Arizona, Camping, Hot Springs, Lake Mead National Recreational Area, National Parks & Monuments, State Parks, Nevada, United States

A BeaUTAHful Bucket List: Day 6 – Black Canyon of the Colorado River

Day 6 – March 31, 2022

The take aways…

  • Fear and floating in Las Vegas
  • Expect awkward encounters at Arizona Hot Springs
  • Ringtail cat!
  • I didn’t die

5:30am alarm. Get dressed. Arrange the final items in the bags. Starbucks. Chug latte. Nervously chatter away, trying not to remember what I was doing today. Whack my head hard on the boat trailer, so hard I actually heard bells ring in my brain. Put on a lifejacket, stand there helplessly until a guide could tell me how to wear it properly. Get in van. Point of no return…

My fear of water is intense. I mean, I didn’t even put my face directly under the stream of water in the shower until I was 24 years old or so. I still don’t get in water over five feet deep. I think I’ve cried more times than not when getting on boats. I don’t like looking out of airplane windows while flying over the ocean even. So why exactly was I getting in a kayak in the Colorado River?

I suppose for the same reason I jumped into 35-degree water in Iceland to snorkel between the Eurasian and North American continental plates or why I finally ate guacamole in my mid-30’s… because life is a whole lot more thrilling when you do things that scare you (or that you’ve just never done, in the case of eating guacamole).

The next two days were dedicated to kayaking the Black Canyon of the Colorado River from the Hoover Dam to Willow Beach – about fourteen miles total. Part of Lake Mead National Recreational Area, thirty miles of the Colorado River are designated the Black Canyon National Water Trail. Numerous hot springs, caves, beaches, and camping opportunities dot the canyon walls.

I had never been in a kayak + fear of water + all my muscle mass is found in my legs thanks to a decade of competitive cycling = ?????. This was a whole new meaning to the word adventure.

It wasn’t easy. One of the guides noted I looked awfully nervous in the shuttle van. Thanks dude, for reminding me… (We weren’t on a guided trip, we just rented kayaks and had the shuttle service, and we used Desert Adventures.)

Heading down to the launch point

Once down in the secured zone at the base of the Hoover Dam, everyone has fifteen minutes to completely unload the boats, gear, and themselves, and get in the water and set off for security reasons. We hustled back and forth with bags (I’m happy Eric and I packed light!), and I even managed a whole arm full of paddles (awkwardly, but nonetheless, they all made it). On my final trip down the ramp I started tearing up seeing the river and realizing there was no point of return. Once you’re in the river, you cannot return to shore unless you’re like completely dying. Not fearing dying, but like actually dying.

Getting the kayaks ready

Eric held my kayak (which was actually the one assigned to him, but it was wide and therefore more stable and he made the decision I’d be more comfortable in that one), and I cried my way into sitting in it, one hand with a death grip on the rock on shore. I don’t necessarily like crying in public, but I couldn’t help it. Finally I just had to let go, so Eric could get in his kayak and we could set off. I was terrified. The water was deep, there was a currant, and, well… WATER. All the freaking water. All around me, trying to kill me. Every little motion of the kayak sent me screeching, clinching the paddle, waiting for death to arrive.

This is AWFUL

I’m going to die. Ooohhh, this canyon is pretty. Death!! Ooooh, cactus. DEATH! Ooohhh, look at the cute ducks. Wait, for me, I have little cyclist arms!

Hey, look at me, I’m paddling while surrounded by death!
Okay, this is pretty amazing

It was not long at all, in fact within sight of the launch point, that we arrived at the first “destination” of the day on the canyon banks – Sauna Cave. This was a tunnel created by drilling during the construction of the Hoover Dam, but it was abandoned when they encountered intense heat. Now it is a cave you can wander back through knee depth thermal waters. We had a big family on an annual canoe trip who launched after us arrive nearly at the same time as us, so we quickly took some photos and headed on our way.

The “brain eating amoeba” found in warm fresh water, Naegleria fowleri, can possibly be in these hot springs along the Black Canyon so these warning signs are everywhere.
Entrance to Sauna Cave
This was pretty heavenly, I won’t lie! We walked in the dark all the way to the end and then back out. The water does get hotter the deeper into the cave you go.

I was quite surprised how much settled down and started to enjoy the kayak. Brains are a funny thing, eh? I started to slowly get ahold of how to “drive” the kayak, though I definitely bashed plenty of rocks on the first day.

The water of the river is crazy green, especially later in the day in afternoon sun (still not shabby early in the morning, though!)
Caves and coves dot the shoreline and are fun to explore

Next up was Goldstrike Canyon, home to some more thermal pools. It was a short walk up the canyon. The hot pools were occupied but we grabbed some quick photos and set back out to the kayaks. Eric promised we get a good soak in later in the evening, so I was content to get back on the river even though I love “hot pots.”

