Maad hadn't been in a kayak before, but I knew he would have no problem settling in and digging up the river. I also knew his fitness level and endurance would come in handy as we battled the river current and wind heading up the river. Well done, Maad!
We split from Phoenix at about 6:45 am (4/29/2010) and blasted through Wickenburg and Kingman, and ending up at Willow Beach, AZ (our launch site) a little before noon.
As for the weather, well I was a tad bit concerned. Ya see, AZ had some very high winds, the day/night before, and we actually had some some snow flakes hit the windshield about 10 miles before Kingman (4,200 vf). The clouds that was spitting snow wasn't very big, and we would be paddling about 3,500 vf lower (the river level is about 700 vf). As we loaded up our kayaks, there was a rather dark cloud sitting over us, that kicked out 17 rain drops. Yes, I counted each and every one. I knew this cloud would pass, and once it passed, I also knew the gusty winds that were kicking up white caps (20+ mph winds) would also subside. The cloud was still over us as we launched (about 1:00 pm), and we were getting a little bit beat up, so I instructed Maad to follow me over the Nevada side of the river where it was little more calm, and to hug the shore. About 10 minutes later the cloud moved off, and the winds died dramatically. We still had a rather strong breeze we had to paddle against for most of the day, but also had nice moments where the waters were calm. Event though the wind was in our face, the canyon is narrow enough that water never had a chance to get choppy.
Launching From Willow Beach:
Oh yeah, what was our destination? Well, my goal was to head the 11.5 miles up to the Hoover Dam. And I also wanted to explore the features likes the numerous volcanic hot springs. Here is a high resolution/interactive Google Earth Tour I put together of our trip (once you have the Google Earth Plugin, just hit the play button in the upper right hand corner): Black Canyon Google Earth Tour
Our first feature we spent some time checking out was Emerald Cave (about 2 miles up from Willow Beach - Arizona Side of the river). It is important to hit this cave at the right time, because proper lighting is crucial to catching the brilliant emerald green water at its best. Since it was in the afternoon when we arrived, the sun was positioned optimally so the super green and clear water was glowing. It was awesome. I'm glad we hit it up when we did, cuz the next morning (a little before 10:00), it wasn't nearly as stunning.
Thanks for the pic of me, Maad:
Also in the area was a plank trail built into the cliffs above, used for accessing the cable cart necessary for maintaining the channel marker/meter station on the Nevada side of the river.
Maad and I trudge up the river, and it became apparent that although we were paddling really, really hard, we weren't moving up the river fast enough. It was a tad bit demoralizing not seeing the shoreline pass by, compared to effort we put into paddling. The swirls coming off the the rocks in the water really showed that the current was a lot stronger than I had anticipated. Couple the river current with the headwind, there were spots that would drift us backwards at 4 knots if we stopped paddling. We were only gaining about 2 miles per hour.
We only stopped a couple of times to crawl out of the kayaks, and really limited our time out of the boats. So although we stopped at Arizona Hot Springs (about 8 miles up/ marker # 60), we didn't spend much time exploring,because it was already 5:00 and we had further to go. We chatted it up for a couple of minutes with a small canoeist group that was bivying there for the night, and then we proceed up to Palm Tree Hot Spring (nearly 11 miles up/ almost a mile past marker #62 - Arizona side). Just before we got to Palm Tree Hot Spring we save about 8 or 9 desert Bighorn Sheep hanging high up on the cliffs (Arizona side). Neato! Back at Willow Beach, there was a bald eagle getting buzzed by some pesky ravens. Other than some vulturs and obligatory osprey, that was the only wildlife we say.
Thanks for pic, Maad - Bighorn Sheep:
I was kinda hoping to stay at the Palm Tree Hot Spring, but once we got there it was pretty in hospitable. While Maad explored the area on foot, I continued up river for a place to stay. I made it nearly to the new Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge, before concluding there was any place up there I would choose to stay. The cliffs were pretty rugged. By this time, it was after 6:00 pm, and I knew it was pretty important to find a nice campsite.
Thanks for the pic of me, Maad (notice the bridge?:
We turned the boats around, and headed back down the headed down past marker # 62, and noticed a nice sandy wash on the Nevada side. We investigated further, and it looked primo. This was in the Boy Scout Canyon Hot Spring wash. This was a perfect single tent area about 5' up on the bank. This 5' became really important, because as we were warned that the river level will go up an down dramatically during the night, I knew we wouldn't want to be in the wash itself. Actually, we had to carry the kayaks up the sandy wash about 100' from from the river, which I felt was a safe distance. We got settled in, and ate some food and guzzled a half case of beer, and around 9:00 pm we looked down at the wash, and low and behold the river was nearly to the kayaks. OMG! The river had silently come up way higher than I had expected. We had scraped our feet through the sand only to see wet sand under it, and we did on the bank we sitting until we had scratched in a dry dirt water line. Our tent/camp was at no risk, so we pulled the kayaks up to the site. Phew! No Worries, now. Mental note #74: don't count on any firewood on the river.
Thanks for the Camp pic, Maad:
After a demanding day heading up river, I was excited head back down river the next day. The night was calm and peaceful, and the temps were perfect. Before we split from our site, Maad and I explored the Boy Scout Canyon Hot Spring. We could feel that the water trickling down the was was warm, and it got warmer as we headed up the canyon. We walked up a couple hundred yards and found some really warm pools. Although clean (except for signs warning of harmful amoebaes) and inviting, we actually skipped the soak.
Maad in the Boy Scout Canyon Wash/Hot Spring:
We left our camp at about 7:30 am, and absolutely flat water. Which made for a perfect mirror of the canyon walls. Sweet! Soaking up in the peaceful water while it lasted was nice, because I new as soon as the sun warmed up, the morning breeze would pick up. And it did, but just as it was in our face the day before, it was now perfectly at our backs. I guess our wager for river and wind was an absolute push, which is all I could ask for.
Maad loading the kayak back up:
We flew down the river, paddling the 10 or so miles back to Willow Beach in 2.5 hours. We barely paddled. We pulled back into 10:00 am. I must admit, we should have spent the day exploring, but had to get back into town.
Here is a Joshua Tree:
Here is a nice little map that notes the features on this route: NPS Black Canyon Map
This was an excellent trip, and I am excited to spent more time in the Black Canyon. My one and only disappointment, other than spending more time here, was my 'go to' video camera had a dead battery. I must have clicked on when I loaded up the car, and it was in a mode that wouldn't allow it to auto shut off. boo hiss. So I was relegated to using my Palm Pre mobile phone, Go Pro helment-cam, and stealing photos from Maad for documenting this trip.
Here is a quick play vid of the day:
And here is a High Quality (Quicktime) vid (it will take a few minutes to load up):
If you happen to have Google Earth, here is an interactive tour of our route:
Thanks to Desert River Outfitters for the beta on this trip