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:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Split Rock Creek: Upstream from McHardy Park, Brandon

As winter slowly descends upon the northern plains, the desire for last cruises of the season increases to a fever pitch. Directors of the South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Association have been leading cruises at least once a week over the past month or so along area streams. I joined the group yesterday for a paddle up Split Rock Creek from McHardy Park in Brandon.
The group assembled at 1:00 p.m. at the park under very favorable conditions: sunny skies, light wind, and a temperature in the 50s. Eight of us launched our kayaks with the intention of paddling upstream to a point where we felt like returning – a loose plan to fit whatever conditions we found.
The water at the “put-in” was only two to three feet deep and the depth was good most of the way upstream, ranging from one to perhaps four feet deep. The creek was normally 50 to 60 feet wide; the course of the creek was like most rivers and creeks in the area with usually a shallow side with depth sometimes only a few inches and then a deeper side that generally follows the channel under the higher cut-banks. There has not been significant rain in the area for several weeks, and I am continually surprised to see that the creeks and rivers are maintaining enough flow to support kayak travel, especially this late in the season.
The flow of the creek was steady, and we were easily able to paddle upstream. We ran into no problems for the first couple of miles. The final stretch of our three-mile upstream paddle presented situations where the creek narrowed with a shallow section extending along one side and a channeled section with increased velocity of flow on the other. When the flow of a body of water is constricted, the velocity increases and a set of riffles or rapids forms.
The problem for paddlers is that there are sometimes submerged rocks in that rapid flow that are invisible. Going downstream provides the likelihood of just sliding over the rocks. Paddling upstream through this sort of slot presents the possibility of becoming caught on such a rock, sometimes in water that is two or three feet deep. Losing balance can easily cause the kayak to slide sideways and spill the paddler into the flow.
About two and a-half miles into the paddle, we ran into such a set of riffles. Getting through required powerful paddling and luck, and one of the party just had the bad luck of sliding off a rock. She did a wet-exit and was able to wade out of the situation. She was well prepared and had a dry bag under the hatch; she was able to just change her clothing and continue on. My experience a couple of weeks ago capsizing on the Big Sioux River was enough to prompt me into taking the short portage around the riffles.
We continued upstream for another half mile or so until we came to another long stretch of rocks and riffles and decided to turn around and make our way back to the “put-in” at McHardy Park.
This part of Split Rock Creek runs along the Brandon golf course. We exchanged greetings with some guys riding in their golf carts along the bank. I think that they were looking for a lost golf ball that probably was on the creek bottom.
The paddle yesterday was another opportunity to enjoy the shared experience of being on the water. All of us were feeling good that we were still kayaking in mid-November. Many of these trips conclude with the group going somewhere to laugh it up and enjoy the successful conclusion of another outing, and this group went on to the Dairy Queen in Brandon.
Seeing yet again another kayak capsize emphasized the need to be with others while traveling on moving waters, especially in cold conditions. In addition, lifejackets, extra clothing, a spare paddle, a bilge pump, and a strap for glasses are essential items to be carried. Tipping over in cold moving water can be quite a shock, and whatever precautions possible should be taken to minimize the risk.
I am going to leave the kayak rack on my car for a while yet. Another opportunity for a cruise may present itself over the next week or so. The season, though, is just about over here in the Sioux Falls area. Ice will be forming on the lakes very soon, and the rivers and creeks will follow soon there after.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Moonlight Cruise Through the Palisades

Over the summer, Dave and Mary Finck have led several moonlit cruises through the palisades along Split Rock Creek, and last night I joined them. The forecast looked good for an evening paddle; the temperature was about 50 degrees at 5:15 p.m. with the sun setting when I left my eastside Sioux Falls home for the drive to Garretson. Six paddlers gathered at the launching point, and we set off upstream in total darkness about 6:15 p.m. with the temperature then in the low 40s.
The sky was clear as we moved upstream; a rising full moon illuminated the silhouettes of bare trees along the right side, the big dipper was visible low on the left side, and the Cassiopeia constellation was directly above us. The rising moon illuminated the high quartzite cliffs along the left bank so that their reflection was cast upon the surface of the creek.
The creek is about 150 feet wide above the Garretson dam and the water is deep enough so that we weren’t too worried about rocks. Even with our night vision and the illumination from the moon and stars, the sight line on the surface of the water limited vision of the other kayaks to about 25 feet or less. The shoreline and silhouette of the trees and cliffs, however, were clear, and navigation was easy.
The kayaks tended to move in a tighter group than would normally be the case. I think that we all wanted to be in sight of other boats. Although photography was really a “point and shoot” process in the dark, every time I stopped and tried to capture an image, the other boats would move out of sight. As the temperature dropped, my fingers became increasingly numb, despite the leather gloves that I was wearing. I could only fumble at my camera when trying to turn it on or point it. The viewfinder was useless; it was totally black.
As the group moved downstream toward the “take-out,” I saw droplets of water from the paddle strokes of those ahead of me gleaming in the moonlight like miniature lights at the tip of the paddle blades. The sounds of the night were especially interesting to me as we moved along in the dark; we heard a turkey gobbling deep in the woods along the left bank on the return trip. We could hear distant sounds of vehicles passing on Highway 11and once we heard the far off wail of a siren. I think that my senses were especially alert in this environment of darkness on the water.
We spent about an hour and a half on the water, and by then the temperature had dropped into the 30s; ice had formed on the hull of many of the kayaks, the first ice that I have noticed this season. After loading up our kayaks, we all headed to “Annie’s,” along Main Street in Garretson, to share a pizza and have tall cups of hot chocolate with whipped cream. It was a very pleasant evening with good fellowship and an interesting shared experience.