This blog is designed to highlight the paddling opportunities within South Dakota, mainly within a 50-mile radius of Sioux Falls. While Sioux Falls is far from the adventure of coastal regions, there is a certain satisfaction in utilizing the available waterways to observe weather, water conditions, and the landscape along the shoreline. In addition, there is a wealth of animal life on the waters of small South Dakota lakes, rivers, and creeks, including geese, ducks, pelicans, great blue heron, egrets, hawks, owls, perching birds, deer, raccoons, and beaver. Eagles, fox, and coyote are also sometimes spotted.
The sites described are places where I have kayaked over the past few years, mostly in South Dakota but sometimes including locations in Iowa and Minnesota. One of the best sources of information on the accessibility of small lakes is the South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer, the large map book of South Dakota. Lakes with a public access are generally identified by a boat symbol marking the location of a launching site on public land.
You will notice the menu of paddling locations on the right side of the blog. Each of the postings is linked to one of the areas, and my intention is to provide a continuing review of the places where I paddle. Perhaps these narratives will help readers select waterways of interest to them. Please feel free to offer a comment regarding any of my postings; I would welcome the dialog.
I also maintain a companion blog that describes hiking opportunities within the Sioux Falls area. You can access that blog at: http://hikingsiouxfalls.blogspot.com
Friday, August 28, 2009
Grass Lake - August 2009
Last night I thought that this would be a good day for a return visit to Grass Lake. The forecast looked good, so I left home at 6:00 a.m., headed for Bagel Boy for coffee and 45 minutes of reading my latest novel, and arrived at Grass Lake by 7:30 a.m. I had not been on this body of water since early spring, and I was anxious to see the area during late summer with all the foliage at its peak growth.
At 7:30 a.m., the sky was clear with the sun low on the eastern horizon. There was no wind, and the water was flat calm. The temperature was 55 degrees – a perfect day for paddling. The only sounds on the lake were insects, birds, the dipping of my paddle, and the remote sound of cows mooing on a farm way out of sight on the southwestern part of the lake. There was not even any wind blowing through the trees. As has always been the case during my visits, the lake was deserted: no boats, no fishermen, no hikers, no visible farmers at work. There was the occasional contrail from a jet plane moving high across the landscape and sometimes a private plane passing. Once, a couple of years ago, I saw a guy in a powered hang glider passing a few hundred feet up and moving east.
On a day like this, the conditions were just right for a slow cruise around the perimeter of the lake. For most of the cruise, I moved along inshore, just 10 to 15 feet off shore so that I could peer into the bank, watch the bird life, and search out “critters” along the shoreline.
I came upon two muskrats that were just swimming along between my kayak and the shoreline. As soon as they spotted me, though, they moved quickly into the growth along the bank and were lost to sight. An owl flew out of a tree and crossed down the length of my kayak so close that I could see details of its face. There were several great blue heron that were flushed out upon the approach of my kayak. These wily birds are difficult to photograph with the pretty ordinary camera that I have; when they catch sight of me, they quickly fly away. There were a number of ducks out, but they also quickly moved away at the sight or sound of my kayak. I did not see any geese today.
There is a shoal area on the north side of the lake about three quarters of the way down from the launching point where pelicans congregate. Today was no exception, and I approached a flock of at least 40 pelicans along with a large group of gulls. The pelicans are less skittish than gulls, and I was able to approach the flock today to take a close look at it. There seemed to be a few grizzled pelicans on guard that stood their ground as I approached. The majority of the flock just moved down lake for 50 feet or so and waited for me to pass.
There were some egrets out on the lake today as well. Sometimes I would see a lone egret standing in the reeds along the shore, and other times a pair would be sitting on a tree limb.
The water along the north side of the lake was free of surface algae, and the visibility in the water was about 12 inches. On the cruise down the lake, the shoreline was in shadow from the east sun. Returning back east on the south side of the lake, the sun was bright and the temperature had risen into the 60s. In fact, I felt hot as I moved back along the southern shore. Perhaps the relatively cool summer this year has made temperatures in the 70s seem hot. There was also a good deal of algae all along the southern shore. There seemed to be an algae line that extended for about five feet out from the shoreline. After that line, there was still plenty of algae, but it got gradually less defined. This algae reminded me of a sheet of ice along the shore: shining, a white appearance, and an inch or so thick.
As I approached the smaller of the two islands in the lake, the one that I think of as Willow Island, I was caught up in the steady hum of insect life. I did not see any birds in the willow bushes of the island, but this seemed like an ideal habitat for bird life.
My cruise lasted for two hours – two hours of easy paddling, photographing, observing the shoreline, and sneaking up on waterfowl. By the end of my trip, a light wind had come up out of the north leaving ripples across the lake.