Frontier Village Canoe Marathon

As told by Allen Weitzel, RFV Historian.

Editing and facts fixing by Bob Daly, July 13, 2007 & October 12, 2008


It all started as a river trip.  Bob Daly and I had become good friends while working at Frontier Village.  We both had worked the Canoe ride, which was one of the more enjoyable rides to work, though it was not necessarily easy on hot, busy days.   The Canoemen, before Warren Weitzel created a required spiel, used to make up their own brand of patter to entertain the park Guests.   When little kids would ask how deep the water was, we’d say, “Why, Pardner, that water is so deep it goes all the way to the bottom.”   Alternatively, as kids were getting into the boat, we offer a little commercial of, “Remember, half the fun of having feet is wear Red Goose Shoes.” While loading the canoe, we would offer safety information, “Folks, if we start to take on water and we have to abandon ship. Please follow approved safety regulations that require women and children to exit the boat first.”  In addition, as the Canoe would round Petting Zoo Island, we would warn the passengers, “Folks, please don’t lean over too close to the Llama That Llamas name is Mark.  Ya have to be careful with him, because Mark Spitz (spits).   The joke went over fairly well in 1972 when Mark Spitz was in the news for winning seven gold medals in swimming in the Olympics. 


Actually, Bob and I had become Relief men, the ride operators who gave lunches and breaks to employees at all the rides.  Therefore, we needed to learn most of the rides in the park.


One off-season evening Bob and I were driving around Santa Cruz, as I recall. In our travels, we crossed over the San Lorenzo River.  One of us commented that it would be fun to take the Village Canoe from the start of the San Lorenzo River and follow it all the way, down to where it empties into Monterey Bay, next to the Boardwalk.   In the following weeks, we chatted about the idea and we finally realized that such a trip might be difficult, especially with the 32 foot War Canoe size; we did not know all the obstacles we would encounter.  It was not a craft where we could get out of the boat and lift it over rocks if the water was low or river channels were narrow.   After many discussions we finally settled on the idea to doing a marathon of canoe trips around the three big California lakes:  Berryessa, Clear Lake and Tahoe.   We figured we would do the early lakes in a small canoe and then finish the extravaganza in the 32-foot War Canoe.


Bob decided we could be paid to do this little trip by talking Joe Zukin into letting us go as an advertising stunt.  We would do the canoeing on the time clock and the park could have the advertising agency of Darien, Russell and Hill write advertising copy for news releases.  Joe first thought it was an okay idea, but then had a moment of pause a few weeks before the trip.  Bob was the negotiator and stuck to his guns and said we needed to be paid on the clock or we would not go, especially considering the need for insurance should we run afoul of the law or become injured, etc.  The news releases had already been issued, so Joe finally approved the whole package.


It was decided that we would do a warm up run by paddling a small canoe around the Frontier Village Lake for 48 hours on the Memorial Day weekend.  We would get some press build up, plus the Guests who were at the park could see us paddling around and we would create some in-park excitement, as well. There were a few small articles in the San Jose Mercury Newspaper about our adventure.


Through Frontier Village contacts (I can’t remember who) we were able to obtain a 17-foot canoe for our travels around the lake.  It did not have a front man seat, so I think we used a milk crate.  It was an older aluminum canoe. We first cast off on Memorial Day, 1967 for our round-the-clock marathon.   We named our canoe the Aardvark.  We were supposed to paddle for 48 hours straight, but it was a rainy holiday weekend so no press came out to check on us, actually very few news folks even covered our departure, except for one FV employee, Kim Goozee (now Bob's wife), who exuberantly waved and wished us good luck from the Frontier Village shore.  In fact, Bob was so impressed that he figured that he should ask Kim out on a date, and they were married in August 1971.  Anyway, we decided to camp out on Goat Island (which was barren; Petting Zoo island was not even a dream at that time).   So we canoed all day Saturday and then Saturday night we slept on Goat (AKA Petting Zoo) Island.  We were going to sleep in the canoe (one guy at a time while the other canoed), but it was too tiny for that.  Therefore, we both camped out at the same time.  I still, to this day, remember waking up and getting out of the sleeping bags on Sunday morning.  It was the coldest I had ever been in my life and I had slept in my clothes, so I had no other layers of clothes to put over me.  The weekend was mostly overcast.  Drizzle, no heavy rain that I recall.  On Sunday, the park was open to the public. Wild Bill Kelsey, somewhat playfully, kidnapped us, as we stopped for a “nature calls” break where the lake meets Picnic Area A Annex.  When we ended the 48 hours at the Village Lake, again, no press met us at the dock.


