July 7, 2014 by Bob 4 Comments
Las Vegas has a lot of secrets, and it’s time to spill the beans. One of Vegas’ most tightly kept secret is the astonishingly beautiful Black Canyon, home to some of the most striking desert landscape surprises in the States. With extremely limited access, Viator’s daylong kayak trip is one of the only ways to experience this guarded location, which has been called “not what you’d expect…it’s more”.
(Disclaimer: Black Canyon, it’s amazing. I am significantly reigning in my use of adjectives throughout the piece, but, in case it still reads gushy, I want you to know that the experience was literally this awesome.)
Very few visitors get this close to the bottom of the Hoover Dam. Behind me, the horizon soars hundreds of feet into the air, only broken by the impossibly high bridge that from below is almost more stunning than the Dam itself. The sound of new kayakers banging paddles against their hulls and the squeak of rubber soles on wet rocks signal that we are launching.
Lake Mojave winds away in front of us, 12 miles and about 7 hours down through the autumn-orange cliff maze.
The water is unexpected, a mix of emerald green and powder blue. I’ve only ever seen water like this in Cancun, but even there it wasn’t this clear.
Stone pillars and boulders reach up from the soft floor thirty feet below to glide silently beneath my kayak, and when it’s shallow, the tapestry of rocks and grass lay out as if I’m looking through a shop window.
If someone had described exactly what I was going to experience next, I wouldn’t have believed them. Still in the shadow of the Dam, I never would have even docked at our first stop if it hadn’t been for our guide, but this would turn out to be one of the most exciting nature experiences of my life.
You can’t even see the crack in the rock from the alcove where we tied our boats, and, even when you are looking at it, you don’t know what to expect to find beyond.
Inside, a forty-meter long cavern, lined with what looks like flow rock, leads to a volcanically heated Sauna Cave, where temperatures can reach over 120 Fahrenheit. To me, this is the kind of thing only found in fantasy novels, like where Caitlin Stark might have gone to relax in Winterfell. This is what I had failed to find in Iceland at the Blue Lagoon’s ‘heated lava tubes’. To me, this is why I travel.
The sense of wonder I felt at the Sauna Cave continued through out next few stops along the shore. This entire area is awash with geologic sights and activity, rocks weep and hot springs flow. Exploring along the shore, we found a hot pool fed by a cool and a hot spring, so the temperature could be naturally regulated and passed a spot where the hot pools fit snuggly between two mammoth canyon walls.
(Check out more about the other awe-inspiring stops along our way on my “Top 5 Stops in Black Canyon”.)
It wasn’t until after our first couple stops that the wind really kicked up. Usually this route is calm enough to just about float all the way down, but that was not the case today. Our first time kayaker team, made up of a father and his 9 year-old son, fell behind, giving the rest of us more time for exploring along the waterline. To me that meant paddling down feeder canyons and into the small caves along the shore. I have always wanted to have the freedom to explore like this, and, while I didn’t find any mile long waterways to navigate, I did find a few caves that I could paddle into a bit; we’ll call this ‘light exploring’.
Back with the group, the dad and son team had been defeated by the wind. As I soon would learn, paddling a two-person kayak mostly by yourself is exhausting, and, with only four miles of the trip complete, the Dad could barely paddle himself anymore. I hopped into the two-person kayak with nine year-old Max and the guide hitched up my single to tow the Dad the rest of the trip, and we headed off again.
The most uplifting part of the trip was finding that despite the wind and the choppy water, Max was loving every minute of this trip, he was blown away by the Sauna Cave, amazed by some of the waterfalls, and most of all, was really enjoying kayaking. However, there was one caveat to his joy. Having been in “last place” the whole trip, Max desperately wanted to be in “first place” the rest of the way. So, with eight miles still ahead, I had volunteered to double my speed, participating in some marathon 100+ count ‘big paddle’ sessions whenever Max though we were slipping behind. It all paid off though when Max pointed out the first few big horned sheep we would see along the way.
With only a few stops left, and after a delicious sack lunch that was provided by Viator, our tour wound down, paddling by some historical sites from the early 20th strokes into a 90 count ‘big paddle’ session when our kayak pushed up on the sand. Exhausted but not beat, our group was already laughing about the trip by the time we grabbed a beer at the nearby marina. Listening to everyone recount their favorite stops, this was not just a trip that took me by surprise, everyone was blown away by Black Canyon.
Having seen some of what is hidden along the Black Canyon kayak trail, it’s no wonder this place is kept a secret, some of the natural formations along the way or the hot pools would be overrun if everyone knew about it. Today, Black Canyon is pristine and not very crowded at all. I highly recommend everyone interested look into taking a trip down through the canyon, it will be one of the most unique trips you’ll ever take.
(For more information about making the trip, check out my post “Tips for Kayaking Black Canyon”)