My kayaking adventures began in August, 2001 when I was coerced by my partner and her sister to participate in a sunset paddle whilst vacationing on Galiano Island in Canada. Despite a migraine headache that medication could not relieve, being on the water with bald eagles circling overhead, great blue herons, seals, deer watching on the hillsides, and the sun slowly sinking behind the mountains on Vancouver Island had me hooked.

I went to Seattle about a month later for a five-day crash course, including an overnight camping trip to Strawberry Island in the San Juans. I spent an extra day to demo several Mariner kayaks at their shop on Lake Union, and when I got home, ordered the Elan, a decision which completely changed many things in my life and which continues to bring incredible joy, delight, and transformation.

Some folks may wonder why I purchased a sea kayak, since I live in northern New Mexico. But we are blessed with wonderful lakes, and most especially the Rio Grande, where paddling is as incredible as anything I experienced in the coastal Pacific waters.

Most of my trips originate at Cochiti Lake, from where I paddle northwards and upstream on the Rio Grande into Bandelier National Park. Mostly I am accompanied by Diana in her Wild Orchid Elan. The sense of oneness with the water, sky, sun and wind, amazing rock formations, wildlife and nature are incomparable.

I have also paddled on Conchas, Santa Rosa, Heron and Abiquiu Lakes, and in mid-September of 2005 spent five days at Navajo Lake in the northwestern corner of the state. The photos here, taken by my paddling partner Mark Arnold, are from that trip, and the comments about kayaking are excerpted from my 2005 weblog.

I paddled the northern end of Navajo Lake in southwestern Colorado for four days in September, 2007 with Diana, and Blue Mesa Lake in Colorado for four days in September, 2009.

After purchasing digital cameras, beginning in 2009, I have taken many photographs on our kayaking trips. You can view many of them, along with trip reports, at my blog and photography gallery.

<<Click on the images to see a larger size>>

Los Pinos Arm
Echo Canyon
Francis Canyon - North Shore
San Juan Arm
Francis Canyon - Rocks
Francis Canyon
San Juan Cliffs
Fallen Boulder
Shoreline Erosion
Los Pinos Cliffs

Kayaking Comments
Tuesday, 10 May

I went out yesterday for the first kayaking trip of the season, and as you might imagine, it was quite an adventure, lasting about two and 3/4 hours. The winds were mostly moderate, but as I had surmised, the current in the river was stronger than ever. The buoys near the river mouth were dancing, and the sound of the water rushing by was awesome.

When I got within about a quarter mile of where the river enters, there were many strong current eddies crisscrossing the lake. It was great fun to go through them, as the bow veered in the direction of the flow and I had to lean the boat against it to avoid capsizing.

I then tried to avoid the main flow in the river itself, but wound up getting stuck fairly often on mud shoals. When I got into the current, no matter how hard I paddled, I made no forward progress.

So I made the only intelligent decision, and had a wild ride downcurrent back into the lake. I then spent time exploring various inlets, since the water level is about 25% higher than last year at this time. In fact, the beach from which I normally launch was underwater, so I had to use the concrete boat ramp.

But I got within less than 10 yards of a Western Grebe for quite awhile, saw lots of kingfishers, a flock of white-faced ibis flying overhead, and a young beaver slowly swimming not more than five yards away before diving below the water into its home.

Also, paddling some six inches from towering cliffs was amazing in and of itself.

All and all a glorious day, after six months off. And best of all, muscle memory was terrific — I never once had to think about what I was doing, whether getting in and out of the boat, paddling, edging, turning, etc.

Of course I am somewhat sore today, but at least did not overdo it, mostly thanks to the strong current in the river which stopped me from going any further than the large mouth area.

Tuesday, 7 June

The Rio Grande continues to be amazing beyond words. We went up to a canyon in Bandelier National Park last Wednesday, further than Diana had ever been, and were able to paddle over a mile into it from the river. 250-foot rock cliffs towering overhead, large fish spawning and feeding, nesting swallows, waterfowl, beaver, muskrats — totally awesome.

The sense of adventure and discovery is spine-tingling, as we are able to get to places that we did not even know existed! And it's wonderful to see many of the human-made buildings such as picnic shelters and bathrooms under feet of water!!!!

