By Gregg Martin, Durango, Colorado, Spring 2019
A River-Runner’s Log To Selected Portions Of The Lower Colorado River
This log has been prepared from personal experience running all of the navigable sections of the Lower Colorado River from Grand Junction, Colorado to Yuma, Arizona. Although volumes could be written to describe this nearly 1030-mile section of glorious river, I have attempted to keep this fairly condensed and concise to make it more user-friendly for river runners actually desiring to run all or only a portion of this waterway.
The obvious exclusions from this write-up are the large bodies of well-documented lakes that intersperse the more mysterious actual “river” sections of the river. I have not gone into much detail concerning navigating Lake Mohave and Lake Havasu and even less for Lake Powell and Lake Mead. I found these largely to be nose-to-the-grindstone, knock-out-the-miles endeavors where one basically attempts to avoid foul weather (especially headwinds and lightening storms) and avoid confrontations with power boats. While each of these bodies of water are immensely beautiful unto themselves, passage is actually quite straight forward and true logistics are minimal (except for shuttles).
For many of us growing up in southern California in the late-1950’s and early-1960’s there was the beginning of a phenomena that began in a modest way and then exploded. That phenomenon began with the Friday afternoon ritual of loading into your car with all of the camping gear and food that one could muster and then racing across the state to that body of water situated between (then) Squaw Dam to the south and Parker Dam to the north. This section of the Colorado River was bordered on the west by California and the east by Arizona. Known simply as “The River,” this 11-mile long stretch of water was surrounded by desert and isolated from anything resembling civilization. The River became a playground for all of the fun seekers from southern California looking for speed, excitement and the unexpected. Nearly void of rules in the early days, The River enjoyed near autonomy from the law due to its dual statehood status as well as a majority of its existence being on Indian reservation lands.
THE EARLY YEARS
Some of my earliest memories were of “The River.” I explicitly recall my father’s first water ski boat, a Nixon hull with a 50-HP Evinrude engine. We took that boat to The River almost every weekend since I was in kindergarten (1959).
The place where we stayed during the early years was a trailer park on the California side, just up the road from the town of Earp, “Palm Beach.” This facility consisted of numerous single-wide mobile homes situated in rows staged just back from the water, a small store and a strip of beach lined with boats of every shape and size. Horsepower was king on The River, and as the years progressed these boats had the fastest and most powerful engines of their time.
I don’t know what prompted the question…..but one day I simply asked my father what was down The River, past where we boating? The response was “I don’t know,” but the effect that it had on me was huge: I had to know what was on the other side of the dam….down The River; and up The River too!
My wife, daughter, son and I moved to Durango, Colorado in 1992 following an RV trip through the area the prior summer on a family vacation. Having grown up at the beach as an avid surfer, I gravitated towards kayaking soon after moving. Through kayaking I met some of the most talented and fun people around. Together we paddled nearly every stretch of whitewater in the greater Four Corners region. As with any resort town, friends came and went, but I continued to paddle and explore and take advantage of all of the opportunities that came with that.
I will not reiterate the details of every whitewater run in this area, most notably my Colorado River Cataract Canyon and Grand Canyon trips; those have been covered extensively elsewhere in river literature. However, some of the lesser known and lesser documented sections of the Colorado River are true gems unto themselves, if not for their difficulty but for their sheer remoteness and intrinsic solitude and beauty. This then is my effort to explore those other portions of “The River,” upstream and downstream of where I spent so many of my childhood years.
Here is my recounting of running the Colorado River from Grand Junction, Colorado to just above the Mexican border in Arizona. By way of clarification, these adventures took place over numerous trips. The ones with detailed distance and time inclusions (i.e., Jackass Canyon to Potash 19.8 miles, 2:43 hrs.) were done most recently, the data having been recorded via a Garmin inReach EXPLORER+. Other references to distances are all approximate, mostly derived from various guide books, maps, etc. Note that the conditions of this river corridor are constantly changing and there is no guarantee that one will again find things exactly as stated here. Note, too, this is how I did it; there are no representations as to whether any/all of this was permissible (dam crossings) or legal (tribal/private property issues).
