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Bartlett Lake Kayaking
Bartlett Lake
Febuary 21, 2023
by Chuck Parsons
Trailblazers pose for a quick group shot. [photo by Kelley]
Chuck, Kelley, Norma, and Eva .

A chilly 55 degrees and heavy overcast skies, threatening to start spitting icy cold raindrops on us at any moment, as four Arizona Trailblazers kayakers gather at SB Cove on the west side of Bartlett Lake’s north end. What to do now? The last weather forecast I pulled up late yesterday was predicting mostly sunny conditions, with temps ranging from 55 to 68 degrees later in the afternoon, and light winds of 3 to 9 mph. So far, only a light breeze, but this certainly doesn’t look even remotely like “mostly sunny conditions” to any of us.

The calm and murky surface of Bartlett Lake, with the Yellow Cliffs in the background. [photo by Kelley]
Second view of the lake surroundings. [photo by Kelley]
Panoramic view of Bartlett Lake. [photo by Kelley]
Chuck and Kelley are off and paddling. Well, sort of anyway. [photo by Norma]

But we decide to go ahead and test the waters anyway since we’re already here. Besides, Kelley has her brand new 9.5-foot Field & Stream hard-shell sit-in kayak that has never seen water before and she’s anxious to get it on the lake for its maiden voyage. We all push off around 9:45 AM and start paddling out into the cove. In only a matter of minutes we get a distress call from Kelley, informing us that she’s taking on some serious water and it’s already sloshing around in the bottom of her kayak. So we all make our way back to the launch area as quickly as possible.

This is certainly not looking very promising.
Water is gushing from the drain plug of Kelley’s kayak. [photo by Norma]
Chuck and Norma discussing a plan of action for the day. [photo by Eva]
Collision course! [photo by Eva]

Kelley pulls her kayak up onto the shore and as soon as she starts raising it, we see water pouring out from two pencil-sized holes, spaced about ten inches apart in the bottom of the hull. What the heck is that?! She then opens the drain plug, raises the kayak on its end, and water gushes out for the next several minutes, probably at least 4 to 5 gallons worth. Her maiden voyage cut seriously short, Kelley loads her kayak back into her Subaru and heads for home and the closest Dick’s Sporting Goods. What a major disappointment for her.

Chuck is moving along in his Swifty Perception. [photo by Eva]
Eva in her Beach LT Oru. [photo by Norma]
The iconic Yellow Cliffs overlooking Bartlett Lake. [photo by Eva]
Norma in her Sojourn 126. [photo by Eva]

With all the recent inflow from the Verde River and Horseshoe Dam upstream, Bartlett Lake is now over 85% full. Quite a contrast from the last few times we’ve kayaked this lake, when it’s been barely half full. But the flip side of all that water flowing into the lake is muddy brown water and lots of wood debris floating on the lake’s surface. In addition, all of our desert lakes here in Arizona are surrounded by numerous natural washes that flow into the lake. During the dry season all sorts of debris--from regular trash and junk to tree branches and large limbs to mattresses and even dead animals--collects in these dry washes. Then, after a series of heavy rains like we’ve experienced over the past few months, all that debris gets flushed right into the lakes and can circulate around for weeks or even months, depending on wind directions and currents.

This dead Saguaro has morphed into a monster with a wicked looking right hook. [photo by Norma]
Norma, one of the fastest kayakers on the water. [photo by Eva]
Threatening storm clouds gather over Bartlett Lake. [photo by Eva]

So Norma, Eva, and I try to make the most of the day, paddling onward until storm activity turns us back. This time of the year thunderstorms are extremely rare in the desert, but they can happen and at the first sound of thunder we’ll immediately head for shore and hunker down. On a lake or river is the last place you want to be in the middle of a thunderstorm. So far, we’re only seeing heavy cloud cover, with no signs of rain or storm activity. And now for a change of plans.

We pull into Rattlesnake Cove for a little R and R. [photo by Norma]

Instead of heading north to the Bartlett Flats area, as we normally do on these kayaking outings to Bartlett Lake, we decide to paddle south to Rattlesnake Cove and the Bartlett Lake Marina as both a change of venue and a change of scenery. Hopefully all the slithering serpents of the rattlesnake variety are still hunkered down, deep within their winter dens and taking refuge from the cold weather. We dig our paddles into the water and steadily make our way southeast and then southwest around a major bend in the lake.

Chuck and Norma make their way back to SB Cove. [photo by Eva]
Checking out the lake’s water level by way of the bathtub ring. [photo by Eva]

After about an hour or more of steady paddling, we repeat the process around a second bend in the lake, before finally seeing a large fishing dock and a hillside full of tables, shade canopies, and ramadas that mark the Rattlesnake Cove Picnic Area. Farther ahead in the distance we can see the marina. Another twenty minutes of paddling, and we beach our kayaks on the shore of Rattlesnake Cove and climb a long concrete stairway to the upper ramadas and restrooms. We take a relaxing lunch and rest break here at the uppermost ramada, with a commanding view of the lake below. Then it’s back down the stairway, back into our waiting kayaks, and then the long and uneventful paddle back to SB Cove. By 3:00 we’re all back, still under overcast skies.

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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona updated March 31, 2023
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