Last Sunday, Katherine and I took our dog, Abbi, and the kayaks out to the river that comes out of the Watauga dam. The water of this river is very cold, because it comes out the bottom of Watauga Lake, which is 280 feet deep at that point. Therefore, on hot days, it often has a delicate mist that hangs over the water, because there is such a vast difference between the air temperature and the water temperature. Today, however, the sun was strong and the water was glassy and the air was clear.
We launched the boats and first paddled upstream. The closer we got to the dam, the faster the current got, until we reached a point where we couldn't go any farther. The water pushed us backwards equally as hard as we could paddle forwards, and we were stuck motionless. After a concerted effort, we gave ourselves to the current and allowed ourselves to float back downstream.
Soon the water was flat and calm again. Abbi was standing with her front paws on the front of the boat, attracting a lot of attention and waves from children at a campground we passed, as well as from other boaters. She stood erect and motionless, balancing effortlessly, with such a regal pose and intent look in her eye that it was indeed quite striking.
We had floated down a little way past the point where we launched when I noticed something that looked like a cave on the right-hand bank.
"Let's go check it out!" Katherine said. So we paddled over to the little opening and peered inside. Tree roots hung down from the roof like giant dreadlocks and there were little passageways going out in all directions.
Our eyes, adjusted as they were to the bright sunshine, couldn't see quite to the end of the possibilities of this cave, so I said to Katherine, "I'm going in."
I got on my hands and knees and crawled in. The sandy bottom was flat and undisturbed. I first went right and explored to the ends of the tunnels that were in that direction...only about 20 feet...and then I turned around.
By this time, Katherine's curiosity had gotten the better of her and she had decided to join me. (At first, she didn't want Abbi to get all muddy, so she held her in the boat, but the charms of exploring a cave overcame all objections to muddy paws.)
She and Abbi came in and Abbi started going down the main front passageway, sniffing interestedly. Soon, however, she backed out and wouldn't go any farther. When she came out I started going down the same tunnel. Then it hit me. "Abbi didn't want to go down here. I wonder if she can smell something I can't?" I couldn't see any farther ahead of me because there just wasn't enough light, but I took a flash picture with my camera and it revealed an animal nest with fresh green grass piled on the ground. "Oooh. Something lives there," I thought. So I, too backed away.
(Later, when we went out, we saw two Canada geese honking at us and hanging around that spot, so we realized it was probably their nest. Nothing scary after all! Just some eggs...or better yet, fluffy baby geese!)
We emerged from the tunnel and got back into the boats. A little farther downstream, we came to a beaver lodge and paddled around it. There were not only openings into the lodge, there were deep ruts in the bed of the river itself where the beavers had carved out passages to swim in. It was very interesting.
Then we came to a place where there was the sound of a waterfall coming from the shore, so we stopped the boats again to investigate. It was a happy little stream tossing itself over some steep rocks in a thin veil. Definitely worth the stop.
A little farther down, there was another, more spectacular waterfall that we knew about, because we had seen it from the opposite shore. Katherine got out to see if she could climb the rock face. I stayed in the boat and threw a stick for Abbi, but then I saw a snake in the water. We didn't know if it was poisonous, and we didn't want Abbi to run into it as she splashed around through the water, so Katherine came back and we continued on our way in the boats.
We kept going and we got to a place where the water widens out just before Wilbur dam. Dusk was falling and we were hoping to get a bit of mist, but we didn't. All over the place, there were little bubblers...something hidden in the bed of the stream that would exhale, sending a multitude of tiny bubbles to the surface for a few seconds. There was also a spider that was skimming along the water at the same speed as our kayaks, creating quite a wake in his path. HOW, we wondered, does such a tiny creature have a motor to go that fast, and completely silently to boot?
We were lazily floating closer and closer to the dam, moving forward almost imperceptibly and enjoying the interesting reflections, when it thundered. "Oh, great," we thought. Abbi hates thunder. She started getting very nervous and trying to pace around the kayak. This would not do. It thundered a second time. "We'd better turn back," we said, and began paddling upstream. We weren't far, really, from the truck. It thundered a third time. Abbi's anxiety became unbearable. She just would not be a fun passenger to have through the whole entire trip back upstream. So we decided to pull the boats out right there on the shore and walk back up the road to the truck. As we were disembarking, a kind fisherman came to help us. He gave me a ride back up to the truck, I drove it back down, and we loaded up the boats and went home, very very satisfied with how our afternoon had gone.