By Miles Moore, Sept. 29th 2010
In the heart of the Columbia Basin in Eastern Washington is a boating paradise of lakes, rivers, and canals that few places in the world can rival. This majesty is known specifically as the Drumheller Channeled Scablands. Up until 1951 the area was an arid waste land with very little ability to support life. With creation of the Columbia Basin Hydroelectric Project (starting with the Grand Coulee Dam and associated canals) all that changed. Some lakes in this area were created as wider spots in the canals or via large and small dams, but many others were unplanned, created by the seepage of water through the basalt.
As part of my work to develop an Inland NW Lakes & River Guide for my funtosail.com website, I found that it might be possible to experience a 45 mile adventure of sorts beginning at the northern most boat launch on Moses Lake, crossing the dike out of the lake, continuing on through Potholes Reservoir, and then paddling down the Potholes canal through the small chain lakes to the town of Othello, WA.
So on September 24th after careful study of the area I loaded up my Hobie Tandem Island (TI) and invited one of my 15 year old twin sons to do the trip with me (turns 16 in Oct.). Of course, his youthful energy and endurance would not hurt in speeding our trip as well. :)
We started our trip at 12:20 PM. The Moses Lake portion of the trip was peaceful and uneventful. At the south end of the lake we lowered our mast to pass under the I-90 Bridge, then headed to the dike that separates Moses Lake from the Potholes Reservoir. At this dike there are twin spill ways with associated channels; I call them the Devry and Dausen Channels. The northern most spill way is the easiest to get around creating the Devry Channel. On the Moses Lake side of the dike is a paved path to the waters edge with a fenced fishing platform. Next to this platform is where we removed the TI from the water at 3:42 PM.
We put the TI on the dolly and walked it up the path (that dolly is worth it's weight in gold!) across the gravel road and down the path below the spill way. When entering the channel on the north side there is a rocky but gradual path to the waters edge but on the south side the path is sandy and narrow with a muddy shore. Unfortunately the shoreline below the spill way is littered with garbage which distracts from the beauty. However once we started down the channel a short distance we didn't see anymore garbage and the environment was once again very vibrant with frogs, turtles, lots of fish, and many waterfowl species.
This time of year the water level is very low and one must stay in the channel to not go aground. We found that there was a 2 mile area just before entering the open water of the reservoir where the depth was only about 4-6 inches of water... there is no channel; we had to walk the TI through this area. Oddly, with a young man just turning 16, it wasn't a bad experience, but rather an adventure instead. :)
As the sun set we turned southwest toward MarDon Resort (mardonresort.com), our resting place. We chose MarDon Resort rather than the near-by State Park because we wanted to sleep in a nice bed versus in a tent, and because the MarDon Resort owners and employees know the area well and give plenty of info to contribute to enjoying the area. As we approached the marina, my son found himself very annoyed by 3 lights from a distance. Why? Because it seemed to him that the harder we peddled toward it, the further away the lights appeared. It was like the lights were teasing him with a snooty “catch us if you can.” When you are tired things tend to annoy you. Finally at 8:29 pm we docked at the marina and made our way to our motel room... a very welcome sight!
The following morning we woke up to the sound of rain (darn), but there was wind so that was good news. At 11:04 am the rain stopped and we left the dock sailing along the dam to the boat launch. The wind allowed us to sail on a beam reach almost all the way to the launch. A few times one of our amas/hulls almost went under water when a gust of wind hit the sail; but never did the TI feel unstable. We were hitting speeds of 9-10 knots so we got across the reservoir rather quickly.
Once at the launch we pulled the TI up the launch (which was longer than normal due to the low water level) and walked about a mile to the Potholes Canal access site recommended by Mike Meseberg, the owner of MarDon Resort and a local hunting and fishing guide. The access site is a three sided concrete wall built into the dike that extends away from the canal creating a nice eddy. We totally took the TI apart and unloaded all the gear to make the TI center hull as light as possible. I attached a rope through the rear scupper holes and belayed the TI 30 feet to the water's edge while my son guided it. Once in the water we assembled it and started our trip down the canal.