As stated earlier, I will not go into much detail on the two major lakes that make up the greater Colorado River Basin: Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Suffice it to say that each of them is a very formidable body of water that demands the utmost respect, even though there are no real currents. Weather, particularly wind and squalls can be relentless, unforgiving and downright miserable! That being said, each of these lakes have extensive shorelines, majestic beauty, incredible history and the open invitation for further exploration.
As far as traversing these huge bodies of water, I have skied, wake-boarded, wake-surfed, paddle-boarded, wind-surfed, tubed, kayaked, ski-boated, house-boated and swam from one end of these lakes to the other multiple times. Each and every square inch of these lakes is special and I shall continue to enjoy them for as long as my body allows.
The river flows, it flows to the sea
Wherever that river goes that’s where I want to be
Flow river flow, let your waters wash down
Take me from this road to some other town
Grand Junction to Westwater Ranger Station
This 26.5-mile stretch of the Colorado River has become very popular in recent years; so much so that a permit is now required to run the Ruby/Horsethief Canyons. That being said, this area is still very beautiful and very worthwhile doing. Starting either at the Loma Boat Ramp or at the Rimrock Adventures put-in off Highway 340, this section is usually run with a one- or two-night stay over. Mee Corner in Ruby Canyon is a good first choice for camping, avoiding the potential crowds at the more popular Black Rocks area of Moore Bottom.
Some of the real treats of this section are the bald eagles perched high in the cottonwoods lining the river corridor and the vast accumulation of petroglyphs found scattered about in McDonald Canyon. Here one pokes around tamarisk-choked streambeds seeking out unmarked remnants from the Ancients in a surrounding that makes you feel as though they were placed only yesterday. Further upriver, Rattlesnake Canyon contains the second highest concentration of natural arches in one canyon of anywhere else in the U.S. besides Arches National Park. Also of interest is the designation on the rock wall off to the west about three-quarters of the way through this run announcing the state line between Colorado and Utah.
Probably sharing whitewater enthusiasts’ next highest billing only behind The Grand and Cataract, Westwater contains some of the most concentrated and fun whitewater on the Lower Colorado. Starting at the BLM’s Westwater Ranger Station and continuing to Cisco, this 17-mile, permit-only section contains no less than 11 named rapids (Class II through IV+), starting with the incredible surfing at “Little D” and continuing in fast succession to Marble Canyon, then Funnel, then Skull, then Sock-it-to-Me Rapids. Although very doable in one long day (depending on how much surfing you do), most people either camp midway down the run itself or simply at the put-in or take-out (both are usually a pretty good party during prime season).
Cisco Landing to Potash
The upper portion of this overall 61.7-mile section is inexplicably seldomly run. Although mostly void of whitewater until 4 miles above Sorrel Ranch, the 29.9 mile (4:57:56 hrs.) run down past the confluence with the Dolores River, under Dewey Bridge and past Hittle Bottom is very isolated and mostly in beautiful red rock country. The rapids above Sorrel Ranch are a handful in a touring kayak, but are doable nevertheless (a whitewater kayak or raft would be easier – but slow). Sorrel Ranch Resort makes for a great layover spot, as does Onion Creek Campground.
From Sorrel Ranch, down past the Big Bend/Jackass Canyon camping areas, under the Highway 163 bridge at Moab and on through King’s Bottom, the river traverses a multitude of wide, flat water sections as well as several clusters of nice whitewater (Class II through III, depending on water levels). The upper portion of this very popular section of the river constitutes what is generally considered “The Moab Day Run” (usually Hittle Bottom to approximately Big Bend). After Big Bend, wide stretches of river and more red rock cliffs abound as one passes the infamous mountain bikes venues of Poison Spider Portal, Amasa Back and Jackson Hole. Opposite the obvious abandoned river meander at Jackson Hole lies the boat ramp at Potash (Jackson Canyon to Potash 19.8 miles, 2:43:06 hrs.). This is the most common put-in for Cataract Canyon runs.
