LAKE PLEASANT Tid bits
45 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport
Lake Pleasant is a world apart from Downtown Phoenix and a one-of-a-kind place to sail. The Lake Pleasant Regional Park is in an area once inhabited by Hohokam peoples. An archeological study of the Lake Pleasant area investigated a defensive site, a stone workshop, a farmhouse and two small villages occupied during the period A.D. 700 to 1450, way before white men dammed and sailors sailed. The area’s high bluffs rose directly from the bed of the Agua Fria River on small patches of flat terraces near the water Hohokam families lived and farmed. The area bustled during prehistoric times. Northeastern Yavapai occupied the area when Arizona was a frontier.
In the 1800’s Lake Pleasant Park was mined. Many disappointing holes were dug. Prospectors mostly found frustration. Their efforts yielded no bonanzas. An eccentric female prospector during the 1860’s and early 1870’s was a co-discoverer of a whole lot of nothing in the Park area. Mollie Sawyer dug along with her common-law husband until in 1877 when Mollie was declared insane. She died in 1902 at the State Hospital in Phoenix. Pleasant was not a place to strike it rich digging. A more valuable resource would be exploited, water.
Carl Pleasant waters the holes
To provide water for a growing area downstream the “Carl” Pleasant Dam was completed in 1927 creating the northern portion of the Lake. At that time it was the largest agricultural dam in the world. The Dam stood 76 feet in height and 2,160 feet in length. It created a lake with a surface size of 3,706 acres of water and a shoreline of 50 plus miles. Carl Pleasant Dam was renamed the Waddell Dam. The county park, including the Lake, consisted of 14,000 total acres.
Deeper and bigger
In 1993 Lake Pleasant’s volume and size increased when the Carl Pleasant Dam was flooded-over after the New Waddell Dam was completed by the Bureau of Reclamation. The surface area of the Lake grew to 10,000 acres and the Regional Park was increased to approximately 23,662 acres.
Ups and downs
Today Central Arizona Water Conservation District controls water levels on Lake Pleasant. The Lake receives most of its water from the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal system and the Agua Fria River. High water elevation of 1,702 feet above sea level is reached in mid-spring. In June, a seasonal draw-down begins with water releases for irrigation of the West Valley, agricultural fields and several cities and towns as far away as Tucson. At the lowest levels sailors retrieve lost anchors, wallets and keys from launch area’s annually exposed bottoms.
Barbie sails onto Lake Pleasant
It was a Barbie-like woman born in 1918 who first organized sailing in Phoenix in the 1950s. Ruth Beals staked out a vacant lot in Tempe and called it Sails Ahoy. From there using a corner pay phone she sold sailboats, then fostered new sailors, then founded Arizona Yacht Club (AYC). Really.
Just like Barbie, Ruth had many astounding talents. She was a bonafide wheeler dealer. Besides selling sailboats she brought surfing to Arizona! Ruth played a part in starting the Big Surf water park in Tempe with the world’s first wave pool when she brokered a $1 million dollar investment by Clairol. A New York marketer from Clairol met Ruth about the wave park and recognised Ruth’s Barbie appeal. Ruth appeared in the most popular national magazines modelling for Clairol. Ruth was more than a sailor, sales person and financier. She was a pretty face.
Ruth described learning to sail while living in Arizona, “… as far as we knew there wasn’t a sailboat in the entire state.” During a Mexican vacation her family learned to sail the boat she bought aided with a thin instruction booklet. “In blissful ignorance we bobbed about the bay having a great time capsizing and learning everything the hard way, and then found out the bay was alive with sharks!”
Much to her delight, people in Phoenix were interested in sailing — in 1958 Ruth Beale started a ridiculously improbable yacht club with three boats and 15 people. The three hundered member Arizona Yacht Club honors Ruth’s crazy idea of sailing in the desert annually with the Ruth Beals Cup regatta.
Sailing on Lake Pleasant was a woman’s idea!