Pig Eyes, Elvis and the Colorado River
I get a little nervous when I get on a plane and there is not one, but TWO guys dressed like Elvis right down to the sequins. But it was Halloween and I was flying to Las Vegas (Lost Wages) on business. I settled in with my IPod and book but the Elvis guys insisted on dancing and strutting once the seat belt sign was turned off. Talk about surreal, I’m watching twirling Elvisi while I’m hearing Procul Harum and reading Hemingway. I’m sure this violated some natural laws in the universe.
I’ve been going to Lost Wages a few times a year for trade shows for over 20 years now and hate the place more with each visit. As an Earth Dad and all around piker, Lost Wages affronts me on every level. But a few years back I learned how close Lost Wages is to some of the best hiking and paddling in the US and I now try and tack on a few days of pure, 100% outback beauty to counteract the soulless city in the desert.
An old pal from Colorado said he was up for a little adventure and I outlined a two day kayak trip UP the Colorado River below the Boulder Dam. “You just show up” said Pig Eyes. “I’ll take care of every single thing we’ll need in terms of gear and food”. So I shipped out my personal paddling gear and a veritable ton of dry bags and Pig Eyes picked me up in his wagon and off we went to pick up our rental kayaks in Boulder City at Desert Adventures (Click here for a map)
They rent the run of the mill bathtubs but also have a very fine fleet of outstanding composite sea kayaks. I’ll enjoy a rec kayak now and then going downstream where I’m really
not paddling but in this case I wanted some efficiency since it was the off season and Pig Eyes had done next to no paddling. (Now before you think poorly of me for calling the guy Pig Eyes you gotta understand what it’s like to wake up in a tiny tent in the Canadian outback with his head inches from yours and the wind howling at 60 mph. Oh yeah….and you’re both suffering from two days in the rain and mega-blisters)
I forgot to mention that when Pig Eyes picked me up there was absolutely no room for me in the car. Every single cavity was filled with gear and more gear. ‘We’re only gonna be out for two days” I said. “What the hell is all this stuff? I count five sleeping bags! Is someone joining us? “ (More Elvisi?)
Pig Eyes whined that he had been extremely busy with his job until the last second, blew into his garage and loaded everything he owned since he was unsure of the temperatures we’d be experiencing in early November. I realized right there that we would run out of daylight that night before we ever had a chance to sort things out. But thankfully Boulder City is only 45 minutes from Lost Wages and there were plenty of hotel rooms so we nabbed one and headed over to get our kayaks from Desert Adventures.
When I’d made the boat reservations I had told Kylie at Desert Adventures that we would not need a shuttle since we were going to launch downstream
at Willow Beach and paddle upstream to Hot Springs Beach Camp which I had almost reached on another paddling trip. She said it would be a great paddle but when she got a gander at our gray hair (in my case) and no hair (Pig Eyes) , she asked again if maybe
we might want to launch below the dam and take the shuttle back a day later. Also said something about “‘dam releases” and big winds. However, I figured if we launched above the Hot Springs we’d be there in a quick two hours which wouldn’t be much paddling. “We’ll get an early start in the morning so we’ll have plenty of time even with the short daylight” I told Pig Eyes. So we strapped the boats on the roof of his car and with Kylie looking a little skeptical took off for the motel.
Now Pig Eyes and I have played a packing game for many years all over this planet. From Glacier National Park to Mount Orizaba. I force him to lay everything out that he’s brought and we argue over what to leave behind. So we settled into our positions at the motel with both beds completely engulfed in gear and began negotiations.
“We sure don’t need five-count em five- knives” I told Pig Eyes. Pig Eyes put up an admirable fight for bringing two stoves and we moved on to jackets and pants. He had three of each and it got bloody but I got him down to one set of wind and water proof togs. And so it went until two thirds of the gear was back in his car and we had the rest stuffed into dry bags of all sizes and colors.
The next morning we arose early and of course I caught Pig Eyes trying to sneak a few more items into our kit. I had to be really tough since I knew he had already snuck lord only knows what in the dry bags the night before (I was right-he did-a third
stove!). Crossing over the Boulder Dam is always impressive and we forgot about the checkpoints put in place after 9-11. The guards pulled us over and wanted the boats off the roof so they could see what was in them. In order to make more room in the car we had foolishly packed them full of gear so they were incredibly heavy to horse off the roof. But because we had no bomb materials the feds made quick work of it, released us from quarantine with a smile and wave, and 40 minutes later we were preparing to launch at Willow Springs which is a nice park and marina at a big bend in the Colorado River.
