If you are interested in very safe calm canoeing, Jenner is an ideal place. It is especially ideal because it is never boring. We have been out in our Kevlar canoe hundreds of times, and it is always interesting. Because Jenner is right where the Russian River enters the ocean, the water level varies with the tides. Storms sometimes cause big waves that pile up huge dunes that plug up the mouth of the river. This can cause the water to back up and get higher than the highest tides. Of course, when the water gets too high, the locals complain about loosing their decks, and the army corps of engineers comes out and bulldozes a channel for the water to get out. Even without a bulldozer, the water eventually finds a way out, but it is often a different location, and the general shape of the river mouth is never the same on two successive weeks. The town of Jenner has a ranger station/information booth with a boat ramp into the river. In the middle of the river here is an island, called Penny Island, that has the ruins of an old farm on it. When the water is very high, there are reedy channels on the island that almost cross completely across to the other side.
Every time I have been in the water here, we have seen a Great Blue Heron, Ospreys and Pelicans in season, and 100's of other bird species. One of our favorite and rare sights is the small Green Heron. On several trips we have seen river otters on the north end of Penny Island and the Jenner boat ramp! They were very shy, and disappeared up river when they realized they had been seen. Of course, every trip to the mouth of the river we see at least a few Harbor Seals basking on the shore. In the spring, hundreds of Harbor Seals lie out on the beach to have their pups. We have seen a pup nursing, which is a rare sight, because they only nurse for two weeks (gaining almost 100 pounds). Some of the seals get curious, and will follow a canoe back to Jenner. Often they will rise up out of the water near the canoe and surprise themselves when they see us, disappearing in a loud splash.
If you paddle a little way north of Penny Island, Highway 1 crosses over the river in a beautiful area called Bridge Haven. The greasy spoon restaurant at the side of the road recently went out of business, and was bought by a local Indian restaurant called The Sizzling Tandoor. Highly recommended. I once paddled my Mom 3 miles down the river from Duncans Mills to this restaurant for dinner. We stopped at the Bridge Haven campground, where you could walk up to the restaurant, but my brother Ralph and his son Jeremy met us. We put the canoe on Ralph's truck so we didn't have to pay to park it at the campground. Ralph drove Mom home after dinner to save her from the discomfort of the ride in the dark. Jeremy and I paddled back under the stars and had the adventure for ourselves.
With all the wildlife we have seen on the river, Marty lamented on one trip that we never saw turtles on the Russian river. She supposed that turtles simply did not live in this river. But I recalled seeing turtles in the neighborhood as a boy, so I kept my eyes pealed and soon found one basking on a snag on the shore. It turns out that they are extremely shy, and quietly slip into the water when they hear or see people coming. You have to be quiet and sharp eyed to see them.
This is not a kayak story, but one time that Marty and I were visiting her dad in Harold Harbor off of the Chesapeake Bay, we had another turtle experience. We were driving out of Harold Harbor one morning, when we saw a box turtle in the middle of the road. Apparently it had tried to cross the road and been scared into it's box by a passing car. We turned around (no small feat driving Marty's dad's large boat-like American car), came back and carried the turtle off into the underbrush on the side of the road. It never opened up for us at all. We drove on to our next stop, the Metro station to catch a train downtown to the Smithsonian. Metro is a transit system that looks almost identical to Bart: The same sloping front trains, the same concrete architecture. When I ride Metro, I try to imagine the train pulling into the North Berkeley station, but it has yet to magically transport me across country. On this day, it had recently rained and the gullies on the side of the parking lot were full of red muddy water. As we passed close to this gully, I saw a large black CLAW rise up out of the water and disappear again. I was riveted, and saw an expanse of large black scales go by a moment later. The claw was almost a big as my own hand, and the only explanation I could imagine at first was one of those Urban Myth crocodiles in the sewer system. I grabbed Marty, and we stepped off the sidewalk to discover we were watching two ENORMOUS black Snapping Turtles making love in the muddy water. They were each at least 60 cm, maybe a meter long! We watched them tumble over and over in the water together while bureaucrats in suits walked by oblivious to the rare natural sights at their feet. We felt honored to see them, and joked afterwards that this was a reward from the turtle gods for rescuing the box turtle earlier in the morning. We walked down to the edge of the gully and watched from only a meter away, until the turtles finished their business and noticed us watching. They seemed very disturbed to have humans that close, and disappeared under the muddy water with a loud splash.