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Down by the dam

I had a wonderful campsite at Bluewater Lake State Park this year. It had no electricity or water, but that was OK—at 7,400 feet it doesn't usually get hot enough to call for air conditioning. My 55-gallon water tank holds enough for two and a half weeks, and there's plenty of power from my solar panels. I loved the site because it had a great view of the lake... not to mention that taking my kayak for a spin was an easy three-minute drive.

And the lake is fine for kayaking... well, except on summer weekends, when powerboaters and jet-skiers tear up the waters. The less said about them, the better. Fortunately, when the weekend ends, most of them go home. (And when summer ends... that's when we full-time RVers have the place to ourselves, and how we love it!)

I'd go down to the lake in the early morning or late afternoon and paddle around in a leisurely fashion, sometimes hugging the shoreline and sometimes visiting the dam. I was always on the lookout for wildlife to photograph, but there were other things as well.

Paddling on Bluewater Lake
Photo © 2014 by Jon Finley

Once I came upon a shipwreck. Yes, some poor captain had run aground on the treacherous rocks and had to abandon ship. I pictured the crew, stranded on this remote shore. Where was the lighthouse to warn them away from a watery doom?


Exaggeration aside, I couldn't help remembering that more than 80% of those who drown in the US each year are male... and that alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents... and that a fairly large percentage of those drowned males are found with their flies unzipped, meaning they were most likely drunk and trying to piss over the side when they fell in. I leave you to imagine how this particular powerboat came to grief. I hope the occupants were wearing life jackets. (85% of drowning victims were not.)

(Source: USCG Recreational Boating Statistics, 2012)

My favorite mornings were when the lake was calm and glassy, and I could glide silently along, listening to the birds calling and the occasional splash of a muskie breaking the surface.

Bluewater Lake Dam

The dam is 90 feet high, and the entire rim is lined with barn swallow nests. There must be thousands of them. Oddly, I didn't see any birds. Maybe they were all out catching insects.

Barn swallow nests

To the right of the dam is an old, deserted building up on the bluff.

Dam building

One morning I found a turkey vulture roosting there, just calmly surveying the landscape. I drifted silently in my kayak at the base of the dam, shooting photos with my Panasonic FZ200 camera.

Turkey vulture perched

(Photo data: 600mm equiv., F/2.8, 1/400. If you tried that with a DSLR, the weight of the lens alone would probably sink your boat.)

Turkey vulture closeup

All right, it's not the prettiest face in the world, at least by human standards (although a vulturess would probably disagree). But how these birds can soar! As a former student sailplane pilot, I love to watch soaring birds.

Soaring vulture

My campsite was at the top of a bluff overlooking the lake, and the prevailing winds were deflected upward by the bluff—perfect "ridge lift" that offered a free ride to any soaring bird. As a result, turkey vultures and large corvids (crows? ravens? blackbirds? I don't know) took turns circling and swooping all day long, right outside my office windows.

I tried many times to photograph them, but it's extremely difficult to track a fast-moving bird with a 600mm telephoto lens... and at lower magnification, you just see an irregular blob in the sky. Most of my shots looked like this:


But after shooting 133 frames one afternoon (thank heaven for digital cameras!), I finally came up with one good shot.

Turkey vulture in flight

Even when it was too windy for kayaking, there were other attractions. For example, there was the herd of a dozen or so wild horses that wandered freely in and out of the park...

Grazing horses

Although wild, they were apparently accustomed to humans, and I was able to get fairly close in my car and take photos through the window.


Staying at the Horse Motel

Speaking of horses, I found a great place to stay during the mandatory "one week out" after a two-week stay in the state park. Right outside the park's gate is the Bluewater Lake Lodge RV and Horse Motel.

Bluewater Lake Lodge entrance

It isn't one of your fancy RV parks—no miniature golf or swimming pool—but it's clean, convenient, and affordable. And Trish, the owner, will make you feel at home. She runs a little store on the premises that has a little of pretty much everything you might need. I found it to be a great place to spend a week before returning to the park for another two weeks by the lake. Even while staying at the Horse Motel, there was nothing to stop me from driving back into the park during the day for a little kayaking.

For me, the very best kayaking is on glassy water just at sunset. And that's what my friend Jon and I experienced one quiet evening on Bluewater Lake. The water was like molten gold as the sun sank lower and lower.

Jon at evening

From gold to orange to red to pinks and purples... sunsets over the water are magnificent!

Paddling into the sunset
Photo © 2014 by Jon Finley
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