Approximately 40 miles southeast from the dizzying lights and commotion of Las Vegas, the magnificent waters of the Colorado River feed into Lake Mead and shoot out beneath the Hoover Dam, parting a stark landscape of rugged, desert crags cutting into the sky.
The glistening emerald waters of the Colorado—the lifeline of the southwest—weave throughout this Martian terrain and carve out the majestic gorge known as Black Canyon. This designated water trail runs for 30 miles along the border of Nevada and Arizona and is a popular destination for recreation and solitude for locals and travelers alike.
A group of seven Southern Utah University adventurers found themselves on these waters on the weekend of Oct. 23. As cold weather harbingered the coming of winter in Cedar City, these students escaped into sunny skies and warm breezes for a 16-mile kayaking journey.
Launching from Willow Beach, the party was treated to sweeping canyon views and intimate passages as they passed caves, beaches and wildlife.
“Floating on the river in my kayak was one of the most peaceful experiences I have ever had,” said biology major Sarah Reynolds. “It made me forget about all my worries and made me happy to be alive.”
Several historic sites and natural wonders can be found along the water such as a small grotto that glows green in the afternoon sun known as Emerald Cave. Just beyond the cave stands an old gauging station along the canyon wall that was used from 1935-1938 to measure the levels of the river following the construction of the Hoover Dam.
Catwalks bolted into the cliffside and cable cars reaching across the canyon stretched all the way to this station from the gauger’s homesite—which can be visited just before Emerald Cave—largely intact, offering travelers a fascinating and unique glimpse into the past.
Eight miles upstream from Willow Beach, naturally heated water from the earth is pushed through faults and cracks in the rock and escapes into the Arizona Hot Spring. Nestled within a striking red slot canyon, the various heated pools reach temperatures of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and are accessible from the river by hiking through cascading trickles of warm mineral water and climbing a 20-foot ladder beside a waterfall.
“This weekend was full of endless amounts of mother nature’s gumdrops of joy,” said Brinly Harward, one of the trip leaders.
A sign near the mouth of the canyon relayed that visitors should not submerge their faces or splash in the hot spring water due to a rare amoeba Naeglaria Fowleri. Despite this danger, the student adventurers cautiously enjoyed the natural springs.
“My favorite part was the hot spring,” commented nutrition major Traver Tucker. “It added a little bit of danger.”
Danger soon led into calmness when the group returned from the hot spring to begin their downstream voyage to find suitable campsite for the night as the setting sun cast a warm, golden hue over the canyon and river.
“I really loved the peaceful ride after the hot spring,” noted pre-nursing major Megan Bruner.
As the company reflected on their day over dinner, a clear take away from the trip was that of overcoming difficulty and perseverance.
“One of my favorite parts about this trip was watching people get uncomfortable with things they haven’t had a lot of experience doing and then overcoming those discomforts and challenging themselves,” said trip leader Nicole Gramstad. “We ended up having an awesome time.”
Harward expressed her annoyance with fighting a strong recurring headwind during the day.
“I think the wind was the hardest part,” she said. “I was just so tired and didn’t want to keep going.”
Looking back, Reynolds recalls her anxiety towards the beginning of the trip. The 20-year-old student from West Valley City, Utah noted that she had only ever been on a river in a group with professional guides and this trip was a big deal for her.
“This was completely different for me. When you’re in the kayak, it’s just you. Your life is in your own hands in a body of water,” she said. “The thought of that just terrified me.”
SUU Outdoors’ trips offer students the opportunity to try their hand at new, exciting experiences and to break out of their comfort zone to discover new passions. Sign-ups for various excursions from backpacking to river-rafting are available at Basecamp in the Sharwan Smith Student Center.
“I had never been kayaking before, so this was all new to me. But eventually I got the hang of it and it became a very peaceful experience,” Reynolds added. “I believe this trip helped me build my confidence. I think it has made me want to experience more water activities, such as whitewater rafting,”
Sign-ups for both free Adventure Trips and paid Bigger, Badder, Radder trips open two Mondays before the trip date. SUU Outdoors also offers free weekly events through Local Events and Programming.
Article by: Jared Clawson
Photos by: Jared Clawson and Traver Tucker