While I had assumed that half of his car was crammed with fishing gear, Pig Eyes proclaimed “I checked with my fishing pals and they said it was a dead river down here as far as fishing. So I didn’t bother with any fishing stuff. After all, we barely have room as it is for our food”. (5 minutes from launching we passed the fish hatchery where an army of guys were fishing for huge trout-I thought Pig Eyes was going to sauce his shorts when he looked down in the clear green waters and saw the flash of a 20 inch trout)
The paddling was just as good as the weather which was sunny and in the low 60’s. We glided past huge cliffs and tiny beaches and the loaded boats were not much of a chore. But an hour later we hit a stretch where the wind was whistling straight down the river canyon and now we
had to keep at the strokes or risk drifting backwards. It seemed like the current (which was barely perceptible at the start) was beginning to get a little dodgy. Pig Eyes started to fall back and I had to abuse him horribly to keep him moving forward. Called into question his manhood along with threats to withhold Crown Royal later. I knew that we needed to get to the Hot Springs as soon as possible as there were only a limited number of campsites and there were tons of people floating down from upstream. After bribing Pig Eyes with promises of palm trees and warm soaks in the springs, we kept at it and pulled into the campsite.
What a gorgeous setting! We found a perfect camp very close to the water that backed into a natural rock bowl which gave it privacy and protection from the winds. Pig Eyes began the “march of the penguins” with our gear and in under and hour we were comfortably ensconced and kicking back in our camp chairs which I had to admit were huge points on Pig Eyes side. Now we could watch a steady parade of paddlers floating down to the camp. Some stopped for a quick trip up into the hills to the springs and headed back downstream where the shuttle would nab them at Willow Springs later that afternoon. Others pulled in and began their own “march of the penguins” only they had to hike increasingly further into the hills to find free space. A rather large group of young men came wobbling down from the springs late in the afternoon and it was apparent they’d had too much time in the hot spring with too much grog. For some weird reason they carried one of their party to the river and heaved him into the frigid waters which is a very stupid thing to do after drinking and soaking. We went to the river’s edge and insured he got out all right and thank god they got into their kayaks and headed off.
We decided not to go up to the springs that afternoon since it was so crowded and set about making dinner. As usual, chef Pig Eyes created a superb meal of chicken and noodles with fresh vegetable pocket sandwiches. And a superb Pinot Noir. But somehow Pig Eyes managed to spill a large dollop of our rice pudding (with cinnamon and cherries) on the rock walls around the camp. This was good for several minutes of chastising while the sun began its deep and fast descent and the stars and moon came up with startling clarity. We had noticed that one set of campers had already had to abandoned their riverside campsite because indeed the river had come up several feet due to one of the “dam releases” we’d been warned about. No wonder it got a little dodgy! How many billions of gallons of water had they let out of Lake Mead?
Early the next morning we did make it up to one of the nicest hot springs we’d ever seen and had a splendid soak almost by ourselves as everyone else was barely moving in the camps below. With muscles now warmed up we took a nice hike around the region and spotted five mountain goats coming down to the water. After many years in the mountains, they were the first I’d ever seen! Meanwhile, from up on a ledge I caught Pig Eyes looking wistfully at the waters below where he spotted some huge fish circling in a cove. We leisurely broke camp around noon and made sure we packed out more than we had brought in. One thing we happily didn’t have to pack was our own waste products since there were two porta-jons at the camp that the Park Service comes in and pumps. Otherwise this Shangri La would become a cesspool in a single weekend.
We now took the time to take plenty of pictures on our float back down which with several stops still only took 3 hours. Once back at Willow Beach we saw the paddlers begin to pile up at the take out and were gratified to think that on this gorgeous November day not everyone was inside watching football or back in the casinos pissing money away. Even with the headwind and current the day before, paddlers in
reasonable condition and with some solid experience under their belt would all find our up-and-back two-day trip easy enough if you get early starts. And despite what was probably 36 people camping up at the hot springs, we were spread out and tucked in enough that it was quiet and peaceful. Some of the campers had hiked in rather than paddled and a third day could be added to do some hikes around the trails before paddling back downstream. The views around each bend of the river are outstanding and other than a few power craft it’s simply a superb way to offset the madness of Lost Wages.
No question about it. November and April must be the perfect months for this trip especially for those of us visiting the region from arctic regions where the sun rarely makes much of an effort to bring us a little hope. During these months you’ll have to bring some warm clothes as it can get very nippy at night along the river. But unless you pack like Pig Eyes, you’ll have plenty of room in a touring kayak for everything.
Quiet World Sports