its fall colors. [photo by Scott]
This immature bald eagle is silhouetted against the sky. [photo by Scott]
Karen takes a breather from paddling. [photo by Scott]

After many years of hiking the scenic Butcher Jones Trail around Saguaro Lake and launching countless kayaks from Butcher Jones Beach, my curiosity finally got the best of me. Just who was this guy, Butcher Jones, anyway? Is he just a fictitious character or was he perhaps a real-life meat cutting butcher? Was he a quack doctor who inadvertently butchered some of his patients or just a plain crackpot period? After many long hours of meticulous research (actually, only a few seconds, thanks to the magical powers of Google), this is what I came up with:

The Arizona Republic’s Scott Craven did some research for the curious among us, and here’s what he came up with:

“Butcher Jones most likely is Dr. W.W. Jones, according to state historian Marshall Trimble. An online search showed Jones to be more than a medical professional. In the mid-19th century, he also owned mines in Arizona, as well as a freighting business. He lived in Yuma, Prescott, Wickenburg, Phoenix and Tempe, and later in life became a rancher. He apparently was fairly influential in his day, and he was friends with Jacob Waltz of Lost Dutchman Goldmine fame. There also was a mention that Dr. Jones performed surgeries on his dining room table, which may have led to his nickname of Butcher.” A Parks Department employee said of Butcher Jones – “I am pretty sure he was a doctor, but apparently not a very good one.”
Scenic overlook of Saguaro Lake. [photo by Eileen]
Two Black-necked cormorants take flight. [photo by Eileen]
Giant saguaro growing out of solid rock at lake’s edge. [photo by Eileen]
A window in the cliff high above the lake. [photo by Barbara]

We continue paddling along the main body of the lake, following the shoreline for about ¾ of a mile before finally entering the original Salt River channel, now well submerged beneath the lake’s surface. We continue hugging the shoreline as we steadily work our way toward Ship Rock in the distance.

Mimi recently sent me some pictures of her Saguaro Lake kayaking trip last month, including several pictures of Desert Bighorn sheep, high in the cliffs overlooking the lake. I told her that she was very lucky to see not just one, but several, of these very elusive animals. I’ve been boating, fishing, and kayaking on this lake for almost 50 years and have never once seen a single Desert Bighorn. I have elsewhere in Arizona, but not around here. Now here we are only about an hour or so into this kayaking trip, when we spot our first bighorn ram on a cliff high above the lake.

Can you spot the Desert Bighorn in this picture?
Hint: Middle of the picture, just beneath the ridgeline. [photo by Barbara]

Unbelievable! Does Mimi have a secret method of calling these animals into view? Later in the day, we would spot a second and even a third ram working their way along these high and rugged cliffs along the lake’s edge. Although we suspect that we’ve seen one of these rams twice. These Desert Bighorns are actually working their way along these cliffs much more than we realize, while also keeping an eye on us much of the time. But they’re so well camouflaged in these rocks that we usually can’t see them until they start moving. And even then it can still be a challenge.

A very tight and cozy break area. [photo by Scott]
Barbara, Burt, Mimi, Chuck, Norma, and Kim line up below Elephant Rock. [photo by Scott]

After a quick group picture below Elephant Rock, we finally reach the Ship Rock area and start looking for a good place to stop for a well-deserved lunch and rest break. Areas where we’ve stopped in the past are now almost completely overgrown with tall reed beds and impossible to penetrate in a kayak. After about 15 minutes of searching, by 11:30 we finally settle on a small gravel beach just barely large enough to accommodate all nine of our kayaks, get out to stretch our cramped legs and take a break. It’s a tight fit, but somehow we manage to make it work.

This bighorn ram sits high above the lake on his rocky perch. [photo by Barbara]
While this ram is keeping a very close eye on us. [photo by Scott]

Break time over all too quickly, we climb back into our kayaks and start paddling back to Butcher Jones Beach and by 1:30 we’re all back to the launch area. Weather-wise, it’s been a perfect day on the lake for kayaking, with minimal power boat traffic. After packing all our gear and kayaks away, we start heading for home. But we’ll be back at least once more this season while the temps remain cool enough.

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updated November 22, 2022