Cataract Canyon has it all: 95.5 miles of incredibly isolated river with intimidating Class III to Class V rapids (some of the largest rapids on the lower Colorado at high flow), awesome side-canyon hikes, the confluence with the Green River and everything else that makes a river run legendary.
Where else can you run an all-day shuttle that includes hoodads, Lake Powell and a private airplane where you can scout the rapids on the way back to your gear at the put-in?
Planning is critical for this run, in particular the return airplane from Hite to Moab and arranging for Executive Services to leave you a boat anchored in Gypsum Canyon for the long traverse out.
Needless to say, much has been written and You-Tubed on this segment of the river and I will therefore not expound any further at this time.
Glen Canyon Dam to Lee’s Crossing
This relatively short run is a must-do for anyone looking for great scenery in a relatively condensed segment of the Colorado River. I began this Upper Marble Canyon run via a lift from one of the several fishing guides that work this section. I was taken to the base of the enormous Glen Canyon Dam where I launched on river-right. Although I forgot to start my tracker until 1.3 miles into the 15-mile run, I completed the clocked 13.73 miles in 2:40:06. Along the way I encountered a submerged boat wreck, petroglyphs, seemingly endless red cliffs, deep, clear water and zillions of fish beneath my craft.
Lee’s Crossing to Diamond Creek Take-Out
Ask around and you’ll find that just about everyone in the greater Four Corners region has gone down the Grand Canyon to the Diamond Creek take-out in one form or another at least once; it’s almost as if it were a requirement for living in this area. That being said, similar to Cataract Canyon, I will not go into any detail about this section of the river other than say that this is an absolute must to do. Choose your group well, as that will greatly influence the quality of your trip!
Diamond Creek Take-Out to South Cove
This unheralded segment of the river has a little bit of everything: Class 6 rapids (1), Class 5 rapids (2) and Class 4’s (3) – Grand Canyon scale (Class III to Class IV normal scale). Jumping into the water here on Day1 was downright scary! Starting with a sleepless night because of constant train traffic immediately adjacent to the only hotel in town (they issue you ear plugs when you register) to the chaotic clamor of multiple commercial rafting trips dropping their customers to waiting buses, this place was nuts! I was not only the only person launching to go downstream from here, I was also the only solo, self-support kayaker launching here at all (the commercial guides would finish dropping their clients here then paddle down as a group to a less expensive ramp further down at Pearce Ferry to take-out).
I was leery of giving the keys to my rental van to the shuttle driver that I had hired (shoot, I wasn’t even supposed to take the vehicle off the pavement!). The long, rutted and dusty road (creek bed) to the put-in had made me antsy and the combination of all of the departing rafters, the Hualapai reservation rangers and the constant drone of the first rapid right at the launch (Class 4) were all quite unnerving. Under the inpatient stare of my shuttle driver, I crammed all of my gear into the 10’ Jackson Traverse kayak. Needless to say, it all fit in much easier when I had tried this at home. When completed, my entire rig weighted in at close to 150#. Considering that I had only spent a few days on the water so far that season (I launched in early April), I knew that this was going to be a trial-by-fire few days.
I got my sign-off from the ranger (I was issued a permit to “trespass”), said adieu to the shuttle driver, turned on my in-Reach tracker and got in my boat. Finally, I was on the water and heading down stream – it was beautiful, fun and so alive! I jammed the first rapid without a hitch and powered through most of the others with a combination of adrenalin and inertia from the heavy craft. I did get out of the boat to scout Double Fang, #232 (Class 6) and eat a quick lunch. I really wanted to get this challenge behind me as I knew it would dictate my attitude for the rest of the trip. I hit all of my queues just right and cleaned the infamous fangs near the end of the rapid in fine fashion, if I may say so myself. Because of the narrowness of the canyon down this stretch I had maintained a pretty fast pace and was knocking out the miles fairly readily. The scenery was spectacular, the water was beautiful and there was not another soul around. The first (and only) people that I saw that day were a group of guides down at Separation Rapid where they had already set up camp. I pulled over and chatted with them while I drank one of their beers and got their recommendations for campsites ahead. That day I traveled 24.8 miles in 6:00:56 hrs. to a beautiful (rocky) campsite on river-right, just around the bend from Separation Canyon.