Our first real lake canoeing experience was scheduled to be Lake Berryessa.  For Park insurance purposes, we hooked up with the Red Cross for some expert white water and deep lake canoe training.  As I remember, this gentleman was a friend of Joe’s and loaned us his very nice Grumman 17’ foot canoe for the Berryessa trip.   It was a different canoe from the one we used on the Village run.  Though we were not going to encounter any heavy white water on our canoe trip, we still went to this guy’s house and saw some of their home movies on white water canoeing.  He put us in the canoe in a back yard swimming pool and we learned the rigors of serious big time canoeing and how to survive a flooded canoe and/or overturned canoe. It was amazing how difficult it is to get back into a canoe when your feet are not on something solid.  We practiced canoe techniques, learned how to right a canoe that might get overturned in the water, how to pack your gear to balance the canoe properly and how to store and secure a extra paddle in case one got lost on the trip.  After our crash course on the fine points of outdoor canoeing, we were ready for our Berryessa trip. 


The Lake Berryessa trip received a little more newspaper coverage.  As my Dad had done for the first canoe trip around the Village Lake, he also made promo signs for us to put on the boat for this second adventure.  My Dad was a former sign painter by trade.  We had an AARDVARK 2 signs on the bow of the boat and a big HOWDY FROM FRONTIER VILLAGE banner along each side of the craft.  This trip was scheduled to take place over the four days of July 4th Weekend in 1967.  My recollection is, remember this was 41 years ago, that my Dad and his friend, Hugh Taylor, drove us up to the lake in Bob’s car and helped us unload the canoe and shove off, on the first day of the 4 day weekend.  We departed from Markley Cove just off Highway 128.  As we had done on the Village event, we wore our FV Canoemen’s uniforms on this trip, as well; name tags and all.   Because we were exposed to some various types of weather and we would be camping out, we did take some other clothing as well, as you can see from the photos.   Until we were right smack dab in the middle of this trip, did we fully realize the scope of this leg of our canoe promotion.  Our goal was to traverse from the southeast end of the lake (Markley Cove) to the northern most point, where Highway 121 (Knoxville Road) crosses over a bridge at that part of the lake (where the lake is transformed from tiny Eticura Creek).   We did need to get a boating permit, which we did obtain and plastered it prominently on the front left bow of the craft.  


So, we departed from Markley’s Cove after taping our signs to our craft and bidding farewell to Dad and Hugh Taylor (also posing for our marathon archive photos).   In a two-man canoe, the front man provides the main power and the rear man is both power and steering.  The craft is steered by the rear man using his oar as a rudder.  Paddling a forward stroke, on the end of that stroke the rear canoeist would twist the oar blade in one direction or another to move the nose of the canoe in the desired direction.    Bob enjoyed being the front man and I like the rear spot, most of the time, but we did switch off.


