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Day 4, Tuesday, January 9, 2007


Day four started early for me. About 12:30 A.M. when I awoke to howling wind and waves crashing onto shore. I had dreams of being stuck the cow-shit mud-hole for another day.


We woke up at 5:30 A.M. and started taking apart camp. The wind had subsided and the waves had gone from crashing to gentle lapping. Our opportunity for escape had arrived. I was thrilled.

 


I was excited about the prospect of negotiating the lake trees by headlamp. I thought it would feel very adventurous. But by the time we had our boats loaded and ate breakfast, it was nearly 7:00 and plenty light to put the headlamps away.
We enjoyed a light northwest breeze for the next 3 miles as we finished our traverse of Lake Mohave. We were both happy to have that section of river behind us.

 


We now had about 12 miles to paddle before our take-out at Katherine Landing, just before the Davis dam.


After Lake Mohave, the river gets narrower and the mountains much closer to the bank. We decided that we wanted to paddle about half way to Katherine Landing and camp for one more night before the downstream section of our trip was over. The beaches, landings and viable campsites became fewer and farther between and the wind began to build again.


The waves never became unmanageable, but we were barely putting our blades in the water and averaging around four knots. At this rate, we would be at the end in a few hours and not find a final campsite. I started suggesting small beaches, questionable landings, and campsites that were just barely big enough for our tent. Leslie refused every one of my suggestions.


“What about in this cove? How about here? Our tent could fit there.” Leslie was like an expectant mother picking colors for the nursery. Nothing was good enough. We were now less than three miles from the Davis Dam and I was having visions of a sleazy Nevada motel instead of a final quiet camp.


We came across another cove, slightly bigger than the past few and without asking, I swept hard on my port side and made the right turn into the cove. I was determined to find us a good camp. As I rounded a steep rocky peninsula, a 100-yard pea-gravel beach opened up before my eyes. I raised my paddle above my head in victory and announced that I had found our beach. Leslie followed shortly behind and agreed.

 


The cove was about 150 meters in diameter and separated from the main channel by a high rocky peninsula. The water was deep and clear and the beach was surrounded on all sides by steep rocky hills. The beach was completely protected from the cold north wind and wide open to the warm desert sun in the south. We had found the perfect spot to spend our last downstream night.

 


Since we had more or less skipped breakfast to escape the muddy Lake Mohave feral cow pasture, we were both unusually hungry for lunch. I filtered a few liters of water and started the stove. We made a big bowl of pasta with garlic and olive oil and ate our fill. After lunch, we spread our sleeping pads out on the beach and napped. When we woke, we hiked up to the top of one of the nearby hills. I powered up my cell phone, and to my dismay, I had two bars of service. This evidence of the ubiquitous reach of modern convenience spoiled the sense of serene isolation a bit, but I needed only to make one call and I could go back to believing that we were all alone on our beach. I dialed Helen’s mobile number and she answered. I told her that we were two miles from Katherine Landing and that we would be there in the morning. After a long, hearty laugh on the other end of the line, Helen said that she would be there with our car. In Helen’s tenure as an outfitter on the Colorado River, after dropping hundreds of people off to paddle downstream, only two people before us had made it all the way down. Now here are these two nut-balls from Wisconsin that made it in four windy January days. The signal was not strong enough to support idle chitchat so we ended the call and I powered off my phone. Relieved, I stashed it away in my backpack and we continued to explore the surroundings.

 


We clambered up and down several more rocks and hills, many of which were steeper, higher and more sheer than I liked but Leslie led us up, down, around and across every hill she could find. We walked around three more mini-coves that were just downstream from our cove. They were so clear, sandy and protected that I thought they must have been the inspiration for a modern swimming pool. We both thought that they looked inviting for a swim, but the 54 degree water always reminded us that it was winter and we were still in North America.


Surrounded by mountains again, the shadows grew long as the sun began its descent in the Southwest. Soon the bright afternoon was nothing more than a pink glow from the other side of the Nevada hills. We spent the evening reflecting on the past four days and enjoying the fact that we were only half way through our vacation.

 


We skipped the tent again and laid there in our sleeping bags with nothing but the stars over our heads. After a fitful night in the mud-pit listening to the wind howl, this was just grand. I fell asleep early.


Day 5, Wednesday, January 10


For a chronic insomniac, an early night means an early morning. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and tiptoed around the beach as quietly as I could given the pea-gravel. I set up my camera and tri-pod and awaited the rising sun like a hunter waiting for his quarry. I was rewarded with one of the most beautiful sunrises I have every seen. Not being a very experienced photographer, the photos included here do not come close to capturing the full beauty of the experience.


The plan called for an early rise and a leisurely paddle for the remaining two miles to Katherine Landing before the forecasted south winds kicked in. With many coves to explore, we wanted to be on the water as soon as the sun broke the horizon. My experiments with film speed, shutter speed and other camera settings delayed my packing enough that we didn’t make the water until close to 8:30. That left enough time for a leisurely paddle but no side trips into the coves. We stuck to the main channel and kept the bows pointed south.

 


Katherine Landing was easy enough to find, but the boat launch was hidden behind rows upon rows of finger piers hosting dozens of houseboats, powerboats, fishing boats and even a few sailboats. When we finally found the boat ramp, we saw the familiar headlights of Frank Cushman (our Golf) approaching the ramp from the road. Helen came out to greet us and we gave her a brief report of the trip.