That next day was a 24.9-mile effort down Granite Gorge in 5:39:47 hrs. that ended on river-left at a beautiful (sandy) campsite at the base of Columbine Falls. The horrible shame of this otherwise wonderful section of river was the “Apocalypse Now” show of constant (and I mean constant) helicopter activity from +/-MM255 to +/-MM260. This concession included a multitude of landing sites on river-left with countless people parading down to boats moored to docks then speeding up and down the narrow waterway. Curiously, they were apparently amused by my presence as I was repeatedly buzzed by their boats and photographed by the waving occupants – very obnoxious indeed.
Following a rainy night of sleep, I set off for what I anticipated to be the crux of this leg of the adventure: confronting Pearce Ferry Rapid. This river-wide rapid formed over the last decade as a result of falling water levels within Lake Mead because of years of drought. With the subject water elevation at 1085’ the underlying rock of the river bed resisted to yield to the flow of the river and instead formed a shelf in the midst of a hard-right turn of the river developing a rapid that is labeled in the literature as an “unrunnable monster.” I decided to exit my boat as far up river as possible to start my scout, since I had received conflicting info from my various sources whether to portage river-right or river-left. I ditched my boat at Pearce Ferry ramp and made the lengthy walk. My stomach began feeling queasy the further I went as I came closer and closer to the conflagration. Suddenly I came out of the shrubs and saw the most terrifying stretch of water I had seen yet! I was mesmerized as I studied it; then questioned how I was going to get around it (turning back was clearly not an option)? I spent an hour walking every bit of my chosen (river-left) route – ferrying to river-right above the rapid would have been a scary proposition, and the debris cliffs over there did really not look passable. I retrieved my boat and continued with what eventually became a two-hour portage. I alternately wheeled and drug my loaded boat along the cliff and then belayed it carefully down to the water’s edge just past the rapid with my throw bag rope. I then entered the churning water and set off down the river again.
I really was not sure what lay ahead; the ranger at Peach Springs said he did not know what was between Pearce Ferry Ramp and South Cove Ramp. He said that he had heard that there were possibly more rapids down there, but that he had never boated that section and that it was basically unpatrolled. Internet searches referenced several sporadic features based on Lake Mead water elevations and flows of the Colorado. The exact locations were a bit vague, but they were given the names Devil’s Cove Rapid and Burro Springs Rapid. Although I never hit another rapid, I did encounter significant “swirlies” that were indicative of submerged features. These would have been inconsequential in a raft, but in a kayak, they were somewhat unnerving. Another persistent phenomenon that I had to deal with was anticipating when the unconsolidated sediment cliffs that I judged to be about 30’to 50’ over my head would periodically collapse and spall into the water. This action set off large waves across the narrow channel and huge plumes of dust within the passage way. I zig-zagged my entire time down this section to avoid being hit by either the columns of dirt or capsized by their resultant waves
I eventually paddled out of the sinuous river path and into the open waters of Lake Mead. The water instantly turned from brown to deep blue. I completed this 25.91-mile section of the river down to South Cove in 8:09:01 hrs. I rounded the point into South Cove, exhausted and expecting to find my shuttled car waiting there for me…..it wasn’t, but that’s another story.
