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Kayaking Central Oregon
Headin' Outdoors with Scott StaatsMy all-time favorite kayaking experience has to be sea kayaking with whales in Alaska. However, if you can't make it to Alaska, there are plenty of scenic choices for kayaking in Central Oregon.
For spectacular views and a little peace and quiet, it's hard to beat Sparks Lake on the Cascade Lakes Highway. There are great views of South Sister, Broken Top and Mount Bachelor. Green forest and black lava surround the lake. One lava flow to the north is one of the most unique on Earth.
In 1966, NASA sent 16 astronauts to train in the volcanic landscape of Central Oregon in preparation for the Apollo missions. James Irwin of Apollo 15 took a piece of lava from that flow to the moon and that rock is the only rock from Earth that sits on the moon today. The next time you look up at the full moon, you can wonder where the rock now sits.
When paddling from the boat ramp you'll go past ghostly-looking lava outcrops. In this area there are a few natural drains in the lake and you can usually hear the water pouring down through the lava rock into seeps.
An eruption of lava from Mount Bachelor about 8,000 years ago dammed the ancestral headwaters of the Deschutes River and formed Sparks Lake. The lake covers 250 acres but is less than 10 feet deep. As it slowly fills with sediment, Sparks Lake is dying a slow death, transforming into a lush alpine meadow. The lake is now stocked with trout.
Sparks Lake has some interesting history. In 1855, a survey party led by Lts. Phil Sheridan and R.L. Williamson, passed by Sparks Lake seeking a route for the Pacific Railway through the Cascades. Parts of the movie Rooster Cogburn with John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn were filmed on the shores of Sparks Lake.
Another great lake for kayaking is Hosmer Lake, located a few miles off the Cascade Lakes Highway. This crystal clear lake also has great views of South Sister, Broken Top and Mount Bachelor, plus it's teeming with large brook trout and Atlantic salmon (fly fishing only). Beaver and otter call the lake home and can often be spotted. Nearby Lava Lake offers similar mountain views.
As far as reservoirs go, there's Lake Billy Chinook and Prineville Reservoir. There are certain sections of these reservoirs best for kayaking where you can avoid motor boats and stay protected if the wind picks up.
For Lake Billy Chinook the upper reaches of the Deschutes River and Crooked River arms south of the bridges are best. Each is located within a deep canyon of volcanic cliffs where prairie falcons and bald eagles are often sighted. The scenery of these canyons is at least as good as the fishing, so you might consider bringing along a fishing rod and try for a trout dinner.
For Prineville Reservoir, there's a 10 mph speed limit in the upper one-third of the reservoir that makes for good kayaking. Best places to put in are Jasper Point boat ramp or anywhere along the North Shore Road. This entire section of reservoir is located within the Prineville Reservoir Wildlife Management Area where paddlers have the opportunity to see bird species that include shorebirds, songbirds, waterfowl and raptors as well as other wildlife such as mule deer and elk.
Even though the Deschutes River has some Class IV rapids, attempted only by the most expert of kayakers, it also offers some quiet sections perfect for beginners, especially the four miles upriver from Dillon Falls. On the east side of the river is a huge lava flow from Lava Butte that occurred about 6,200 years ago and is now part of Newberry National Volcanic Monument. The lava field covers 9 square miles of land to a depth of 30 to 100 feet. A tour guide at the monument once explained that if all this lava was ground down, it could build a road 24 feet wide and 6 inches deep for 160,000 miles, or six and a half times around the earth.
History of kayaks
Kayaks were originally developed by the Eskimos and have been around for at least 4,000 years. The first ones were made from seal skins that were stretched over a wood or whalebone frame. The word "kayak" comes from the Inuktitut word qajaq, meaning "hunter's boat."
The Eskimos relied on kayaks for hunting a variety of prey, especially seals, but also whales and caribou and used the boats on rivers, lakes and coastal waters. The original boats were believed to be at least 20 feet long, used single-bladed paddles and had more than one paddler.
Today's spray skirt evolved from what the Eskimos called a tuilik, a special skin jacket they would put on, and then lace to the kayak to create a waterproof seal. If the kayak capsized, the paddler would then perform the "Eskimo roll" to regain proper position. Apparently few Eskimos could swim, plus they wouldn't survive long in the frigid waters anyway.
The Inuit people in Greenland are still using skin-on-frame kayaks for hunting since the boats glide silently through the water. Modern kayaks have many specialized types, such as sea or touring kayaks, whitewater (or river) kayaks, surf kayaks, racing kayaks, fishing kayaks and recreational kayaks.