We spoke to Tyler Williams about his guide book, Paddling Arizona: A Guide to Lakes, Rivers, and Creeks. Tyler is the author of six books, all published through Funhog Press. He is a regular contributor to Kayak Session, Canoe & Kayak, and American Forests magazines, among others. For more on Tyler and his books, visit www.funhogpress.com.
Below, Tyler talks about why you should start paddling:
When did your passion for the outdoors begin to take shape?
I remember looking into the dark forests near our eastern Canada home when I was five years old. The feeling of mystery and intrigue that hit me that day has never left me. My family moved to Arizona when I was seven, and my exposure to natural wonders only expanded from there. My dad was always up for an adventure, and my mom took me on backpacking trips during my youth. By high school, I was solo backpacking, and once I went away to college it was all over—such a world to explore! If I didn’t have some exposure to nature almost every day, I think I’d go insane.
Obviously, you love water… talk to me about your earliest adventures on the water?
My parents are from Spokane, Washington, so growing up I spent summers in North Idaho at our family cabin on Lake Pend Oreille. Fishing for perch, water-skiing, sailing, life revolved around water, and the lake. But it wasn’t until I was introduced to rivers that my inspiration really blossomed. When I was thirteen, we took a commercial river trip on the lower Salmon River. That was a seminal experience. By college I got a job guiding for my cousin Mary (a graphic artist, she now designs my books), who owned a raft company on the Payette River in Idaho. Traveling the river guiding circuit became my life for several years.
What are some of your favorite water adventures here in Arizona?
Well, a river trip through Grand Canyon is an obvious world-class adventure here. But there are also many other unique destinations that most people would never think about. That’s what’s cool about Arizona, it’s the state of hidden wonders. Topock Marsh is a fabulous place for paddling and bird watching. A trip down Tonto Creek’s Hellsgate Canyon is a totally classic whitewater trip.
Let’s talk about your book – why did you decide to tackle this subject?
The idea of a paddling book for Arizona definitely raised some eyebrows, but once I committed to it and began investigating all these watering holes, I figured it would be a hit. Water is scarce and precious in Arizona, so people are naturally attracted to it. Originally, I wanted to create a new version of Fletcher Anderson and Ann Hopkinson’s book, Rivers of the Southwest, but that task got too monumental, and I realized a flatwater aspect to an Arizona book would be more marketable, so that’s what I focused on.
How long did it take you to finish the book?
Exploring the flatwater rivers and lakes was a lot of fun, it took me about a year of rambling around the state, finding little blue dots on the map, and then paddling them all. The whitewater part of the book was a labor of love. I had notes collected from over a decade of paddling trips. Even my first book, Canyoneering Arizona, was sort of a prequel to this book, because many of the canyons I hiked were undertaken as scouting missions for later paddling descents. Once I really started to put it all together, it took me about two years to get Paddling Arizona on the shelves.
Is this book for beginners or advanced paddlers?
This book is for everybody. Just about anybody can sit in a stable recreational kayak or canoe and paddle on a calm lake, and those destinations are a big part of the book. At the other end of the spectrum, whitewater paddlers can use the book to get as scared as they like.
What can readers expect?
In all my guidebooks, I try to describe a place so that readers get a feel for what it is like; and I try to give good directions to the launch ramp or trailhead. Beyond that, the experience someone has is up to them as individuals. I don’t want to tell readers how to have their own adventure. We go into nature to find our own peace, and see things with our own unique perspectives. I can’t dictate that from the pages of a book. So, I hope my books are guides that facilitate people’s excursions into the outdoors, and I hope my readers have worthwhile or perhaps even enlightening experiences once they are there.
What are some of your favorite destinations in this book?
For flatwater rivers, Black Canyon is a favorite of mine. It is hardly a wilderness experience, but it is an amazing natural landscape—hot springs in desert canyons, outrageous! As for desert lakes, there is nothing like Lake Powell. It’s just totally surreal. One of my top high country lakes is Reservation Lake. The forest there is super lush. I have many fond memories of the whitewater rivers in the book. Burro Creek is a great class III run. Tonto Hellsgate is top quality class V.