Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Spring fever? Paddling offers blooms, butterflies

Scotch broom and waterfall across the channel from Rattlesnake Bar

“It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is….” 

…wrote Mark Twain.  “And when you've got it, you want – oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”

Lupine on the shoreline
Well, Mr. Clemens, a kayak tour of spring wildflowers will ease that fever quite nicely, as a group from the Sacramento Sea Kayakers club discovered while paddling toward the North Fork of the American River last weekend.

For me, the high point came at lunch  – my fave time of any paddle day – about midway into an eight-mile round trip. 

Landing below a sandy bank, our group suddenly faced a quiet riot of pipevine butterflies erupting from clumps of vetch on the hillside. Black wings fluttered wildly amid deep purple blooms – a “wow” spring visual, for sure.
Pipevine mob scene in the purple vetch 

We launched from Folsom Lake’s Rattlesnake Bar. Spring runoff has raised the water level, prompting park rangers to open the launch gates and allow vehicle access down a steep ramp to a floating dock.

Heading upstream, we passed small waterfalls framed by granite and greenery. Yellow splashes of scotch broom decorated some hillsides, with carpets of lupine elsewhere. And ubiquitous California poppies shared the slopes with stone wall jigsaw patterns that have defied gravity for more than 100 years.

And the proof that we will enjoy an exceptional water year? Easily seen through the trees, many half-submerged, allowing a kayak to explore among the higher branches with the birds.
Paddling through the tree tops, definitely a sign of high water
The river began flexing its muscle toward the upper end of our run. 

Working the eddies, some of us matched the stream's challenge until we hit the first line of rapids. The clear, cold runoff from the Sierra was another sure sign of spring.


For reference, the lake elevation was about 445 feet (as reported on Dreamflows) on the Sunday we launched from Rattlesnake Bar on the North Fork. It’s a good idea to launch kayaks in mid-morning, as trailers with power boats may crowd the ramp on weekends now that warm weather has returned.

Rattlesnake Bar launch -- the iris carpet begins near the ramp  
The American’s North Fork is one of many paddling destinations with spring wildflowers – generally seen from April through May, depending on elevation and daytime temperature. But a change in weather can end the season abruptly. Good destinations include Lake Berryessa (irises and more irises), as well as Jenkinson and Englebright lakes (wildflowers and waterfalls). Lake Clementine is another good bet.    

And if you’re botanically challenged like me, it’s helpful to have an online guide to California wildflowers.

© Glenn Brank, 2017