The Colorado River, from Hoover Dam to Willow Beach
Water Clarity – 10 (‘purity’ would be less)
Natural Quality – 10 (even with the traffic)
Nevada, and Las Vegas more specifically were obstacles that had to be put behind – a single ride down ‘the strip’ was good enough for me. As I rode through town the number and movement of folks moving about reminded me of stepping on red-ant beds as a kid – those doggone ants would swarm…. The sidewalks of the ‘strip’ were swarming with people – and the day was early.
Not knowing any better, my objective was to ‘ride’ the Colorado River from Hoover Dam to Willow Beach (above ‘Lake Mojave’), like Tahoe and the Labyrinth canyon; this was one of those things that was rattling in my ‘head.’ I had called ahead to Boulder City for some preliminary information on a shuttle (getting dropped off at the dam) and having my vehicle taken to Willow Beach (the normal ‘take-out’ point for the excursion) – just takes $$.
Then to find that a ‘permit’ was also necessary from the National Park Service (I knew this) – but if nothing else I figured to be in position to ‘slip through the cracks.’ Slots for permits were filled for the next 4-days – still, not a bid deal because I’m also a little thrifty (cheap! that’s why I’m paddlin) so my inclination was to go to Willow Beach; touch the water and figure it out – ‘making THE decision at ‘water’s edge.’ I do this alot.
Willow Beach is 14 miles on the far side of the Hoover Dam (hwy 93), again a simple ride – had read and watched many programs on the Dam so it would be neat to drive across it.
There were more folks before, during, and across the Hoover Dam (it was the 75th anniversary) – all was alive with construction, traffic, and more doggone people – once again reminding me of all those ants. Naturally I move away when the red-ants swarm …. so my tour of Hoover lasted of about like the main strip of Vegas – a drive through. I didn’t come to mingle – I came to feel the kinder part of the Colorado, to paddle…
A bit after the Dam there was a sign that pointed to the right and Willow Beach – from there it was five more miles down a secondary road into the desert. At the Willow Beach Marina I backed down the ramp and stuck my foot in – making a decision at water’s edge. First thought, brrrrrrr – the water comes out of the dam at 54 degrees, not much warmer here – a paradox? doggone hot outside – and definitely cool in the water.
It fit, so I loaded most of my stuff (forgot my note-pad) and started paddlin – upstream, if I made it fine, if I didn’t that was fine too.
The current is not all that noticeable at first – nothing like The Silver River, which I kinda use as a gauge for meeting current challenges; if I could paddle and enjoy that river – then this should be possible also. Paddlin upstream is just a matter of finding any ‘dead-water,’ ‘hugging’ the wall, keeping the motion, and taking advantage of any ‘slow-water’ along the way.
It’s just “water passing under you”
In the distance I noticed others ahead paddling upstream also, surprised to see them and then more surprised to catch up with them without changing my steady pace. Ended up paddling alongside and conversing with Dawn (a corporate trainer from Phoenix) whom had organized her group through Desert Adventures out of Las Vegas. Her sister (Angela) was in the group and an Officer for (Denver or Phoenix) the Fire Department, simple conversation – in a bit they stopped for a break and I stayed in motion.
For some reason I was expecting the Colorado River to be muddy, but this water was awesome – a solid 10 on clarity, you could see the bottom at thirty feet easily – another similarity to The Silver River. Now ‘purity may be more in question, I did see ‘stuff’ (particles) up the river that made me think not to use the water for sustenance – but still the clarity on this section of the Colorado was on the opposite end of the scale of the Mississippi, which was less than 4.
I continued to ‘work’ any ‘dead’ water I could find – usually along the wall or shore out of the main current. I also learned later that the amount of water coming ‘down the pike’ (from Hoover) is relative and fluctuates as to how many folks in Los Angeles had their air-conditioners running (using electricity), well – there was a heat wave in LA and I had put in at Willow Bech near lunch – you figure… They were making power at the dam for sure, and I couldn’t get any closer to the wall… I was just too stupid to know – and it was probably better that way.
But I did make reasonable headway. There are mile-markers along the river too, Willow Beach is at the 52, The Hoover Dam is at the 64 – I made it to the 60 which I thought was appropriate (Life at 60). Far enough because it was now 4 in the afternoon and the folks in LA were getting home from work and turning on more air-conditioners, a radio, and their TV sets…
I was at a point with no ‘dead-water’ and visible shoals ahead. Noticing a beach on the other side I angled across and paddled like crazy….. great place to set up camp for the night.
There were even two ‘crappers’ and a hot-spring there – an inviting and well used stop. Found out later in speaking with other kayakers about this ‘hot-spot’ on the river (Arizona Hot Springs).
With the tent pitched, my glaucoma treated, and a bird-bath (in the ‘fresh’ water) I ‘kicked-back’ in something as good as a lawn chair (my kayak) and enjoyed a premixed cranberry juice/tequila beverage (a “waggit adder”). My neighbors Bruce and Mike were good in light conversation even though they inferred that some drinkers were trouble-makers (the kayakers vs ‘doggone’ people thing), they were ok guys and I continued to make notes on my paddle with a sharpie (forgot my note-pad) as the water flow and shoreline fluctuated – the folks in LA must have been turning their air-conditioners down some.
The river lowered and slowed and then somewhere in the wee hours of the night 4 other happy paddlers arrived for the weekend….(they were having a blast)….
First thing in the morning I ‘broke-camp’ and paddled up river another half-mile just to be sure that I had made the 60 mm, I feel like with the calmer water conditions one just might make the dam 4 miles further up – but having this little circle in my life satisfied I drifted past camp and started the slow ride back down river….
It was peaceful being pointed downriver, one guy was working his way upstream with an extra kayak and the morning guides in empty rafts were not far behind headed to the dam to pick up their tourists/sightseers….
It was an easy paddle and there was plenty of time to check-out the ‘in’s and out’s of all the ‘nooks and cranny’s’ along the way.
Since putting in I have seen Bald-eagles, hawks, and numerous big-horn sheep in their natural habitat, it was also interesting how the ‘big-horns’ walk the cliffs high above the river in search of food – as a gentle mist fell I wondered if they were able to get enough moisture from the plants for sustenance – certainly it was too steep to come down to the water…
But wait a minute, human life forms ahead – turned out to be Dawn’s group so I stopped and chatted with Angela about Fire Department stuff as they loaded for the day, they were working their way further up river for a camp adventure.
With that intermission I needed to get my mind back on the river,
and the ‘nook’s and cranny’s’ along the way – or jump in,
soon afterward I noticed two separate groups of big-horn working their way down an old hiking trail,
right to waters edge where they took a long hard drink. I drifted right into them and sat stoically in the kayak as the oldest ‘buck’ took a long hard drink – didn’t seem to mind at all as I passed.
The younger bull gave the older a wide-berth and kept a respectable distance.
As I began nearing Willow Beach more kayakers appeared headed upriver, so I guess its a common thing..
there were also two (2) bald-eagles dropping down for fish – couldn’t get a better picture.
back to ‘Willow Beach.’
Back at the boat-ramp there was there was a blend of sunlight and dark clouds (with lightning in them) all under desert conditions, interesting and dangerous yet beautiful in combination. As for the paddle, it was perfect and as good if not better than starting at the Dam, plus – it was free…
So if Paddling down the Colorado is on your list of things to do, plan ahead and get an outfitter to help you ($$) or simply take the paddle option from Willow Beach up river to at least the 60, earn your ‘river-time.’
It’s well worth the effort and with the heat the water felt wonderful.
Where the Colorado River begins, Will and Zak know