Thursday, June 28, 2001
Even if you don''t own a kayak, you''ve probably seen enough of them on the tops of passing cars to realize that they''re almost as ubiquitous in the Monterey Bay area as canoes are in Maine. There''s a good reason: Some of the best sea kayaking in the country is right outside our doors. There are enough great paddling places in the region to fill a book.
For the sake of argument, let''s assume that someone who has never tried kayaking before may be a bit nervous about pushing out into the open ocean. Rather than a rollicking launch into the surf, a slow float through Elkhorn Slough might be the best introduction to the sport. No matter the time of day or night and regardless of the weather, Elkhorn Slough, poised serenely at the midpoint of Monterey Bay, is always an inviting paddle. I''ve paddled it in a howling wind, in the rain, on sunny days and moonlit nights. I''ve paddled from the easternmost mud flats out through the channel to the open ocean. I''ve paddled alone and with large groups, and it''s always been rife with rich new experiences.
There are two convenient places to put a boat in the water: Moss Landing and Kirby Park off Elkhorn Road. For those who don''t own a boat, Moss Landing is the only place to rent. Kayak Connection and Monterey Bay Kayaks both have stores and rentals there. The prices and availability of boats vary, so it would be wise to give both places a call in advance. It''s also a good idea to check the tide tables and wind predictions--returning to Moss Landing in the afternoon against a rapidly rising tide and a stiff wind can be overwhelming for people not used to paddling.
After setting out from the dock or beach, you round the corner at Maloney''s Restaurant (a great place to dine after paddling) and head under the Highway 1 bridge. In a few minutes you''ve slipped away from the world of docks, roads and stores and are stroking along a calm and silent waterway. That we are fortunate to have had this place saved from development is obvious the minute you clear the bridge and enter the slough. In fact, it''s just possible that paddling Elkhorn could politicize the most indifferent citizen.
The slough makes a five-plus mile "L" that goes east to the Elkhorn Slough Reserve and bends north past the parking lot and launch ramp at Kirby Park. Beyond Kirby Park, just before the slough ends after flowing under Elkhorn Slough Road, there are old pilings, remnants of some long-abandoned fishing operation.
Along the main channel, at a wide spot about a mile from the highway, a large colony of otters has taken up residence. There is an official seal haul out area on the north bank, complete with signs warning boaters to keep their distance. And there are birds, thousands of them, including cormorants, egrets, plovers and great blue herons. The trees in Elkhorn Slough Reserve, a protective belt along the slough''s elbow, serve as a major rookery for the egrets.
There are also many meandering side channels, each with populations of birds and little red crabs that live along the bank and cast a wary eye at the passing kayakers. The largest side channel, Rubis Creek, winds off the north side just before the Reserve and features a dock where you can pull out, use the outhouse, and stop for lunch. The dock and restrooms were closed for awhile, so check before landing.
You can continue west along Rubis Creek as it twists through the mud flats until it comes out again in the main channel. If you paddle Rubis, you''ll come to a fork where both ways look like main channels. Take the right fork. Once you''re in the heart of the slough, the distant farm houses seem to melt into the background, giving one the impression of being in a remote wilderness where the only sounds are the splashes of your paddle and the occasional passing train.
For the nocturnally inclined, Elkhorn Slough by full moon has a delightfully eerie quality to it. Everything along the banks slips into a shadowy and unreal realm, and the water seems to curve away like some foreshortened horizon. One must be careful not to run aground, for pushing off from the mud is a tiresome chore. The rising moon breaking through the trees resembles a huge jack-o-lantern. As you paddle toward the moon, its light dances across the ripples in the water like digital splashes of quicksilver. The local kayak stores do have moonlight tours during summer months.
Finally, should you become hooked on this relaxing sport, entry level kayaks, the "sit on top" variety, can be had for $600-700. Long-range expedition boats can run to $3,000. It''s not cheap, but then again, some of the best things in life cost money.