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Jackson Lake

Thursday, July 1, 2010


It was ridiculous.  In the midst of a very long trip I’d tried numerous times to get on the water.  In fact, while in a suburb of Chicago day I was denied in 4 different ways!  One lake did not allow paddlers, one canal was said to be too sewage filled to be of any interest, it had rained too much to paddle the rivers, and another lake was too small.

I’d also tried the Platte River outside of Omaha, Nebraska but it was flowing too fast to paddle upriver, something I have to do as a soloist for safety.  I’d also looked at the forks of the Platte in North Platte, Nebraska and had passed up a couple lakes near Ogallala, Nebraska in my futile search for a reasonably priced hotel room (although during these meanderings I did happen to stumble upon Boot Hill!).

The problem with hotels now is that there’s so little competition.  Wyndham owns 8 major chains (Days Inn, Super 8, Amerihost, Baymont, Howard Johnson’s, Knights Inn, Ramada, and Travelodge) and Choice Hotels owns 9 more (Comfort Inn, Sleep Inn, Quality Inn, Clarion, Econo Lodge, Rodeway Inn, Cambria, Mainstay, and Suburban Extended Stay).  It’s partly because of this that prices have doubled since the mid 1990’s and since I don’t want to pay any more than $50 a night, I’m in an impossible situation in many areas of the country.  I’d had it.  I hadn’t strapped the boat to my car for nothing, and when I saw a sign for this lake on the highway I wasn’t going to pass it up (It’s a good thing too.  Over the course of 2 weeks and nearly 3000 miles, this was the only time I’d get on the water.).  There was also a very nice rest area at this same turnoff too, so what did I do?  Something I probably shouldn’t have - I slept here in my car

Luckily I didn’t end up having any overnight difficulties and I arrived at the park ( by doing nothing more than following the road signs for it.  The general directions were marked pretty well, although it was a bit more confusing once I got there trying to find the best spot to enter with my kayak – there’s more than one option - but the main entrance appears to be the guard station just past the brick wall with all the brown signs on it.

When I arrived about 8:30 in the morning, however, there wasn’t anyone manning this, and the indications were that I could put $6 in the drop box to enter; I checked how much cash I had - exactly 6 bucks, believe it or not!

Now I figured the park would be worth this expense, but I first wanted to make absolutely sure that there was enough water in the lake to make it worthwhile to paddle so I drove on in, looked around the ramp, and decided to go ahead and check it out.

After going back to pay, I returned again to the ramp to have my boat inspected - something they indicate as being mandatory out here before they’ll let you out on the water.  The gentleman at the inspection shack didn’t even make mention of my kayak though, he simply offered some advice as to where the best entry point might be - the sandy area to the north side of the ramp would be ideal.

It was while I was here that a park ranger appeared.  Nothing serious, he just introduced himself and told me he wanted to make sure I paid...   

Mind you, I’m someone with a curse - I always try to do right by other people.  If I’d even been a little short of the 6 bucks I would have certainly headed back to the highway, yet I’m always eager to show my good faith when questioned so I explained that I had, indeed, paid and I gave the ranger as much detail as possible as to how I had gone about this in order to assure him of my good intent.  Having done so, however, it irked me a little bit to be questioned in this way.  I’d essentially given the park my last dollar, for crying out loud!  Sure the man is looking out for his park, but if it’s such a concern that he needs to question someone’s integrity, then there should be someone at the gate collecting money at all times! 

At any rate, I tried to put this behind me as I sought to determine a paddling strategy for the day...  It seemed to me that the nearly heart-shaped Jackson Lake was fairly large in terms of acreage, but much of this space appeared to be taken up by width. Neither did there seem to be many coves, so I decided to try a circumnavigation.  Putting in, I went to the left and immediately found that the water would be pretty choppy as the waves in the first part threatened (and in a couple cases did) negotiate their way into the cockpit of my boat.

Things would calm down as the day went on, but in this first stretch of shoreline I was somewhat startled to find another paddler coming directly toward me through the trees, almost as if he’d timed it that way.  Yet, saying “hello”, I got no response.  It wasn’t until after I’d paddled on that he mentioned something, but by that time it was awkward because I couldn’t hear him.  Funny how such a peaceful pursuit as paddling can get noisy enough to impede effective communication.  Just the sound of choppy waves can be enough - or maybe I’m going deaf!