A few hundred feet down this canal is the Soda Lake Road Bridge about 12’ off the water; thankfully our 19' tall mast was very easy to lower and it only took a minute. This portion of the canal is about a mile long with walls of about 20 to 40 feet high and no place to get out of the canal the whole way until almost to the lake. Near the lake the canal narrowed slightly with a faster current; overall the canal averaged about 20-30 feet wide. The first lake in the chain lake series is the 2 mile long Soda Lake, the biggest of the lakes we would pass through this day. We sailed the whole lake with winds of 8-12 knots. This lake has a two gravel launches, one restroom at the one campground.
At the southeastern end of Soda lake is a small dam, our next and final spot to portage around. We arrived at this dam at 2:42 pm. It’s important to stay away from the dam due to extreme currents. The best place to land and go around the dam is on the north side just at the entrance to the of the canal to the dam. I can not stress enough not to enter the short canal to the dam as the currents in there can real strong and very dangerous to anyone who gets caught in there... STAY OUT! It’s a bit rough for those using dolly’s to move their craft as we did and there is sage brush along the dirt trail that can slow your progress. This time we portaged the IT fully assembled down about a 20 foot bank into the water and were off again.
This portion of the canal with its 2 small lakes is a little over 2 miles long and the most impressive segment of the canal due to its much higher cliffs of about 40 to 90 feet high and some river like features. We enjoyed the Great Blue Herons (GBH) along this canal, particularly the white GBH that seemed to lead us down the canal.
About a mile after the dam is the very small Elbow Lake, followed by the slightly larger Pillar Lake; they seem more like wider sections of the same canal. After these small lakes you enter the canal again. We finally entered Long Lake, a narrow mile long lake and did some more fast sailing. This lake has a primitive launch and two restrooms with places to camp (no camping allowed on the west shore). We sailed past some beautiful white pelicans on our way out.
In the canal after long lake is a bridge (Sheep Lakes Road bridge) to pass under that was at this time of year about 15’ off the water. This portion of the canal is the widest with sections of about 40’ to 60’ wide and the canal is over a mile long.
The next lakes we entered is the mile long Crescent Lake followed by a short canal and then enter the half mile long Lower Crescent Lake. There is no shore access to these lakes for vehicles so these lakes are the most remote of the lakes with majestic canyon walls and wind swept hills.
The final section of the canal leaving Lower Crescent Lake to Othello is about 6.5 miles long. The walls along this part of the Canal are steep but not like cliffs in the other sections of this canal that we passed through.
The wind was funneling straight down the canal. For most human powered craft this would have been an issue; but since the TI has a sail we were able to sail up the canal. We sailed close hauled with the windward telltale not quite flowing so we could point a little higher. With the amount of wind we had we were clipping along at about 4 knots. However we were tacking about every 5 to 9 seconds. We did not mind the tacking as the break the sailing gave us from peddling into the wind was very welcomed. About 3 miles into the canal is a little muddy bay we named Otter Bay because of the Otters we were privileged to see there.
We only stopped in Otter Bay for about 15 minutes before heading out again. A mile or so after Otter Bay we passed under the West Mcmanamon Road Bridge where we had to lower our mast again to pass under. Less than a mile after the bridge there is a steel framed non-vehicle bridge, high enough that we were able to pass under.
The final bridge at W Main Street in Othello is where we finished our trip at 6:37 pm. It is important to note you must not pass to the other side of the bridge, as right next to the bridge and down stream is a pipe crossing the canal with several more right after that. These pipes that cross the canal can be potentially dangerous when high speed currents are present. Under the bridge is a nice packed dirt take-out site. We unloaded our gear and then portaged the TI in pieces up the steep bank to the road. In all, this second day trip took us 7 hours and 33 minutes. In the end, navigating the various bodies of waters and canal sections; the choice of watercraft; and my physically powerful son together proved a very successful combination. This was also an extremely bonding experience for my son and I. In total we pedaled, paddled, sailed, and pulled and walked our TI for a total of 45 miles.
For more info about this trip and other inland nw lakes and rivers email Miles Moore at email@example.com