The first day, we made left Markley’s Cove and took a trip to the Monticello Dam to see that location.    From there, we made our way through the waterways of the lower lake area and took our first break at South Shore Resort.  Leaving that area, we headed north.  Since we were within many of the waterways of the south end of the lake, we were deceived into thinking that we would complete the trip sooner than planned.   Midday of day one, we rounded the section of the lake called the Narrows, between Gosling Canyon (to the north) and Lake Berryessa Highlands (to the south).  Only then did we see the full expanse of the lake in front of us.   We then realized it would take us the entire weekend to complete our journey.   We made some good time and distance on our first day.  We located a small flat area to camp on the first night on the west side of the lake.   Our first night of camping was uneventful.  We were tired so we slept well.  Bob was the camp master and did what little cooking we did.  I was more of a liquid meal man and took many cans of instant milk shakes on the trip.  Many of my meals were milkshakes and snacks.  In the morning of our second day, after leaving our campsite, we found a nice little marina with a snack shop and store.  While Bob straightened the canoe and readied us for our second day of travel, I went to the store to get some fresher supplies (milk, orange juice and snacks).  In leaving the store, the screen door slammed shut on my left hand and cut open a decent gash on my left middle finger.   The same day I also got a decent size wood sliver in my left foot from some wood planks in the bottom of the canoe or from the wood dock at the marina, which Bob ribs me about to this day.  (Bob’s note: I still do not know how Allen got the sliver in his foot because I do not recall wood planks in the canoe.) Resupplied and bandaged up (me) we headed toward the north end of the lake where Eticura Creek empties into the lake, under the Knoxville Road Bridge.  The original goal of these trips was to pass close to all shorelines and resorts so people could see our boat and our FV banner, hoping we would attract some discussion and provide advertising for the park.  Once Bob and I realized how large Berryessa truly was, we realized that to complete our journey within the allotted time frame and meet Dad and Hugh at our rendezvous, we would have to travel more up the middle of the lake - completing the round trip in big chunks.  Not all was lost, however, as many power boats in the middle of the lake saw our craft.  Lake Berryessa was a deep lake.  As I recall, we carried life jackets, but seldom wore them…. So day two, we traveled from the middle of the lake up to Eticura Creek, under the bridge and back.  On the return leg of the journey, that evening, we found a nice little area to camp on the west side of the lake, where a little creek fed into the lake itself.  I am sure it was Patah Creek.   We put a nice little board of wood across part of the creek and stuck some of our cans and foods in the water to keep them cold.  Almost like Davy Crockett.   Day three we paddled down the west side of the lake and went past the three significant islands on the lake, “Small Island”, “Big Island” and (shades of Frontier Village) “Goat Island”.   These are all the names these islands as cited on the Berryessa map.   On one island, we saw and photographed a lean-to that some ardent camper had constructed.  We stopped on one of the islands for a short time.  We recalled swimming in the lake sometime during the trip.  It was oppressively hot with no wind during the day that we decided to cross the middle of the lake.  We were in kind of a no man's land and swimming was our only relief from the heat and work of canoe paddling. When we camped that evening, we met two lovely young girls (our age or maybe a little younger).  Either we heard these girls talking on the road near our camp, or we were walking on a road near our camp and met them.  They told us about their folks having a boat, and we went for a powerboat ride in their family boat (or one of the girls family boat, because I do not recall if they were related) and then they walked us back to our camp and we sat around for a little while together. Bob and I paired off with the young ladies after dinner and enjoyed some time with them alone before we bid farewells.  I recall Bob latching onto the cuter of the two; however, my date was no dog by any means. I remember sitting on a log (around our campfire) with the young lady I was with, and I had my arm around her waist and back.  I recall one kiss, but I don't think I recall doing much more... It did not occur to us at the time, but we really had not bathed in a few days, and our “mountain men” smell did not increase our chances of any more romantic activity than what we received. All that aside, we had made up some of our lost time and now felt we had the trip under control, time-wise.  


On the final day, we made it back to Markley’s Cove in midday, as the photos we took illustrate.  We met with Dad and Hugh and posed for some arrival pictures.... giving the camera to Dad and then shoving off and having Dad shoot pictures of us arriving.   After some hand shakes and more pictures on shore, we headed home exhausted, thinking about our next lake adventure, Lake Tahoe.


Following the Berryessa trip, we felt we were not getting the press coverage we thought was needed for the effort we were putting into the events.  At that point, we decided to edit out the Clear Lake trip and jump to the big lake, Tahoe.  We also realized that the 17-foot Grumman canoe we had used for Berryessa was the all-around best canoe for the Tahoe trip.  We had enjoyed good success with the trusty Grumman and we also felt it would be a real chore to get the FV 32 foot Old Town canoe to the lake for the trip; plus we’d be exhausted in man-handling the large boat without more help.


So, we decided to head for Lake Tahoe.  The week before, we drove up to Tahoe to contact the Coast Guard and get our boat permit.  Since the lake is split by two states, Nevada and California, it is under Coast Guard jurisdiction. For our trip, Bob and I packed some life preservers (which we never wore) and warm clothing. 

