Camping at Patagonia Lake

I live in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, where cactus is abundant and water is not. We have a federally-designated “navigable river” that is completely devoid of water except when a summer thunderstorm turns it into a raging, muddy torrent that only a drunk with a death wish would go boating in.

But because I am sometimes overtaken by irrational optimism, I own a canoe. A very dusty canoe.

Truth be told, there is water in the desert. You just have to know where to find it. My son and I just returned from a 3-day weekend of camping and canoeing at Patagonia Lake State Park.

We camped all by ourselves on a reedy island under towering cottonwood trees and kept warm at night around a blazing campfire. By day we paddled around the lake, exploring its secluded coves and offshoots. It was a windy weekend with white-caps forming on the lake, so paddling into the wind taxed our muscles. But it was a good workout, a good chance for my son and I to talk, laugh, work together and build our friendship.

I would like to take this opportunity to put down an ugly rumor, that while tying up the canoe to our island campsite after one excursion and distracted by unloading, the wind and the wake of a passing bass boat caused me fall out of the canoe into three feet of very cold water. On the face of it, this is a ludicrous story. I am an experienced canoeist going back to my days as a Boy Scout, able to maintain perfect balance in the trickiest of currents. Further, let me point out that the only witness to this alleged dunking is my son, so it’s his word against mine.

Here are a few photos of Patagonia Lake I thought you might enjoy.




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  1. I love canoeing! Back before we were married, Susan and I took a church trip down the Allagash. A week on that river turned me into quite the paddler. Still, though, I haven’t justified buying my own canoe.

  2. Beautiful!

  3. Hi Charlie –

    Fabulous pictures! I don’t believe a word of the dunking story – couldn’t happen to you. 🙂


  4. I have to say that if it’s your word against his, I’ll believe him.

  5. Why is it that the wind always dies down at night, when you’re not trying to paddle a canoe anymore?

  6. My wife and I visited that same island once on a camping trip to Patagonia Lake. It’s treacherous. We pulled our light pontoon boat plenty far away from the water, and when we looked again, it had been sucked away from the island by the waves caused by those wild-eyed jet skiers. I had to stand there waving my arms at those same barbarians, until one of them finally caught on and kindly herded our boat back to the island. I even had to thank him. Tell you what. You don’t spread this story around; I won’t spread yours around.

  7. That’s a beautiful spot and some GREAT pictures! Sounds like a fun time, and I’m glad to know the rumors about falling into cold water were false. How embarrassing would THAT be??

  8. I just stumbled across your blog. Brilliant photos.

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