Monday, October 25, 2010

Heading south

Against all of my normal instincts, the VOR and I migrated south this weekend. Lake Superior still has some prime paddling left, the deer are just entering the rut at the hunting camp, and its an up year in the 10 year grouse cycle. Still, we loaded up the boats and headed south to paddle Red Rocks lake, south of Des Moines, IA, with some old friends and to meet some new ones. It's funny how paddling those long skinny boats serves as the perfect introduction to all sorts of interesting people.
We rolled into Pella, IA on Friday night and were met by ProfessorLichen and a new acquaintance (and fellow blogger), DianeMK. We learned that the plan for Saturday would be assisting on an EcoTour and beginning paddle trip sponsored by the local paddle shop, CanoeSport Outfitters, and then heading out to explore the lake with a smaller experienced group. That sounded good to us. Red Rocks Lake, a US Army Corp of Engineers impoundment, had been 30' to 40' above normal all summer and then had been drawn down to repair some dam gates that had been damaged during the floods of the past couple of years. The resulting exposed 40 to 50 additional vertical feet of shoreline, mud flats, and sandstone cliffs sounded really interesting and reminded both the VOR and I of our paddle on Lake Sakakawea on the Missouri River during a drought year. The difference here was no 200 yard carry to the water and plenty of trees, mainly in prime fall colors, along the banks. I don't remember a single tree on Sakakawea. Even thought the weather forecast was dire, we were up for exploring some new water in the morning.

We were picked up Saturday morning by DrBackCracker of Devil's Island fame, had a healthful and nutritious breakfast, and headed for the put in. The rest of the gang, including the EcoTourists/students, arrived and we got foot pegs, paddles, and boats adjusted and were underway in pretty nice weather. ProfessorLichen led the group and talked about the geology, geography, and a bit of the history of the area, a nice naturalist overview of the area. We saw fossils, coal seams, layers of sandstone, and 200 million year old mudballs. Due to the rapid lowering of the lake after Labor Day, lots and lots of native mussels were stranded in the mud. While this was a kind of Old Country Buffet gone wild for the local raccoons, it was not such a good thing for the mussels, especially when it freezes. We all threw a few back in the water. The VOR got into it and threw back over a hundred. This pales in comparison with the couple thousand that ProfessorL had tossed back over the past few weeks, but every little bit helps. We headed back to the launch area for lunch, did a bit of rolling, got the students on their way home, and headed back out to explore the Elk Rock area with its high cliffs and caves. We also checked out the mile long bridge over the northwest end of the lake. Some more folks joined us and we had 8 paddlers on the way back to the launch. Doc and I had a keen interest in the outcome of the Iowa/Wisconsin game and managed to listen to the end of the Badger win on the radio. By now the forecasted weather had begun to roll in and we made to the Sports Page bar in the nick of time, where we were joined by the Omaha connection, and then by the rest of the crew.

It was a great weekend and a really interesting body of water. Plenty of eagles, lots of migrating pelicans, and nervous schools of shad that would leap out of the water en masse if you got too close. There was not a single power boat due to the drawdown. We paddled the next morning with Deb and Rich and looped around toward the dam before heading back. One incident from the evening before continued to puzzle me however. Just as we were leaving, the park ranger pulled up in his pickup. As usual, I began to run through the mental inventory of regulations that I had likely violated. Even though I hadn't even cracked my post paddle beer I must have done something because he headed right over to talk to me. To my surprise, he told me that he and his dad, beginning kayakers this year, really enjoyed reading the blog. He then told me of the existence of the Peace Tree Brewing Co in Knoxville, IA, less than 10 miles away. He seemed to have noticed a mention or two of good ale on this site. Hop Wrangler IPA and other interesting beers and none of our buddies had told us of the existence of this fine area resource. I don't think it was because anyone thought I was a teetotaler, or perhaps figured I might enjoy a nice cold Bud more. Nope, I think they were saving it for the next trip to the Red Rocks Lake area, a trip that will surely occur. We need to see that lake when its full of water, preferably in the spring so we can paddle further up the river when the waterfowl are migrating. I would also like to see Red Rocks when its a bit angry. A northwest wind with a 20 mile fetch over some deep water could be fun. It seems like we just never know when we're going to stumble on to a good kayaking venue. I guess a person just needs to keep their eyes and mind open.


troutbirder said...

Enjoyed perusing your outdoor blog. Very nice.

rocksandfeathers said...

It was great to have you visit; thanks for the great Greenland Roll demonstrations too!!

John Pearson said...

Yes, thanks for making the trip to Iowa. Hope the Red Rock drawdown mud washes off your boats, I know they are accustomed to Superior water that is actually transparent! When you come next time, the mud will once again be 10' underwater, shoreline accesses will have re-opened, and the cliffs we missed can and will be visited.