Sunday, November 02, 2014

Desert Day

On Friday, I didn't have to teach school because Nevada celebrated its annual Statehood Day. This was an extra special celebration since it has been 150 years that the Silver State joined the Union. Abraham Lincoln needed us to secure enough votes to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that would outlaw slavery in the United States.

So, while the parade to commemorate the Nevada Sesquicentennial (new word of the year for fourth grade)  marched through downtown Las Vegas, we went out to the desert and visited the Colorado River. Last spring, during Teacher Appreciation Week, I received a two-for-one offer to go on a raft trip that started at the base of Hoover Dam and went down river several miles through Black Canyon. So, CoolGuy and I decided this would be an excellent way to celebrate the founding of Nevada, and to enjoy a beautiful, calm fall day in the Mojave. Boy, were we right!

We rode a little bus down a hair-raising twisting and turning road that went down the canyon wall to the river side. It was originally created in the 1930's to get the workers down to the water where they first started on the dam, and it hasn't seen much improvement since. But, it is awesome (in the original meaning of the word) to stand down there at the edge of the placid river and look up, and up, and up to top of the canyon walls. Then, you look to the left and there is the historic face of Hoover Dam looming up into the sky. There is a new highway by-pass bridge that crosses the canyon just south of the dam to eliminate the need for traffic over the historic structure, and, seeing it from that view was also a mouth-gaping experience. I have endless respect for the people who built both of those structures!

We had a fabulous time! During fall, the river is at its lowest, so this is not a fast-water, rapids-type of river cruise. In fact, a couple of times, we actually scraped the rocks on the bottom as our guide carefully maneuvered the craft through some delicate places. The water is so clear at that part of the river (because the silt is behind the dam) that we could see fish swimming, and the underwater plants swaying in the current. There were cormorants nesting along the canyon walls, and flying overhead, looking for dinner. We saw mallards and a pair of blue herons, and heard the warbling of wrens. But mostly we just gaped at the canyon walls and the astounding geology all around us.

The guide was well versed in explaining the interesting details about various rock formations and the little canyons that split through the edges of the massive rock ledges surrounding us. He pointed out several caves created by sulphur hot springs that came from inside the volcanic formations we passed through. It is really rather jarring to be there in this stark environment and then come upon a cave carved through the stone, with the ceiling and walls of the cave completely covered in maiden hair fern. The startling green surrounded by the red rock is so beautiful. Also, there are the barrel cacti dotting the walls that seem to sprout directly from the stoney surface. The desert is filled with life! But you have to be tough to live here.

We were not treated to any big horn sheep on this trip, and usually they see several, so we stopped off at the city park on the outskirts of Boulder City and admired the herd of 20-25 that hang out there on the grass around the tennis courts. In the evenings, they head back up into the mountains where they are protected by their ability to stand on the tiniest ledges imaginable and keep an eye out for predators. But during the day, hey--back to the shady park with the nice green grass that the people provide for us.

The river trip was fantastic--it included lunch on a sandy beach where we pulled in to take a little rest. Then, we boarded the pontoon boat for the rest of the ride down to a campground/picnic area on the Arizona side called Willow Beach. This is definitely a future Grandma Camp adventure! Our fellow passengers were from England, Sweden, Wisconsin, Las Vegas and Arizona. Just wear plenty of sunscreen, drink lots of water, wear your wet towel around  your neck and you'll have a great day, too.

 Hoover Dam, from the side of the river.

 The new by-pass bridge almost dwarfs the amazing dam structure. 

Here's CoolGuy standing on the Nevada bank of the Colorado River.

We walked down to the boats from the parking spot.

 It didn't take long to leave the dam behind.These passengers were from Sweden.
And, yes, they were wearing sunscreen. They told us how much they loved being in the sun.

I got completely absorbed after this, and forgot to take anymore photos. I was mostly using my binoculars to look at bird nests, and rock formations. The weather was very pleasant--it was around 75-80 degrees. We were completely comfortable, especially when we took advantage of the damp hand towels offered by the guide. We draped them around our necks and that cooled us down perfectly. The Colorado River water is about 55 degrees, so that's where we moistened the towels. You could sit on the edge of the pontoon and dangle a foot in the water, if you wanted, too. Next time you come to Las Vegas, you ought to consider doing this trip. I knew it would be pretty good, but it far exceeded my expectations for serenity and beauty and just really fine immersion in nature.