Canyon Canoeing at Bonnie Lake

It was midweek halfway through spring when we rumbled along a dusty road south of Cheney with our rented EWU canoe humming atop our station wagon. We reached the put-in spot down wonderfully named Hole-In-the-Ground Road. There, Rock Creek meanders along the canyon floor, presenting the only way to access the lake. There were a couple other cars but no people to be seen. We unloaded our gear: life preservers, a picnic lunch, water, sunscreen. The day was unseasonably warm, hot even, if you stayed in the sun. We slid the canoe down the ramp and jumped in, launching a quick half-day adventure.

We paddled under the bridge, heading upstream nice and easy against the current. All around over the marsh were red winged blackbirds, fiercely trilling; their vivid wing patches glowed like racing stripes. In the sea of reeds the route sometimes seems to double back on itself thanks to the oxbow curves, which lets the view keep changing. On the west rim of the canyon ledge a majestic land bridge spans open air, sun shining through a wide arch, the likes of which I’ve never seen in the scablands.

After we passed a beaver dam, the creek suddenly widened. We’d officially entered Bonnie Lake. We rowed farther and the canyon walls seemed to rise higher. Soon we were in its shade, the cliff walls dancing with blue refracted light. A fisherman in a small rowboat was reeling his line in for another cast. The lake is popular among anglers but never crowded, unlike its larger downstream sister, Rock Lake. Just then an osprey caught a stray ray of sunshine, dove and came up, dinner flashing.

Photo: Nick Thomas

Bonnie Island soon came into view, shimmering in the sun. Three kayakers were pulling away from a reedy beach as we paddled ashore. Tromping around the small lake isle was oddly thrilling. The land sloped some 50 feet above the water, but the canyon walls were still much taller. Bonnie Island is ancient; wedged among relatively young basalt flows, the island’s exposed granite dates back a billion years. We felt the sense of timelessness as we sat and took in the quiet. As we sat listening and eating our lunch, no human noises intruded on our picnic — no cars, jets, voices; only the zooming, ambient insects high above.

We sighed, stretched out in a sun patch. Up-lake a giant turkey vulture circled the eastern rim in search of its meal. The lake felt apart from anything, literally removed. And we felt that way too, camped out atop the small, county-owned island. Rarely had we experienced such tranquility and seclusion so close to town. Tucked away in its spiny canyon, the place seems to exist as an ancient secret.

After a while the golden sun, the scent of sap and tall grass, and the strange heat demanded its toll; my eyelids grew heavy. We woke up when the sun moved behind the tree line, the blasted colors of that world rapidly deepened. Woozy, a bit sun drunk, we clambered down the trail and paddled hard for creek and car. We’d only experienced a portion, a third maybe, of the lake’s length. But now we know the way, and we hope to return with plenty of time to see the rest of lovely Bonnie Lake.

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