We were still within sight of the bridge that bypasses the Hoover Dam
Wandering up Goldstrike Canyon
The soaking pools of Goldstrike Canyon
Heading back out of the canyon

Time to continue on floating and paddling!

These two ducks befriended us and follow us a decent while
Close up of our ducky friends
Shoreline waterfall
I broke out my Starbucks treat. Comfortable enough I could eat!
Looking at the view behind us
Looks like a heart!
The Black Canyon is just so stunning!!!
We came ashore and explored this little rain cave

Boy Scout Canyon was next. This ended up being quite the hike that I wish I recorded to see how long it really was, and we luckily had the canyon to ourselves. We wandered up, with the stream getting warmer and warmer. The few pool areas we crossed were almost unbearably hot.

Our duck friends were still tagging along
There are a couple of scrambles up waterfalls where ropes are installed to aim in the climb
One of the pools in Boy Scout Canyon
I won’t lie, this was sketchy to do with my sprained ankle!

There are several designated camping areas on beaches long the river, but we chose one that didn’t have a name, aside from “Spring Hot.” We arrived decently early (after all, we did have an early launch time), and I made up some sandwiches for lunch and Eric set up the tent to claim our stake on this beach. Not too many people were launching this day that were doing an overnight trip, and we knew the canoe family was camping at Arizona Hot Springs, so we were confident we wouldn’t have company in our secluded spot.

I had to include this funny pano fail!
As the sun got higher in the sky the neon green came out!
Not only is the water a brilliant green, it is also super clear!
We explored a little lagoon near our campsite, and you could see all the tree roots in the river
Lunch stop at our campsite! I made up sandwiches while Eric filtered water and set up the tent

Tummies full, we paddled down to Arizona Hot Springs to check out the thermal pools. The canoe family had set up pretty much an entire city at the campsite complete with tables, chairs, massive tents, inflatable mattresses, coolers, and grills. We had a giggle about how minimalist we seemed with our handful of dry bags and two-person tent.

On the way to Arizona Hot Springs we explored this little cave
Not the same person I was hours earlier, I eagerly headed into the cave to explore
There was a dead bird in the cave
Hauling our kayaks on shore at Arizona Hot Springs

It is just a short walk up to Arizona Hot Springs from the beach. You can access these pools from a hike from the highway as well, but it looks like a hot, tiring affair. These hot springs are very popular, and definitely were a bit too crowded for my liking (otherwise I did love these hot springs!). Eric had shared a funny memory of his friends encountering plenty of nudity here, but I’m not sure I was prepared as I crested the ladder and laid my eyes on plenty of naked men, ha!

Arizona Hot Springs is just a short walk from the river
There is a big ladder to climb to access the hot springs

We wandered up the various pools (all different temperatures, getting hotter as you go up), and I dunked up to my shoulders to help soothe my little arms that didn’t understand what I was asking of them. Eric and I also had the most amusing photo taken of us ever but a nude gentleman who insisted on standing up out of the water for a better angle as we tried to keep straight faces.

Arizona Hot Springs are pretty much several pools bought in a tight slot canyon. Such a unique atmosphere!

As Californians arrive home and que up their air conditioners, they increase the flow rate out of the Hoover Dam to meet the increased electricity demand, which means the river increases dramatically. Therefore, we didn’t stay long at Arizona Hot Springs since we’d have a mile of upstream paddling back to the campsite.

Eric grilled up some veggies and steaks, and I ate it by just picking it up in my hands like a caveman. What happens outside of Vegas gets blogged… Eric then dragged the kayaks wayyyyy up on shore and secured them from the rising water.

Steak dinner!
Our campsite!

To top off a day of conquering fears and experiencing all the new things, we headed off to our own secluded thermal waterfall for a nice evening soak! The water wasn’t the warmest, but it was still a great way to cap off the day.

It might have not been the warmest, but it was still an amazing spot!

We headed back to camp in the dark, and I screeched at shadows and moaned my feet were sore (turns out soggy feet + sand/pebbles + hiking + Chacos = a very bad combination). Once back at the tent my headlight shone on the canyon wall above our tent and I was greeted with two metallic beads looking back at me. Now there is nothing quite like seeing eyes looking back at you at night, in the desert, in the middle of nowhere! Eric and I took various guesses at what it was, noted the short legs and big bushy tail. The next day we mentioned the sighting to our shuttle driver, and he told us it was a ringtail cat! Woohoo!

We enjoyed some creme brulee in a bag, and then called it a night in the desert heat.

It might be blurry, but I had to document this amazing treat!

But did you die, Heidi?

Nope, not today!

1 thought on “A BeaUTAHful Bucket List: Day 6 – Black Canyon of the Colorado River”

  1. First of all, props to you for doing this even though you were terrified. I’m not sure I could do something I’m that scared of. Second of all, I now understand why the Black Canyon in CO is specifically called Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I didn’t know there was another one. Thirdly, this looks beautiful and incredible!

    Liked by 1 person

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