Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Splish Splash Piddle Paddle

Two weekends of paddling adventures on Elkhorn Slough and Lake Clementine have provided a needed break and made good use of our lovely weather here in Northern California. Normally January days would be gray, cool, and drizzly - time for inside work, reading and workshop projects. But while the eastern US is snowy and frozen, California is in a declared drought. We could ring our hands and fret about water shortages and wildfires this summer, but meanwhile, let's go places and play.

Elkhorn Slough, January 18-19, 2013
So last weekend I got up at 3 am and drove our happy little 1986 4-cylinder Toyota motorhome to Monterey Bay. There at Kirby Park on Elkhorn Slough I found about fourteen folks unloading bright-colored kayaks and organizing dry bags, binoculars, lunches, and figuring out what clothes to wear. It turned out that t-shirts and shorts were perfect for the warm, clear day.

Elkhorn Slough on Monterey Bay, Northern California
After warm greetings with friends I've been paddling with for several years, we headed out onto the water. Happy conversations initially echoed across the water as folks got caught up with who's been doing what, but soon we settled into contemplative appreciation of the slough environment.

Snowy egret
Elkhorn Slough, about seven miles long, is a tidal estuary on Monterey Bay, and a recognized birding area of international significance. Prior to the mid-18th century the Ohlone Coastal Indians had made their home here. The first Spanish contact was made by members of the Gaspar de Portola expedition, who named it El Estero Grande in 1769. By the second half of the 19th century Moss Landing, at the mouth of the slough, became a steamboat port for loading grain and sugar beets, and salt was harvested from evaporative ponds, or "Salinas". In the early 1900's a whaling station was active for a while, oysters were farmed, and dairying, still an important activity, was established. Hunting clubs also became an important activity. Areas of the slough diked for farmland during that time are now being restored as wildlife habitat.

Loading up at Kirby Park
Birds were scarce during our visit, possibly discouraged by the shotguns that were blasting all around us - the timing of our trip could have been better with regard to hunting seasons. This is certainly not to put down hunting and hunters - it is the licensing and other fees, and the resource work of hunting clubs, that fill a big slice of the resource pie that supports wildlife habitats like this one.

And the shotgun blasts certainly did not discourage the sea otters, who were everywhere, happily engaging in sea otter nooky. Seals (or sea lions) also happily lazed in the sun or followed us around in the water, oblivious to the hunters.

Paddling the upper Arm of Elkhorn Slough

Upper Arm, Elkhorn Slough

Sanderlings in evening light, Moss Landing

Harbor seals begging

Killdeer on the Lower Arm, Elkhorn Slough

Curious seal

Sea Otter

Dairy barn and paddlers on Elkhorn Slough
 Lake Clementine, January 25, 2013

 Lake Clementine is a reservoir on the North Fork of the American River near Auburn, California. It was built in 1939 to contain debris released by hydraulic gold mining. "Hydraulicking" as the mining technique was known, made use of water canons to release small amounts of gold from large amounts of ancient river sediments. The huge amounts of debris generated made its way down the rivers to clog irrigation canals and cause river flooding in California's Central Valley, which has been a major agricultural resource since the 1800's. With debris containment its only purpose, Lake Clementine maintains a constant water level, popular with skiers and wake-boarders in the summer, but generally calm and quiet for paddling in the winter.

Lake Clementine on the North Fork of the American River
Pre-launch prep near the dam on Lake Clementine
Tony is happiest when afloat - photo by Jim Snyder
The gentle pace of the paddle, a Meetup led by Sven, allows time for exploration of side channels. Photo by Jim Snyder.
Heading up Lake Clementine - about an 8.5 mile round trip paddle
Debbie exploring a secret landing - photo by Jim Snyder


  1. Your photos are such a refreshing break, especially because we are back to the negative temps here in Chiberia.

  2. It's fantastic that you can get so close to the wildlife! In Tacoma we can see otters and seals in the water from the shore, but that's still about 20 feet away. I guess all it would take is a kayak and some patience. :)

  3. Great photos. They make me even more anxious to get out of Florida. Weather there looks just like what I am seeing as I look out of my window (minus the water and nice landscapes).

  4. Lovely to see the Snowy Egret, which, in the form of the Eastern Great Egret, we call the Kotuku, and is the fauna emblem of my home district, as it breeds at Okarito.

    1. Beautiful birds. We also have the Great Egret here. All are so graceful - they wade through the shallows and fish as if they were in a ballet.