Hoover Dam to London Bridge
Launching one’s boat at the base of Hoover Dam post-911 requires nearly the same government clearance as one needs to visit the White House. This process requires an advanced launch permit and providing proof of credentials to a shuttle driver in the parking lot of the Hoover Dam Lodge and Casino. A short drive later deposits one at the base of impressive Hoover Dam. This dam basically acts as a big valve that controls the generation of electricity for the adjacent power grid system. I launched into the clear, deep green water flowing at approximately 30,000 cfs and immediately clocked my speed at 8.7 MPH. Soon the dam was far behind me, I was alone and it was quiet except for occasional sight-seeing helicopters far over head.
The Black Canyon area is truly one of the most scenic portions of this entire segment of the river. With stark black walls rising up out of the water for nearly 2,000’ one feels miniature and inconsequential within such a vast desert/river system. Remnants from the dam-building days abound, most impressively the suspended wooden walkways secured to the rock walls high above the water’s surface. Although there are many side hikes one can pursue within this area, I chose to maintain a somewhat fast pace, anxious to confront the several reported rapids up ahead as well make it to a good campsite as far down river as I could.
The rapids themselves turned out to be no more that deep-seated swirlies that caused my loaded kayak to push and pull. Ringbolt (supposedly once one of the more formidable rapids on the Colorado before damming), Cross Current, Big Sand Bar and Indian Rapids all passed by without issue.
I blew by White Rock Canyon, Willow Beach, Windy Canyon and later Eldorado Canyon. Just opposite Nelson’s Landing I found an ideal sandy beach (+/-MM 316) to spend the night. I had traveled this 23.93 miles in 5:47:21 hrs.
The trek downriver from here was as beautiful as one can imagine. I passed the miles away at a fair pace without any boats, helicopters or other signs of civilization, eventually reaching the entrance to Cottonwood Valley. Here the landscape slowly faded to flat and the river became an expansive body of nothing but open water, Lake Mohave. I paddled along until I got to Cottonwood Cove, a modest marina that looked interesting. Inside I found houseboats, docks, a long launch ramp and what appeared to be a small establishment up on the bluff. Here I discovered a delicious ice cream selection, lots of ice and various other treats that I could not avoid. I hung out and chatted with some of the locals sitting out front (“You came from where?” “You’re going to where??”). I eventually paddled off onto the glass-like surface of Lake Mohave, making exceptional time; not a soul in sight. As the light began to fade, I found another outrageous beach tucked into a small cove on the right shore that made for a great camping spot (+/-MM291). I had traveled this 25.29 miles in 7:06:46 hrs.
I got going very early the next morning since the weather had turned somewhat adverse and I knew I had a sizeable stretch ahead to reach Davis Dam and then a dreaded portage. I crossed back and forth across the channel trying to avoid the shifting, swirling winds. Eventually I passed by Katherine’s Landing and around a last bend in the river, the unmistakable sight of a large concrete structure, Davis Dam. As damn crossings go, this one was more of a strength contest than a logistics contest. The closer I got, the more convinced I was that the far river-right embankment would be the most doable (?). This segment of the dam was actually just a very tall pile of very large rocks. Getting out of my boat, I summited the crest, surveyed a path back down to the river on the other side and then tied off my throw rope to some fencing. From there I alternately pushed and pulled my loaded kayak to the top, strapped on my wheel assembly and descended to the river. Looking back up at the dam from the other side revealed how large it actually was. The put-in at Sportsman Park was fairly easy, after a bit of poking around in the cattails. I ferried across to river-left, dodging jet skis, power boats and tour cruises. Although a significant step back from my previous, beautiful campsites, with evening fast approaching, I decided to overnight at Davis Camp (at least the showers were warm). I had traveled this 16.31 miles in 6:46:13 hrs. I fell asleep that night watching the shimmering lights of the Laughlin casinos on the opposite river bank.
My travels down from the Davis Dam area was at a fast (11.2 MPH), early-morning, high release (18,000 cfs) pace past first towering, mega casinos, then luxurious waterfront homes and finally the complete desolation of the greater Mohave Valley. The mellowness of this lower section was quite a treat after the chaos I experienced near Laughlin the day before. Since everything up to this point looked like private property, I decided to spend this next night near Needles. I covered this 29.1 miles in 5:11:40 hrs.
