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Stories from the valley

American River Journey, Day Two

Contributed by Lewis Kemper

Today I thought I would try something different.  My son and one of his friends wanted to go out on the river and, since I had company, I decided we would take a longer journey and go from my normal put in near Rio Americano High School, down to Howe Avenue about three miles away.

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Since the boys are teenagers, I knew we would never get off to an early start. So that morning I got up for sunrise, and immediately paddled into the backwater pond area and was greeted by a Great Blue Heron as the first rays of sunlight appeared.  Then I turned and took sunrise images from the kayak, giving me a different perspective. Spinning around, I was able to photograph the sunlight spreading on the trees to the west.

The wildlife was particularly active this morning. As I headed into the main part of the river I came across a deer that was as surprised to see me as I was to it. It stared at me through the grasses for quite some time before grazing out of sight. Farther along, I came across turtles, beaver, Mallards, geese, a heron and Pied-billed Grebes all within the same location. I didn’t know which way to turn to take pictures! One particular female Mallard was intent on feeding that she came right up to my boat and was too close to me for me to focus. It was a good morning but I had to head home to prepare for this afternoon’s longer trip.

To do this type of trip requires a bit more logistics. Once the boys were ready, we loaded the three kayaks on our carts and left them waiting. Then we each drove a car down to the parking area at Howe Avenue, where we left two vehicles and returned in the third.

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Once home, we grabbed our kayaks and wheeled them down to the river. Not five minutes after we were floating on the water, a large group of waterfowl consisting of Canada Geese, domesticated geese and Mallards swam right up to us.  You could tell these birds were used to handouts. They were a bit disappointed when we came up empty-handed.

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After we passed the area of the river that I’m intimately familiar with, I found the river widened out and was not especially scenic since it was devoid of natural features such as the islands and pond like areas to which I’m accustomed. As we floated downstream, we had fun looking for blackberry bushes, but to our disappointment, most were red and would be several weeks away from ripe. It was exciting passing under the Watt Avenue Bridge, as the water rushed fairly fast here and hit the pilings rather hard. It was incentive for staying in the middle of the underpasses and keeping safe.

Between Watt Avenue and Howe Avenue, the river got more interesting and scenic as a series of islands appeared on the south side. We explored many of the back channels in this region and saw ducks, grebes and herons as we paddled about. These areas reminded me more of being on a lake than a fast river and were quite interesting. We were sad when we reached Howe Avenue about two hours after our start and we each wished our trip would have lasted longer.  Maybe next time we’ll go even farther!

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That evening I thought I would complete the cycle of the day, and head to the river for sunset. Being a cloudless evening meant the sunset would not be very dramatic, but the last rays of golden light striking the trees in the backwater pond as the western sky glowed a soft pink, was a fitting end to a great weekend on the river!

Lewis Kemper is widely recognized as a photographer, writer, and instructor, lecturing and teaching throughout the United States. He served as Canon’s Explorers of Light for 10 years and now serves as an Explorer of Light Emeritus.