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– Running the Arizona-Nevada border on the Black Canyon with the Tahoe SUP EXPLORE Team


It seemed impossible that this translucent green, vibrant ribbon of cold water could exist in

such a hot and arid landscape. But there it was. A river, deep and full of life, sculpting its way through towering desert canyon walls and cutting into the stone heart of this land for the last 5 million years.

Paddling up the river, it was easy to imagine myself as a member of an ancient civilization

that had lived along the river, heading to a favorite hunting or fishing spot, or a pioneer carrying pelts and furs to trade further up the river. Or perhaps I was one of the men who used this waterway as their daily commute to work on the construction of the Hoover Dam. But there is no evidence that standup paddling was part of those cultures and from the looks of some of the gaping stares we were getting from kayakers and people on raft tours SUP had been only recently introduced.

Our mission in the Black Canyon along the Colorado River was not as noble as my daydreaming would suggest. We were there to have fun. 3 days of fun. And in the first mile on the river the reality of how I got here was washing away.
A couple of hours ago, I had been standing on the Las Vegas strip, waiting for the final members of our small group of friends to arrive from places like Laguna Beach, Tahoe City and Austin, Texas. All of us would be seeing the Black Canyon for the first time.

The section of the river we would spend the next 3 days exploring is the 12 mile stretch from the Willow Beach put in, up to the restricted zone at the base of the Hoover Dam. The mellow, controlled flow is host to kayak, canoe and rafting tour outfits and the highlights and must see areas are well mapped and documented. I had not done any research about where we were going and it really added to my amazement about how remote we seemed to be in a one hour drive from Vegas.

In the true spirit of FUN we boat shuttled the bulk of our gear and supplies up to our campsite, so essential amenities like a grill, beer, guitars and horseshoes were waiting for us after a 7 mile upstream paddle. Upstream sounds daunting but with just a little river knowledge and the ability change gears through swifter water everyone was cruising right along.

Upon arrival at camp, just below Ringbolt Rapids, it became clear why this spot was chosen. Just behind our tents was the entrance to a dramatic slot canyon and the Arizona Hot Springs. A short hike into the winding canyon with warm running water reveals a 20 foot ladder up a waterfall. A hot spring waterfall! At the top begins a series of clear water pools that increase in temperature a few degrees each higher pool you climb into. The third one up was guessed to be about 105 degrees, right in everyone’s comfort zone.


We lounged and discussed the day, gazing up in amazement at the high canyon walls with just a sliver of sky viewable. “So, that’s why they call it a slot canyon”, I mumbled in all honesty. I mentioned that this was my first hot spring experience and I was quickly educated that not many are as clear and odorless as the Arizona Hot Springs. I also learned that it is possible to hike 3 miles into the springs from the closest road, but that hardly sounds as fun as the path we chose.

We spent the next 2 days pretty much like kids during recess, paddling our way further upstream and drifting back down to camp, exploring and looking for rocks to jump off. Someone would duck into a cave and yell, “hey check this out!”, or come across another hot spring. There were spots where you could literally stand on your board in the river and take a hot shower under water geothermally heated by the Earth’s crust. Boy Scout Canyon seemed to invite us in and we pulled the boards out of the water and climbed up to have some lunch to the soothing sounds of hot spring water cascading off the cliffs.

Small herds of desert bighorn sheep peered curiously from precarious outcroppings, either because they don’t see people standing on the river much or because of the presence of Stella, an Aussie/Boarder Collie, perched on the nose of a board.


The appropriately named Sauna Cave sits just below the Hoover Dam and if you ask me, more fascinating. Rumor is, (fact actually) that the tunnel was drilled by miners working on Hoover Dam looking for a diversion route for the river. They drilled into the hot spring and aborted the location. The pitch black, narrow tunnel extends about 30 yards underground and creeping back there with only your hand on the wall to guide you was like the best haunted house with the addition of shin deep, 105 degree water.  We had put a check on everything on the list and our little adventure was coming to an end. Between the desert heat and our excited, back and forth and up and down the river paddling for 3 days, it was time to call it good, raft the boards together and enjoy a nice drift back down the river. The Black Canyon may not have many secrets left to reveal or areas left unmapped, but it serves an important purpose. Sure, it was a blast to have nothing but time on our hands, a perfect amphibious environment to play in and the perfect standup boards to do it on. But because the Black Canyon has an easy level of accessibility and exposes a wide audience of people to its beauty, it stands a good chance of instilling visitors with the importance of preserving natural lands for future generations.

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