Departing Needles was almost as decluttering as leaving Laughlin. After playing chicken (not my idea) with several high-speed cigarette boats, I eventually crossed under the bridge at interstate 40 and entered the magnificent Topock Gorge and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. This stretch of the river was incredibly impressive, beautiful and empty. I slowed down my pace and took in all of the wonderful sounds of creatures overhead and along the shoreline – unbelievable! This mesmerizing stretch of river went on and on, each bend of the river more beautiful than the one before. Eventually the landscape began to flatten out, the river’s current came to a halt and I entered the massive Lake Havasu. Sand bars abounded and navigation was tricky as the wind began to pick up. Then an experience I had never witnessed before took place: the stiff winds shifted to out of the north and I was suddenly propelled by a strong tail-wind downstream, surfing wind waves as I guided my boat towards my next destination, London Bridge at Havasu City. It was tricky to stay square, but I covered a lot of this expansive lake in a hurry!
My goal for the day was soon within sight as I entered the congested mess. There was the juxtaposed British landmark out in the middle of the Lower Colorado River basin. I navigated between nitro-powered jet skis (I inadvertently crossed their course just when the next race began), tour boats and every other fashion of floating apparatus one can imagine. Camping on Treasure Island was a sensory overload: fast, loud boats, louder music, bars, people and every sort of distraction that one has been denied since embarking on this journey. This is a good re-stocking point and the people watching was second to none. I had traveled this 33.56 miles in 6:31:24 hrs.
Moon river wider than a mile
I’m crossing you in style someday
Old dream maker, you heartbreaker
Wherever you’re goin’ I’m goin’ your way
London Bridge to Headgate Rock Dam
Lake Havasu from Havasu City to Parker Dam is an approximately 20.5-mile open-water paddle past such famous hang-outs as Copper Canyon, Black Meadow Landing and Cattail Cove. Visible before Havasu Springs Resort, the obvious portage of Parker Dam rises up from the Lake to the left of the dam, a steep, public launch ramp. Once one clears this rise, the walk is relatively easy (although somewhat long) past the dam and down to the river on the other side (choose your re-entry point carefully as most of the land here is private property).
This is the infamous “Parker Strip,” complete with numerous bars, mobile home parks and lots of very fast boats. The best burgers on the Strip are at a floating bar called “Fox’s.” This is a relic from at least the early-60’s that attracts a large following of bikini-clad gals and sleek power boats.
Camping can be simply pulling up on the shore at the Buckskin Mountain State Park, La Paz County Park or going all out and staying at the casino/hotel of Blue Water Marina. I opted instead to stay at the Wheel-Er Inn, 1.3 miles downstream from Headgate Rock Dam (formerly Squaw Dam) on the California side. This modest RV/camping site is impeccably clean and exceptionally well-run and friendly. I stayed right down by the water and nearly had the place to myself.
The portage of Headgate Rock Dam is a lengthy, river-left affair best accomplished through Blue Water Marina and the paved road that allows one to launch just downstream from the large mobile home park. Unfortunately, private property, government property and a large irrigation canal all make for formidable obstacles to attempt the alternatives (??).
Headgate Rock Dam to the Mexican Border
Similar to the releases at Hoover Dam fluctuating based on electricity requirements, I entered the water here at +/-20,000 cfs and immediately reached a boat speed of 10.1 MPH. Although there were periodic houses along both shorelines, this section of the river had a very remote feel to it, more and more the further one traveled. The river channel was fairly wide with beautifully clear, fast-moving water; unlike up on the Parker Strip, there was nobody around. I eventually came to a small trailer park called Lost Lakes Resort where I got out and ate lunch. The place was basically empty, other than a Spanish-speaking grounds keeper who I chatted with briefly. I then continued my journey until early evening when I stopped at another trailer park called Twin Palms. I pulled up on the shore and went exploring, only to find that there was nobody around. I did find a plug to charge my phone, but that was it. All of the trailers there were in various stages of dilapidation, with fallen curtains, wind-torn siding and trash blown about everywhere. My best finding was a trailer with a very extensive gnome collection in the yard. These weathered relics looked like they had experienced countless harsh summers beneath the relentless desert sun. I decided to set up camp down by the shore. I had traveled this 34.52 miles in 5:53:52 hrs.
