Monday, June 13, 2011

Red Dirt Shores

Welcome to the kayak tour of Lake Hefner.  Oklahoma City's drinking water.  Home to 9.5 miles of walking/ running/ cycling/ blading trails.  Classic spot for new, old, and quick romances.  (I still feel sorry for the first boy who took me "parking" here, before I knew what that was.)  Today, you will be introduced to the intimate details you might have missed those thousands of times you only thought you saw the lake.  When viewed from the inside, at the water-surface level, the perspective changes.  The lake view becomes macro.

We will start our tour at Hobie Point.  The sailboaters claim this sandy beach, but it belongs to us all.  What?  You didn't know that Lake Hefner had a sand beach?  It's been dry for a while, but the water is now starting to return.  The sand gives way to mud before we have enough water to float the shallow boats and launch.  Don't forget your water, sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses - you're going to need them!

Heading west and south, we pass Canada geese and great blue herons on the hunt.  We round the side of the Tom Jones Memorial R/C Flying Field (and home to a family of foxes).  I still remember the day that Tom Jones took his last flight in Oklahoma.  Do the kids with remote controls in hand know who he was?  They play on his field, never realizing that another anniversary of his end approaches.  Regardless, his legacy still takes to the skies in the field with his name.  As the daughter of a pilot, I can't forget.

Across from the fishing pier, killdeer babies run like fuzzy ping-pong balls on stilts.  Mallard families take turns sharing responsibility for the young ones.  We pass the marina, where thousands of cliff swallows emerge to clear the air of mosquitoes.  The recent drought leaves plenty of clearance to take our thin boats under the docks and see the busy parents filling the open mouths.  We wonder at their bravery to attempt their first flight over water.

The golfers to our left are oblivious as we glide by.  Look among the rocks and you might spot the blue-winged teal that rests there.  The wide inlet is bordered by nesting Eastern kingbirds.  An occasional grebe is spotted between dives.  This area is in the flight path of the ospreys who perch with fish in talons in the pond on the other side of the road.  When we round the next point, the red dirt shores seem to slough into the matching water.  It is a bale of soft-shelled turtles that sun on the beach.  This is where I learned how to identify them by their pointed noses as they breach for air.

Ahead of us, the water is rushing in from Lake Overholser through the canal.  A little higher, and the water will connect to the shallow bird sanctuary on the other side of the fishermen.  Eight types of egrets and herons reside there, as well as beavers, snakes, songbirds, raccoons, and cormorants.  The blackbirds guard their nests in every willow.  Flimsy starbursts of straight branches make up the nests of the green heron.  Their nervous, awkward ways entertain us.  Rarely-seen migrating species rest and refuel in this area.
See the dark birds with thin, bent beaks?  These few are the last hold-out from a group of 20 or 30 white-faced ibises that came through last month.  The visitors revolve with the daylight, and each season I spot something I've never before seen. 

Jetted ahead by the influx of water, we approach the shallow southwest corner of the lake.  Coots run on top of the water and small fish jump in our boats.  The sides boil with spawning catfish.  Let's follow the dam around and search for mink in the rocks.  Yes, there are mink here.  The runners and cyclists may never see them, but ask the fishermen that sit quietly.  The water tower still proudly brags about the '89 Olympics held here.

Windsurfers and kiteboarders catch the abundant air on the northeast side of the water.  Our small boats become a rodeo when we turn into the summer wind.  There is the Lego-like lighthouse to our left.  Smoky gray cats mingle with siamese by the boat docks.  See the left ear, missing the tip?  These cats are part of a large colony, fed and neutered by volunteers.  We splash past the row of restaurants, promising to come back after dark and listen on the water to the one-man bands playing the patios, or The Wise Guys playing covers to all ages on the lawn at Louie's. 

Further south, beavers are changing the landscape.  It snows with cottonwoods, fighting to reseed.  Pubescent geese mingle with the ducks, looking for a free meal by Stars and Stripes.  The park has a new face, complete with viewing scopes by the flagpole - ruining the days of losing layers and tanlines midweek in the center of the lake.

The muddy parking lot to the west is Paddler's Park - claimed by the kayaking community.  Just think of it as a day at the spa when you wade through the muck to get your boat wet.  A group of politically-active kayakers literally cleared the path to this area.  Their actions helped OKC Kayak to continue to bring boats and their experience for others to enjoy on the waters of Lake Hefner.  On the far side are remnants of a pier by funky, teepee-like shades.  Remember these landmarks when we return after dark, they will guide us back to the shore.

This completes your kayak tour of Lake Hefner, as our paddles dip in the mud at Hobie.  Feel free to stay a while.  Park your chair in the sand, open a bottle of wine, and enjoy front-row seats to a no-special-glasses-needed 3-D theater for another rich, Oklahoma sunset.

1 comment:

  1. Great review of Hefner. I took my small sailboat to Hobie point a few times. It's the best place to launch from the beach, but boy, that mud is something else! :D