The winds have been strong recently but tomorrow promises to be calmer, so I hopefully will get out again. The snowmelt and runoff will end soon and then the water levels will drop, so I want to explore as much as possible during this extraordinary time. The oneness with the water, land, sky, wind, and nature are an immense blessing.

Thursday, 16 June

I had two more wonderful kayaking trips on Monday and Wednesday. The river has dropped more than 10 feet, however, so yesterday was undoubtedly the last time I could explore some of the places until next season, assuming we get as much moisture — unlikely, though, given that this is the most water in 30 years.

I had to push through snags and other growth just to get into some of the side channels, but the soaring cliffs and wildlife, including close-ups of young redtail hawks circling overhead, turkey vultures perched on rocks just above the river, a mother swimming with her brood of ducklings, beaver, muskrat, and even a small flock of white-faced ibis, made it well worth the effort.

It is such a blessing! It often takes a while, but sooner or later everything falls into perspective, and I am always grateful for the experience of what is meaningful and enduring. It is all too easy for me to get totally caught up in the trivialities and drivel of what passes for everyday life.

Saturday, 9 July

Our lake and river adventures continue apace. Although the water level has dropped almost 20 feet, it is always magnificent beyond belief. The peace and quiet, incredible rock formations and wildlife make it very clear what is enduring and meaningful.

The current has slowed down so paddling upstream is mostly not too difficult, but navigating the now huge mudflats and shoals can be tricky. Our favorite landing spot, some 4 or 5 miles upstream opposite a wonderful canyon, is finally accessible. We can easily spend lots of time there eating lunch, admiring the scenery, watching the river flow by and the hawks, vultures and ravens circling overhead.

The little ducklings and goslings are now as big as their over-worked parents, but still dependent upon them for food and lessons in swimming and avoiding humans. Also, the great blue herons have returned — we got within about ten feet of one yesterday.

All in all, a most amazing and wondrous experience. We are so very fortunate....

Saturday, 16 July

Yesterday's paddle was very bittersweet, as it was clearly the last time this season that I will be able to get into the canyon mouths, side channels, inlets, and lagoons, due to much lower water levels. They are all magnificent, often with towering cliffs right next to the boat, and wildlife, total peace, and stillness.

I had to pole the boat over mudflats to enter them, but it was good to have a final opportunity to give thanks and say goodbye. And close-up encounters with a beaver and roadrunner on the way back offered glimpses of what is still possible.

Thursday, 21 July

Yesterday I had a six-hour paddle way upstream and into the mouth of Alamo Canyon, about a 16-mile roundtrip. It was rather exhausting, especially due to very tricky navigation around sandbars and getting stuck a number of times, but well-worth it in terms of the vistas, peace and stillness. And as you might imagine, I saw nary a human.

The rocks in Alamo are unlike anywhere else on the river — towering cliffs with the Bandelier formation at the top and other exposed and differently-colored layers below, often with striation lines from volcanic upheavals. There is even a rock arch, partway up on one of the cliffs. It's about 600 feet straight down from the rim of the canyon in many places — I know because I have hiked up-and-down it both ways from the Bandelier Visitor Center!

Lots of herons, mergansers, hawks, vultures, black and says phoebes, spotted sandpipers, canyon wrens, and fish, mamma duck swimming protectively with young 'uns as poppa quacked loudly from the shore, and even a close encounter with a coyote. It was very curious, and when I got too close — about 20 yards away — trotted slowly away into the willows along the riverbank. Glorious beyond belief.

Monday, 1 August

Had a rather amazing encounter with a coyote during my paddle this morning. I spotted it trotting along the bank right near the river mouth. It found a dead fish on the shore and proceeded to devour it. Since the boat was hardly moving, I was able to watch it for about 20 minutes, at a distance of 30 or so feet.

After dining, it moved on along the bank to the edge of the water, and then trotted up and over a hill and out of sight. Wow!

And even more amazing was that I saw it on my way back. I looked up from paddling through the rough water where the lake and river meet, and saw it watching me. It kept me in sight by moving along the bank, to make sure I wasn't getting any closer.

