Canoeing the Blue Ridge Reservoir
By Iain Gordon
August 2014 Update: Blue Ridge Reservoir is closing August 22, 2014 until the spring of 2015: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/coconino/recarea/?recid=54898
Nightfall is a powerful time on the Blue Ridge Reservoir. Deep down in the sunken canyons north of the Mogollon Rim, there is no sunset. The reservoir is shielded by thick evergreens and high, rock canyon walls that block out the sun when it dips low in the horizon. Instead of the sun painting the rocks with orange and pink, the moon invades the afternoon with colors and feels of its own. Light recedes from the tranquil aquamarine waters until a deep emerald green is all that’s left. A strong silence falls on the reservoir, and the clockwork lapping of the water on the rocks can be heard. Everything seems to stand still and a heavy spirituality is almost tangible in the surroundings. The Blue Ridge Reservoir does not have a sunset-- it has a moonrise.
The Mogollon Rim is amongst the most striking and beautiful wilderness in all of Arizona. About halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff, the Rim stretches out over approximately 200 miles of northern Arizona. Though it is a well-known area, the Mogollon Rim is renowned for its untamed wilderness and abundance of wildlife. On our drive up, my companion and I were bombarded with wildlife: a family of wild turkey, lone coyote, and a gang of elk (at least 20) to name a few.
And just as spectacular as the wildlife, is the scenery. On top of the Rim you can soak in miles and miles of breathtaking landscape. Words fail to describe the feeling. Humbling. Sublime. Awe. Although these don’t seem to capture the essence of standing on the edge of the Mogollon Rim. The high elevation views are not the only astonishing views either. In the canyons and lowlands of the Mogollon Rim, you will realize the scenery is just as beautiful close-up as it was far away.
The Blue Ridge Reservoir lies in one of the many canyons that runs along the high country just north of the Mogollon Rim. Just east of the Coconino National Forest Rock Crossing Campground, a boat launching site complete with excellent water access to the reservoir and a parking lot for vehicles can be found. DO NOT rely on Google maps to get you there... just trust me on this one. Google maps makes for good horror stories and hours of getting lost on this one.
Instead use this map, it’s just about all you need to successfully get to the reservoir, and it won’t drop you off on the side of a cliff with the curt last instructions to “be prepared to walk to destination.”
The water on the reservoir is a clear, sparkling aquamarine that renders the landscape above like a beautiful Monet impressionist portrait. Until the first paddle stroke, that is. Afternoon had settled in already when my companion and I broke the calm with our first paddle strokes. Armed with camera equipment, paddles, PFD’s (Personal Flotation Device), and a fat picnic, we headed up the westward arm of the reservoir. The winding turns of the lake twisted around and around, obscuring the future from view. It was not until the very last moment when we rounded each corner, that the views would unfold before our eyes.
In terms of a paddle, Blue Ridge is perfect for just about anyone. The reservoir does not loop or reconnect with itself at any point, which simply means go as far as you like, so distance is completely up to the paddlers. The reservoir is, at most, between seven and nine miles from tip to tail, so beginners can take a quick excursion while the more experienced paddlers are free to traverse the entirety of the waters. The reservoir is popular for motorboats, but the narrow shape of the lake restrains the size of the boats naturally, and it helps that the Forest Service limits boat motors to a maximum of 10 horsepower. For the most part, the motorboaters are incredibly aware and courteous of others on the lake.
There are also endless-- ENDLESS-- places to pull off on the shore and eat lunch or stay for a few hours. There are both well-worn and highly secretive, secluded campsites on both shores (you just have to look), so again, Blue Ridge has something for just about everyone. There is no whitewater (for better or for worse), only easy paddling and spectacular wilderness as far as the eye can see. This reservoir has been, and will now continue to be, my absolute favorite place to canoe in the state of Arizona, my apologies to the Colorado River.
As I said before, nightfall is a powerful time on the Blue Ridge Reservoir. Our afternoon on the water was incredible, but the enveloping, enchanting, almost mystic nature of the lake was not fully realized until nightfall when we began to return to the boat launch. Silence fell, but then again, silence is never really silence. Under the moon’s light we began to truly become in-tune with our surroundings. We became part of the surroundings. The rhythmic splash of the paddle was the only reminder of the world at hand. Drip, drip... ploosh. Drip, drip... ploosh. For brief moments at a time, reality, our lives, our needs, and ourselves ceased to exist and we were allowed to live perfectly in the moment and quiet beauty of the lake.
True transcendentalism. This is, I believe, the essence of why the canoeist paddles, why the hiker treks, why the mountaineer climbs. For nothing if not to catch that fleeting glimpse, that one moment of pure nirvana. For nothing if not to realize that brief enlightened detachment from the cares of the past and future. For nothing if not to transcend, however temporary it may be. Perhaps not for everyone, but certainly for me, Blue Ridge Reservoir holds a little piece of nirvana, it is out there among the blue waters and lush evergreens, waiting to be stumbled upon.
Rim Country Recreation provides kayak rentals on Blue Ridge Reservoir.
Have you been on this adventure? What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here.
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