The San Jose Mercury News reported that we were scheduled to depart from the North Shore at Agate Bay at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 1, 1967.   This time, Dad and Hugh Taylor dropped us off at North Shore.  They drove Bob’s car to South Shore and parked it in the carport of my Uncle Perk Field, who had a house at South Shore.  We left from King’s Beach, that morning at 10:00 a.m., which is in Agate Bay; a few miles from the State Line.   This trip for most, in fact probably all of the way, we were in our favorite stations in the boat.  I was rear (steering) man and Bob was front (power) man.  In traveling Tahoe, we made a diagonal cut across the lake from the north shore to the middle of the west side of the lake.   We stopped a few time for rest periods.  In the morning, the water was like glass and, to say the least, paddling was a bit boring.  It was also the longest leg.  I almost threw Bob overboard with him deciding to sing “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” to pass the time of day.   The Coast Guard told us that we should expect large waves while we were in the middle of the lake.  We never did.  Some decent size swells that were fun to ride, but none of the large waves we expected.  This leg was uneventful in the morning.  The only excitement was when we passed a small bird infested island near Tahoe City.  We did beach the canoe at Tahoe City for a little break and to reposition our load in the canoe.   Many curious girls were nearby, watching at a distance as to what we were doing.  It was, alas, the only female companionship we would enjoy on this trip.   Upon leaving Tahoe City, we continued until we beached the canoe again at somewhere around Homewood.   We traversed a decent distance on Saturday.    We paddled through McKinney Bay and stopped again late in the afternoon at Meeks Bay.   This beach had a lot of activity, boaters and swimmers.   For a reason I cannot remember, maybe too many people, we decided we would not camp at this location overnight, but I seem to remember in our trip preplanning that we had originally talked of camping there. 