So another extraordinary day on the water, with lots of herons, mergansers, vultures and ravens, and of course the usual towering cliffs and deep blue skies. Ahhhhh....

As I have said many times, it sure puts everything in clear perspective!

Saturday, 13 August

It seems that kayaking and painting do not go together, for me — it's one or the other. So since the season began in mid-May, I have not done any new work. I see it as the replenishing of the creative well, so to speak. The same thing happened last year, and then I completed some 60 pieces in about six months.

Being out on the river is always magical and amazing beyond words. The peace, stillness, oneness with the water and nature, is unsurpassed. It always is a reminder of what is meaningful and enduring, and an opportunity to see how easy it is for me to get caught up in the trivialities of what passes for everyday life.

I often laugh aloud at the simplicity of things, when they are not overlaid with my anxieties and desires — all I have to do is show up, pay attention, and follow the energy.

Wednesday, 24 August

The ever-changing Rio Grande is a continual source of mystery and delight. The tricky navigation due to increasing underwater mud shoals, however, caused me to strain my lower back whilst poling off one of them a week ago, so I have not been able to get out since. Sigh....

But it is much improved, and with the always-hopeful attitude befitting someone born in April, I hope to be back out on the water by Friday, or Monday next week at the very latest!

Monday, 12 September

I am off early this morning for a five-day kayaking trip on Navajo Lake, which is in the northwest corner of New Mexico. It's been about three years since I first wanted to go there, and finally the time has come.

I am filled with a mixture of excitement and anxiety, going to a new location and camping out. But it is a wonderful opportunity to break out of the boxes of security and comfort, and so the experience will no doubt be furthering, no matter what happens.

Thursday, 22 September

Autumn equinox is upon us once again. The changes of season are always a reminder to look deeply within at what needs attention.

The Navajo Lake trip was a wonderful mix of the totally terrifying and awesomely sublime. Facing suddenly-appearing 45 mph wind gusts and managing to survive without capsizing or injury was no mean feat. It has already resulted in greater self-confidence and willingness to go beyond limitations.

The clarity of the water, with views down 30 feet to huge boulders and other rock formations, the patterns in the rocks created by wind and river, and the sunlight reflecting off them, were magical. It mirrored the sense of mystery inherent in the journey toward the great unknown.

I look forward to more.

Wednesday, 28 September

Autumn is definitely here. The increasing number of flocks of geese at various places along the river, the beginnings of yellow-gold leaves on aspen, cottonwood and deciduous shrubs, and the chill north morning wind in the canyon sound a clear note. Kayaking season will soon be over, and a new cycle of unfoldment will begin.

But for now it is more than enough to savor the moment, feel the tingle of the changes, and welcome whatever is next with gratitude and an open heart.

Saturday, 1 October

Yesterday's paddle started with ice on the car and snow in the mountains. There was fog and chill on the river, but no wind to speak of. With the rains of the past two days, the water levels were up a foot, so I was able to explore inlets and lagoons that had been inaccessible for several months.

An osprey circling overhead as I launched was certainly a good luck omen, for despite the dark clouds it did not rain, and the sun broke through around eleven o'clock, warming things up enough for a plunge into the lake after loading the boats and gear for the homeward trip.

The ever-increasing flock of Canada geese that has been hanging out near the river mouth, around 50 now, along with the ice and chill, certainly underscored that cold weather lies ahead.

I was talking with Diana this morning about this amazing kayaking season. It started earlier than usual (May 9), we experienced more water than in 30 years (and so in many ways had a new lake and river to explore for almost two months), I had five days of paddling on a relatively distant lake, and am up to 47 trips with hopefully another month to go, already surpassing the 39 of each of the past two years.

We are very fortunate indeed!

Saturday, 8 October

Yesterday we went on our annual kayaking trip to Conchas Lake, which is about a 2-1/4 hour drive southeast. The lake results from a dam on the Canadian River, and in addition to many very interesting cliffs and erosion patterns, has a fair number of petroglyphs left over from the days when the Anasazi roamed the region.