I was quite enamored of all the pelicans I saw, by the way (and I’m sure this is evidenced by all the pictures I’ve taken!).  The first ones I saw were on this northwest quadrant of the lake.  I love these birds and I certainly don’t see them in Kentucky.  I was likewise taken with the wide open scenery in general.


Also along the shoreline was something else interesting - the herd of cattle I saw all appeared to be longhorns.  A longhorn farm/ranch?  They call these farms in the north and ranches in the south.  What about the west?

OK – here’s where you’ll think I’ve lost my mind, because I next saw something that sent a cold shiver down my spine.  I assure you that I was NOT smoking anything, but what I saw here must surely have been some kind of hallucination.  There were a couple buoys here you see, and upon spotting a dark mass close to them I squinted to get a better look…  There had been quite a bit of seaweed on the shorelines just under the surface of the water but this was darker.  Get on with it, you’re thinking!  What did I see?!?

Well kindly contain your laughter, but serpentine, it looked very much like a mutli-headed, toothy, eel from some crazy myth!  Perhaps this was just a conglomeration of eels but nevertheless startled, I paddled on without attempting to take a picture lest I somehow be bitten by a figment of my imagination! There was also a parking area over here, by the way, and according to a map it’s a part of the park as well although it isn’t directly connected (it’s off County Road 4).


Moving on, I had another pelican encounter.  This time there were almost a dozen of them just hanging out “fishing” - and speaking of fish...  I noticed a few large ones with trellis like patterns on them (Wipers, I believe) lying dead along the shorelines.  I wondered why so many?  As for the pelicans, I decided to try and leave them in peace.  This was a tricky endeavor, but I tried paddling waaaay around them in order to do it.  Sometimes it just feels good to do something nice even if it’s not noticed or even comprehended.


I’m surrounded by some particularly far-reaching farmland at this point, and it provided a great backdrop for the northern and western sections of the lake.  They refer to this park as an “Oasis in the Plains” and you can certainly see why.


Once in the “right atrium” of this heart shaped lake I encountered a broader diversity of flora, and after first passing a little line of trees on the shoreline I found a reedy island-like area in a little corner.  These reeds had formed a kind of sheltering curtain for the birds, and behind it they were performing the most incredibly diverse avian symphony that I’d ever heard!  According to the website, Jackson Lake is on the central flyway for migratory birds.  I imagined and laughed at the thought of them “showering” behind the curtain.

A very long and straight concrete dike forms the entire southeast portion of this lake, and it seemed like it took me forever to paddle its length - probably due to the fact that there’s nothing to see and distract your attention.  It felt like I was cheating, but I cut off the last part of it.  There was a fishing area and swimming beach at this point, and I nearly missed a little inlet.  Seeing a boat coming out, I decided to take a look-see... 

Well, I hadn’t gone very far when I reached a bridge going over the water with a buoy indicating “No Boats”.  Disappointed, I turned back, but guess who was returning at the very same time? The same boat I’d just seen leaving!  I decided to say something to the man, simply mentioning that I was disappointed that they wouldn’t allow you to paddle back further back into the stream.  To this he replied that I could, in fact, do it and that he, himself, had in his canoe!   The sign was meant for the power boats.

Making it maybe about a mile to the 3rd bridge across, I found this little creek (it almost looked like a canal) to be a nice change of pace from the lake. I encountered many different kinds of wildlife here as well, including some little wood ducks and a few aggregations of blue dragonflies.  I also saw some fish “fishing” for morsels of algae on the top of the water and I was just able to get a picture as one “plopped” up to grab a bite.

Back on the lake I was now on the flat western shoreline, toward the end of which was my car.  This part of the lake had the most activity.  Not only were there quite a few dwellings here, but this was also where most of the camping was done.  As such, the entire stretch was a no wake zone.  I arrived back where I started after negotiating around some boats putting in at the ramp and was on my way.




As I did, you can pretty much just follow the road signs for the park - they didn’t steer me wrong - but from Interstate 76 I took the exit for Colorado Highway 39 and followed it all the way (about 7 miles) to County Road Y5. Here I took a left and went almost 3 miles to the main entrance.  There will be a guard shack right on the road (you can also follow the directions on the website above).