Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Kayak tour of Elkhorn Slough on Saturday, August 2, 2008

During my 15 years in Santa Cruz, I have devoted much of my free time to road and mountain biking. I know many singletrack trails better than nearby highway exits. But for many locals and visitors, this town is all about the water - surfing, paddling, boogey boarding, skim boarding - you name it.

I was way overdue to go kayaking in my own backyard. After a whitewater trip in Idaho earlier this summer, I was more eager to explore water recreation here. I had the perfect excuse when my dad, Jim Kefauver, visited me here for a few days recently. I signed us up for a father-daughter outing - a three-hour, guided nature tour of Elkhorn Slough organized by Kayak Connection.

Elkhorn Slough, located in Moss Landing, was an easy 30-minute drive south on Highway 1 from Santa Cruz. We arrived early and slathered on sunscreen, got our binoculars ready and put on our baseball caps. Our guide, Geronimo, fitted us with Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs - formerly known as life jackets), kayak skirts that fit snugly onto the boat and paddles. One by one, our group of 12 guests climbed into stable, two-person, kayaks. One group used a three-person sit-on-top kayak.

What impressed me most during the tour was the wonderful abundance of marine mammals - frolicking harbor seals and otters and the enormous sea lions lounging on the dock. I had expected to see a handful - we saw dozens! Throughout the tour, these animals would unexpectedly pop up right near the boat, a delightful surprise. Also, huge flocks of pelicans, flying in their perfect V-formation, were nearly constant companions. I love the prehistoric looking birds. Though I am not well-versed in birds, I was still thrilled to see spot egrets and other large birds.

Our guide said that Elkhorn Slough, at its deepest, is 30 feet - but that below that there is 20 feet of mud! That was a surprise. Another surprise was that my arms and shoulders were fatigued by the end of the tour!

It was a wonderful trip. But no excursion is complete without a good meal - so we drove south 10 minutes and enjoyed lunch at a popular seaside spot called Phil's Fish Market and Eatery. No pictures of the enormous bowls of chowder and fish sandwiches we consumed!