 


The 10-minute drive back to her shop was more like a tour through Colorado River history. If you are ever stuck in Bullhead City, AZ and need to kill a few minutes or several hours, I would highly recommend a stop at Desert River Kayak. Throw out any topic if only tangentially related to the Colorado River and you will get a lesson with as much detail for which you have time. Helen is a fascinating woman and a walking, talking resource for all things Colorado.


Leslie and I now had roughly 48 hours before we needed to meet Dave and Michelle back at Willow beach for our upstream section of the trip. The marquee lights outside of Gretchen’s Inn, across the street from Desert River Kayak, touted a Laundromat open to the public so we stopped there to wash our now stinky camping and paddling clothes.


We considered camping at Davis Camp County Park, essentially a parking lot along the river divided into small rectangular plots for tents and large rectangular plots for RV’s. For a mere ten dollars more we could stay right in the lap of luxury at Gretchen’s. No extra charge for the beautiful view of all the casinos and hotels across the river in Laughlin, Nevada. Gretchen’s looked like the type of place where you bring your sleeping bag rather than brave the sheets, but the proprietors seemed friendly and the sheets actually clean, so we splurged for the motel room. We paid the clerk, dumped our bags and slept for about three hours.


As long as we were splurging, we thought we would cross the bridge and head into Laughlin to find some late night dinner. A local recommended The Boiler Room, a brewpub within the large Riverboat themed casino on the main drag called the Colorado Belle. Skeptical, but hungry, we went for it. The Boiler Room, as it turns out, is right were the boiler room would have been if the Colorado Belle were actually an old river paddle wheeler. The décor was surprisingly well done. The walls were faux steel panels held together with faux rivets, some of which even had some faux rust starting to appear. The decoration included maps, charts, compasses, cylinder heads, connecting rods, big valves, old brass fittings and other steamship scaled nostalgia. I have to say it was pretty cool. The Wisconsin beer cheese soup was excellent, and the rest of the food was O.K. The beer was great. Again, if you ever find yourself in Bullhead City or Laughlin, after your talk with Helen head over to the Boiler Room for a few beers.

 


Day 6, Thursday, January 11


Thursday was a big question mark in our plan. We had left it as an extra day for the downstream part of our paddle, and since we didn’t need it, there was a gap in our paddling plan. Neither of us had done much exercise in a while, so Leslie devised a plan. We would drop our kayaks at Camp Davis park (the glorified parking lot), then drive 5 miles downstream and leave our car, run back to the boats then paddle the 5 miles back to the car. From there, we would load up our boats and head back upstream to Willow Beach to look for a camping site where we would stay the night and meet Dave in the morning. It was a good plan.


The drop, drive, run and paddle all went as planned. The paddle wasn’t terribly scenic, but it was pretty cool to cruise by the entire Laughlin, Nevada strip.
After the paddle, we made a quick pasta lunch and headed to the Safeway to pick up a few items which we short packed: apple cider packets, cappuccino mix and pasta sauce packets. Don’t ever try to find packets for hot apple cider in Arizona. They have no idea what it is.


We made the drive back out to Kingman and north to Willow beach. It was nearly 4:00 PM now and we needed to find a campsite. There were “No Camping” signs all over the Willow Beach area. Normally, a simple sign at a big empty park area wouldn’t keep me from pitching a tent for the night, but the forecast called for up to an inch of snow at higher elevations. I am a complete rookie in the desert and what little knowledge I had of the local geology was that Willow Beach was a in fact a beach because the valley leading down to it was a wash in times of heavy rain. “What qualified as heavy rain? If it snows up high, will it rain down near us? If a flash flood occurs, how much time would we have to scramble to higher ground?” These were all questions racing through my head. I could see the headlines: Midwest Campers Make Camp in Wash Despite Forecasts for Rain, Wash Away in Flood. I convinced myself that Willow Beach was not the place to camp.


We drove around for about 45 minutes trying to find a more suitable campsite. We quickly learned that in the canyon lands, all places fall into two categories: mountain or wash. We began to face the inevitable destiny of spending a night in Las Vegas. I have never been to Las Vegas, and I could die a happy man not ever going. Now, in the middle of our 12-day adventure in the wilderness, Cheetah’s Motel and Slots could be our only shelter.


The up side of the situation is that we would have to cross Hoover Dam to get there. I have never seen the Hoover Dam and the early 90’s song by Sugar (“Standing on the Edge of the Hoover Dam,” Copper Blue) had always led me to believe that I would achieve some new perspective on life by doing so.


I discovered that the only thing separating me from an eight-hundred foot tumble down a concrete face into the turbulent outflow of six huge water turbines was a four foot masonry wall. The only new perspective I gained was that I’m not quite ready to die yet. Moving on: Las Vegas.


Only five minutes into Nevada from the dam, we discovered the Hacienda Hotel and Casino. It was bright, gaudy, big and surely a mere sample of what Las Vegas has to offer, but it was worth a shot. Leslie and I decided that if it were cheaper than fifty bucks, we would call it home for the night. I went in to the front desk to start negotiations. Surely the rooms started at the hundred-dollar mark, and I would have to whittle it down from there. The receptionist’s first offer surprised me. $39 for the night. $42 with tax. Not seeing a lot of promise in trying to negotiate this one, I took her offer. We spent the night in a hotel/casino so trashy it didn’t even make Las Vegas.

 

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