We decided to push on.   Night was threatening to fall, so we pulled into DL Bliss State Park.   Boy, we were tired.  Upon beaching the boat and finding a likely spot to set up camp, we commenced unloading the supplies we would need for that night’s repose.  Halfway through the unloading process, a State Park Ranger came out of the woods and approached us.   He greeted us with a warm greeting of, “Hey, you can’t camp here!”   When we inquired why we could not camp at an area that clearly was marked and looked like a full-fledged campsite.   The Ranger informed us that powerboats could not dock or set up camp there.  POWERBOAT?  We asked, “How do you figure a canoe is a power boat?”  The Ranger informed us that, in his rulebook, a powerboat was any metal-hulled craft that could travel over 5 miles per hour in the water.   Bob said, “The only way we could travel 5 miles per hour is if we both paddled as fast as we could with all our might as long as we could and then leaned over and threw up over the side.  That’s the only way we could get this canoe, with this gear, up to five miles per hour” No dice.  The Park Ranger was not buying it.  We were a powerboat.  We would have to leave.  Where would we go?  He did not care; offered no solutions.   He hung around long enough to see that we were reluctantly packing up and preparing to shove off.   After the “lone” Ranger left, Bob and I were in the middle of packing up, when a few young teenage men came out of the woods.  They explained that they were Junior Rangers, in training to be Park Rangers.  They had seen and heard what the State Ranger had told us.  They felt, as we did, that it was unfair that we were classified as a powerboat and had been told to leave.   In discussing our camping options, which were few, the Junior Rangers offered us the opportunity to stay with them over night in the Junior Ranger Dorm (house) that they occupied up on the hills near Emerald Bay.  Great! Sounds good to us.  Wow, sleep in a house for once, without the bugs and other creepy crawlies.   Beats sleeping in the canoe.   They said they would go to their cabin.  They would get some flashlights and they would wait for us and guide us into their dock in Emerald Bay.  They told us to pack up, take the canoe south, pass Rubicon Point (one of the deepest parts of the lake) and then we would see Emerald Bay right after Rubicon Point.   Pull into the Bay and look for their signal.   It took us from 7:30 p.m. (dusk) to around 9:30 p.m. to leave Bliss Park, pass Rubicon Point, enter the Bay, and pick up the Rangers’ signal light.   Rubicon Point has sheer cliffs that ride to 6,500 feet and the water right next to the Point drops straight down to 1,448 feet deep, at some spots.  It was an eerie feeling paddling past the quiet part of the deep lake with huge cliffs next to us.  As we entered Emerald Bay, I noted the shallowness of the north entrance to the Bay.  We actually could drag our paddles on the bottom.  It must have only been 24 inches to 36 inches deep!  With the Rangers’ help, it was a textbook docking.   Upon docking, the Junior Rangers helped us carry our supplies and sleeping bags up to their cabin.   We asked about the “lone” Ranger and they said he would not be back that night, maybe checking on them in the morning.  That evening was extremely enjoyable as far as learning the history of Lake Tahoe.  The Rangers were full of knowledge and even had a 1957 book about the Lake’s history, titled:  The Saga of Lake Tahoe, by Edward B, Scott.   They told us how a strong current runs from the Nevada side of the lake, from Deadman Point to Rubicon Point.   The story goes Mafia hit men would dump dead bodies off Deadman Point and the bodies would cross over the Lake to Rubicon Point.  The water was so deep and cold that the bodies would not decompose.  The current so strong the bodies would sometimes, still in tact, surface on parts of the lake for a few feet (boaters would think they were seeing floating ghosts) and the bodies would then sink again.  I read so much of the book before going to sleep; I vowed that I would procure a copy of the book when I returned home (which I did and have to this day).   We had a nice meal with the Rangers and chatted deep into the night.   We slept well that evening, but early the next morning (I think it was about 6:00 a.m., but it could have been 8:00), we were rapidly wakened by a few of the Rangers.  They said the “lone” Ranger had driven up to come and check on the Rangers.  We needed to hide our gear and run out into the woods and hide until he left.  We hid our gear and bolted out the back door and into the woods.  There we were, half dressed, standing in the forest, fighting off mosquitoes and bugs and shivering in the morning brisk air.   The old Ranger stayed long time and enjoyed a cup of coffee with his Junior charges.  He finally left.  We returned to the cabin and cleaned up, ate some grub, and packed our gear.  The Rangers helped us carry our supplies back to the canoe.  The evening before, they had told us the history of the Mrs. Lora Knight, her Vikingsholm, and Mrs. Knight’s Tea House on Emerald Isle in the middle of Emerald Bay.  So, as we bid farewell to our young hosts, we decided we explore a little bit of Emerald Bay and Mrs. Knight’s island Tea House.  We left the Rangers’ dock and headed for Vikingsholm at the southwest corner of the Bay.   We docked the canoe outside the beach to the Vikingsholm.  The facility was closed to tourists; do not know if it was too early in the day or if tourists were not permitted.  We walked explored around the outside of the house.  After a little visit, we shoved off and headed for the Island.  We docked in a little island cove and climbed up to the top of the island, where we found the stone teahouse built around 1928.   We explored for a while and then headed out off the island and into Emerald Bay to continue our journey.   We exited Emerald Bay, again, from the north mouth of the Bay, where the water is shallow.  We did not want to be run over by speedboats using the deep southern channel.   In the daylight were able to see how truly shallow the mouth of Emerald Bay really is.   Tahoe water is so very clear, we were able to see the lake bottom, at this point, as well as at other spots in the lake.   The distance from Emerald Lake to the South Shore was not very far.  As I recall, my Uncle Perk had his house at Camp Richardson at the south end of the lake.   When we made our destination, it was a nice beach with lots of people around.  Though they did not know exactly what we were doing, we made a little stir as we approached the crowds of swimmers.   My recollection is that I stayed with the boat, as Bob went to get the car and bring it back so we could load up. I vaguely recall us saying hello to my Aunt Margie before we left town, but again, my mind is a little fuzzy.   The Tahoe trip was much shorter than Berryessa.   In pretty much two days, we completed the Tahoe crossing.   We probably did not get all the publicity we wanted, but we had a good time and Bob and I bonded forever as friends.   It certainly was something that most young men never attempt or complete in a lifetime.   The Tahoe trip left me with a deep appreciation for the Tahoe Basin history, and I enjoy it to this day.

-Allen F. Weitzel


There are events in life that stick with you; kind of like how jam and peanut butter in a sandwich stick to your fingers and top of your mouth. These canoe trips with Allen are one of those stick to your life events. We did bond as lifetime friends with a shared experience where we had to dream, sell our idea, organize and plan, execute, and now fondly remember a time when we two alone shared a bit of the time and space of life.

-Bob Daly