My next day began with another beautiful stretch of isolated water to paddle. I enjoyed the deep-throated croaks of invisible frogs on the shores and thousands of birds overhead. My lackadaisical morning came to an abrupt halt when I spied a massive concrete wall running from bank to bank, Palo Verde Dam. Seeing no signage for direction, I surveyed my options for portaging the closer I got. As the right side did not look doable, I cautiously approached on the left and eventually was able to dock my boat. I got out and started to look around the deserted surroundings only to realize that I was within a barbed wire enclosed area. Not wanting to get harassed, I hurriedly retreated to my boat and paddled back upstream until I was at a place that looked more public. This location looked like a trash dump where the only debris were beer bottles and cans (a locals-only fishing spot, no doubt). I picked my way through the mess and began a long, hot and dusty trek inland until some of the shrubs parted enough to allow me passage. I struggled to pull the wheeled boat through deep, fine sand, eventually reaching the river again after about an hour. I downed some food and re-entered my boat, happy to be on the water again (+/-7000 cfs). Eventually, more and more houses became visible as I approached the thriving metropolis of Blythe. Burned-out from the portage, I decided to get a cold beer, camp for the evening and regroup in the morning. I had traveled this 20.51 miles in 3:31:44 hrs.
Departing Blythe rapidly led back to beautiful, remote stretches of the river. I occasionally encountered off-the-grid hermit hovels along the river banks with cheerful waves from their inhabitant or two – true river dwellers. It was nice to not have to think about another portage that day….just make some miles and take in the scenery of the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge. I ended this day at what I can only describe as a run-down, primitive fishing camp known as Walter’s Camp. Located a mile or so up a former river channel, this hot, dusty relic of days gone by was a challenge to stay at. The manager was a very unfriendly recluse who did not have time to tell you where you could camp, only that there were no plugs available to charge phones, GPS, etc. (my solar panels had failed and I had exhausted all of my batteries – and he was right, he had removed every “public” wall plug in the entire complex). Needless to say, I’d be happy to be leaving that next day. I had traveled this 31.13 miles in 7:46:40 hrs.
Goodbye Walter’s Camp! The river now became more and more remote; more frogs, more birds, no people. I passed through the beautiful Picacho State Recreation Area and all of its massive red rocks, deep green foliage and numerous side channels. This was truly an undiscovered gem. Eventually I entered an area called the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge and into the Ferguson and Martinez Lake areas. Although heavily populated with a significant number of sand bars, this was also a very popular place with the speed boating crowd – not a good mix. The popular activity was to beach one’s boat on a sand bar, place large speakers on the boat’s deck and wade in the water and drink. Departing boats often found the less obvious sand bars and subsequently sheared off their props. Needing a place to overnight, I paddled into the marina at Martinez Lake. Again, another crapped-out dump from yester-year that had no shade, overflowing toilets and rude people. I did get a good taco and margarita, but was awakened at one in the morning first by donkeys, then by very drunk bar patrons on ATV’s chasing the donkeys through the camping area – what a dive!! I had traveled this 32.68 miles in 8:18:35 hrs.
I departed this wreck of a place early, knowing I had two significant portages ahead. I came to Imperial Dam first, its DANGER – STAY CLEAR lettering an ominous warning. I paddled far left, over to a sandy beach where I could survey my route. I ended up by doing a long circumnavigation of the dam and its downstream canals, eventually ending up back to what remained of the river. I had to belay my boat down to the water through thick brush on a crumbling debris bank, all under the watchful eye of a couple of bass fishermen who later thoughtfully asked me where I had come from and what was I doing?
