Kayak trip tests the restored waters of the San Joaquin river

FLOATING ON THE SAN JOAQUIN RIVER -- My plastic kayak suddenly ran aground in a place where the San Joaquin River has flowed only a few times since the 1950s.

But I was only briefly caught on a shallow gravel bar about 40 miles west of Friant Dam.

It was one of many unexpected encounters on an otherwise smooth float that began Wednesday with a monstrous barn owl and ended with an iPhone.

The kayak trip was an up-close peek at a section of the rejuvenated San Joaquin that not many people have boated over the last several decades because it usually is dry.

It will be months, if not years, before the river becomes fully navigable, but the day is coming when it might provide an important new recreation amenity for the Valley. But questions remain unanswered: Who will settle conflicts between power boats and kayakers? Who will provide access points?

This trip became so much more than a quick look at a reborn river.

The San Joaquin's split personality -- lush and green below Friant Dam but desertlike beyond Gravelly Ford -- is far more vivid when viewed from a boat.

Such a view wouldn't even be possible except for a federal restoration program that increased the amount of water released from Friant Dam starting Oct. 1.

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