Monday, October 31, 2005

Scouting Oklahoma's Canadian River and Paddling its Muddy Sisters

When I was a child, my folks would gather with our extended family for trips camping on the North Canadian River. Often, we would stay for weeks in our ragged caravan of tents, trailers and truckbed campers.

Some friends of the family owned farm land on the North Canadian River and kindly allowed us entry for camping, fishing and hunting. It has been too many years for me to remember how to get there or even the names of any nearby towns. In those days, we just called it Russell's Place. I caught my first catfish there and weathered my first truly frightening Oklahoma hail storm there. I miss camping at Russell's like I miss the boundless energy and easy friendships of childhood.

This weekend Dianne and I followed the roadmaps searching for river crossings to put our kayaks into the North Canadian River and the South Canadian River. When I was a child, just about every bridge over every major river had access to drive underneath fish, camp or whatever. My friends, the times have really changed! Today, old bridges are replaced by new ones that are designed to 'protect' the river from usage.

On our kayak-trip scouting effort this weekend, we found precious few public access points that we could park our car at to paddle the river. Thankfully, we did find a few put-ins available for us to share with other Oklahoma kayakers.

The South Canadian River at Calvin, OK

The South Canadian River looks mighty large on the map, but in the midst of this drought the river has become a tiny creek with wide sandy banks. You can access this river at in Calvin, OK on Hwy 75 and also on Hwy 48 North of Atwood, Oklahoma. Google Map of South Canadian River Put-in at Calvin on Hwy 75.

The North Canadian River at Bearden, OK

My beloved old North Canadian River has also gotten quite slender in this strange season. Frankly, Dianne and I can't help feeling a little bit responsible for this drought. Buying two kayaks was just asking for it! We were very surprised to find the Hwy 48 Bridge at Bearden accessible. As was the tradition in my childhood, the road leading under the bridge was awful... even when dry. Unfortunately, there were a few things that I didn't remember from my childhood: graffiti and litter. Google Map of North Canadian River Access at Bearden on Hwy 48.

My Dad says that litter and crime are the reasons why the authorities are closing off Oklahoma's bridges as river access points. I can't help but believe there are better ways to deal with these issues than shutting off public access.

Little Deep Fork Creek Near Slick, OK.

The biggest surprise of the day was when we paddled Little Deep Fork, a creek not too far from the farm I grew up on. In fact, the bridge we parked at to paddle Little Deep Fork was right on my old school bus route. Like every other body of water in the state, Little Deep Fork is quite low, but it was not too low for our kayaks! We were able to paddle a crooked mile or so on crystal clear waters before coming to a small falls that looked too dry and rocky for our boats/skills. It is a quite nice creek to paddle, even now with no noticeable current.

Dianne and I are eager to try the falls once the water comes up. Next time we paddle Little Deep Fork we will try to do a little KFing, we saw several fish boldly following our kayaks along the narrow channel. Who knew the water would be so clear? Google Map of Deep Fork River Put-in at Slick.

Deep Fork River at Nuyaka, OK

Our last paddling stop for the weekend was another upstream paddle on the Deep Fork River. No clear water here, but we entertained ourselves by salvaging a mess (literally) of free fishing gear tangled in the logjams. I've been warned before about the poor quality of salvaged hooks and lines, but I figure they have the advantage of knots that were tied by someone other than me! Besides, our kayak fishing is strictly recreational anyway, I can live with a few more getting away.

You can paddle for several miles up the Deep Fork River, here at the put-in near Nuyaka Creek Winery. There are no portages, just some tricky logjams to weave through. We have found that in our kayaks we can paddle well in water just a few inches deep. Anything shallower than that is plowing, not paddling!

At this depth and flow, Deep Fork is nothing like whitewater paddling or even like floating the Illinois River. Traveling both upstream or downstream requires paddling, not floating, which makes it the closest thing to exercise in both our lives. The low rivers provide wake-free paddling with ample protection from the Oklahoma winds, a fact we were very thankful for yesterday. Google Map to Deep Fork River Put-in near Nuyaka Creek Winery.

Technorati Tags: Paddling Kayak Oklahoma Rivers Deep Fork


Blue Turtle said...

Wow. What amazing fun! That's something I really love about the US ... the vastness and the diversity in its watersheds: rivers, lakes etc.

Thomas said...

We have really enjoyed paddling the little rivers and creeks in our neck of the woods this summer.

I can only imagine what it will like when the drought ends!