The river now had no flow left to it whatsoever; the channel was very narrow and choked with dense shrubs. I paddled through a somewhat blind set of waterways, picking my way as I went. Eventually the path widened and I was able to make out my next challenge: Laguna Dam. I avoided the duct leading to it by beaching to the left, then scrambling through old dam construction materials (?) and heading back to the water. I had to bushwhack through heavy bamboo and other shrubs just downstream from an impressive spillway. I reentered the now swirling water and began paddling again. On and on I went as the current eventually disappeared and the water became slack (+/-500 cfs). I had a few quite humorous moments during what became my final miles of paddling: joking with drunken soldiers from the nearby bootcamp splashing around in the warm water, surprising skinny-dipping couples thinking they were the only ones out there and all sorts of families out picnicking for the day. I crossed under the bridge into Yuma, having traveled this last 31.12 miles in 8:24 hrs. I decided to beach my boat at that point as soon I would have entered a section of the river that alternately was USA then Mexico. The bass fishermen that I previously met said that they had recently been shot at fishing in that area. After dodging the drunk ATV’ers the night before, I decided to hold off on that for now!
That pretty much concluded my traverse of the Colorado River (for now). This river is truly a very special body of water, one connecting so many incredible experiences. I can now unequivocally say that I know what is up the river, down the river and on the other side of the dam. Although my father passed away this last summer at 95 years old (RIP 8/24/18), I’m thankful that he was there when I paddled into Yuma and that I was able to share some of this with him all these years later!
Songs of the River (things you think about when you’re paddling alone for long hours)
*Take Me To The River, The Talking Heads
*Down By The River, Neil Young
*Moon River, Frank Sinatra
*Proud Mary + Green River, Credence Clearwater Revival
*The River, Bruce Springsteen
*The Ballad of Easy Rider, Roger McGuinn
*Love That Dirty Water, The Standels
*Whiskey River, Willey Nelson
*I Cried A River Over You, Joe Cocker
*Dagger RPM whitewater kayak: Grand Canyon (Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek), Cataract Canyon (Potash to Lake Powell), Westwater Canyon (to Cisco), Sorrel Ranch to Big Bend (Moab)
*Maravia 16’ self-bailing raft: Horsethief/Ruby Canyons
*Wilderness Systems 17’ Tsunami kayak: Hoover Dam to London Bridge (Lake Mohave and Lake Havasu), Headgate Rock Dam to Yuma, Lake Mead, Lake Powell, Cisco to Sorrel Ranch, Big Bend to Potash
*Jackson 10’ Traverse kayak: Diamond Creek to Lake Mead, Glen Canyon Dam to Lee’s Ferry
*Garmin inReach Explorer+
*MotionX-GPS tracking program
*Belknap’s CANYONLANDS RIVER GUIDE
*RiverMap’s GUIDE TO THE COLORADO RIVER IN THE GRAND CANYON
*Aquamap’s ATLAS OF THE COLORADO RIVER
*Wolverine’s WHITEWATER OF THE SOUTHERN ROCKIES
*STAN JONES LAKE POWELL MAP
*Best campsite: +/-MM 316, above Lake Mohave
*Worst campsite: Fishers Landing, Lake Martinez, Arizona
*Best books-on-tape for running shuttle: Cadillac Desert and Monkey Wrench Gang
*Best idle time reading: The Emerald Mile and Glen Canyon, A Novel
*Best tacos: 19th Hole Bar & Grill, Needles, California
*Worst portage: Palo Verde Dam, Arizona
*Most abundant debris: Tires #1 and golf balls #2
*Most fish: Downstream from Glen Canyon Dam
*Best Rangers: Westwater Ranger Station, Utah
*Worst Rangers: Hall’s Crossing, Lake Powell, Utah
*Best River song: Take Me to The River