We left at 6:25 am in dense fog, but by the time we reached the freeway could see lots of blue sky and the beginnings of sunrise. When we reached Rowe Mesa, however, about 10 minutes away, we were into the fog and chill once again.

It lasted until we made the 500-foot descent of Corazon Hill to the plains below. Driving was quite challenging, since visibility was not more than 30 yards at most. Fortunately the roads we took were almost devoid of traffic, and none going in our direction.

When we finally reached the lake, there were grey clouds everywhere and a chill in the air. After a few moments of regret at not having stayed in bed, we reluctantly donned our cool weather kayaking clothes — medium-weight capilene tops and bottoms and paddling jackets — and set out northward along the eastern shore.

One of the benefits of the weather was that there were almost no other boaters, so we had the lake mostly to ourselves. The water levels were some 50% higher than the last three years, and so in many ways it was a totally new experience.

Skirting the cliffs and fallen boulders was great fun, and there was an abundance of waterfowl including ospreys, gulls, great blue herons, cormorants, congregations of turkey vultures both soaring and perched on poles, and even a few hawks.

Our paddle took us up the eastern side with a south wind behind, then across the lake to explore the cliffs along the western banks, southward until even with the dam, back across the lake to the eastern side, and along those cliffs to the boat ramp.

By the time we landed the skies had lightened some, but there was nary a trace of sunshine. So we loaded the boats and gear on the car, had lunch, and headed home.

Along the way, we passed two large herds of antelope. It was an incredible treat to see these wild symbols of the wide open spaces of the west. All in all, a fitting end to a marvelous trip.

Perhaps the best lesson was that our clothes easily withstood the chilly weather, so I am now hopeful that the season will extend well into November. Although I much prefer to kayak in shorts and a silkweight tee shirt, the paddling jacket worked very well in terms of keeping wind and water out, and was quite breathable.

Thursday, 13 October

Despite the entire car being covered with a layer of ice early yesterday morning, and much more snow on the mountains, I went out on the lake and river. Although there was a dearth of wildlife (perhaps the geese have now flown further south), the morning mist rising from the water and the light on the cliffs was, as usual, awesome and uplifting.

I left about an hour later than usual, which gave the sun some time to warm up the air, and am planning another outing tomorrow, especially as there won't be many more trips possible this season.

Friday, 14 October

Another brilliant day on the water. Went as far as Capulin Canyon, despite the difficulties in navigating rip currents and mud shoals. The foliage is starting to turn, and I encountered a northern harrier and small flock of geese near the canyon. Seems like they are staying more upriver than down by the lake.

The sunlight dancing on the wind wavelets during my return made it very special indeed.

Sunday, 23 October

These last few remaining days of this kayaking season are very precious indeed. The combination of the longer golden rays of the sun, brilliant yellows of the cottonwoods and aspens along the river, over-wintering waterfowl, and even the chill of the morning wind, make the paddling adventures quite special.

And jumping into the quite cool waters of the lake afterwards is invigorating, to say the least!

Sunday, 30 October

Three more trips this past week. The sight and sounds of huge flocks of Canada geese flying overhead quickens the heart. Clearly it is the call of the wild, speaking deeply to the oneness with Nature that is part of our heritage.

And how sad and unfortunate that there are those who are so completely out-of-touch with these feelings and sensibilities that they seek to destroy what little is left of the wilderness experience.

Monday, 14 November

The 60th kayaking trip of the season, and perhaps the last. With water levels higher than in the past two months, I was able to explore inlets, lagoons and canyons that had been inaccessible for some time. Hundreds of overwintering ducks and geese, grebes, herons, hawks, ravens, warm sunshine, incredible rock formations, made it one of the most glorious events of the year.

Once I left the river, the winds were ferocious — 25 knots per hour, gusting to 40. Fortunately I made it back to the beach without incident.

Whilst eating lunch and drinking in the peace, stillness, vistas and awesome nature energies at a favorite sandbar, I was deeply moved by the memories of this season. Who could have imagined on the first trip, back on May 9, what wondrous and amazing adventures would ensue, from the flood waters of the spring runoff to the five days at Navajo Lake.

Tears, laughter, and gratitude.


© 1993-2008 Merlin Emrys. All Rights Reserved.