Sunday, May 17, 2015

An Empty Desert Lake

The valley was green and brown, with signs proclaiming drought as we drove through California's Central Valley. Over the grapevine with the engine whining we crossed into Southern California where a controversy over water rights has raged for decades. As we turned east, chasing the distant lights of Las Vegas, pastel pink and periwinkle mountains rose out of the desert foreshadowing the beauty we were to find at Lake Mead.

We'd been warned not to visit Lake Mead this year. Water levels are at an all-time low, the lowest since the Hoover Dam was constructed and Lake Mead was formed by flooding the valley now hidden in its shifting waters. But we persisted, eager to get our sailing Hobie Cat kayak onto water. We envisioned sailing into tight canyons and seeing the southwest rock layers up close and personal.

Our boat, the Queen Bee, followed that yellow line from Temple Bar past The Temple, a large rock outcropping, through the somewhat narrow Virgin Canyon before coming to rest at a lovely sandbar just outside Hualapai Bay.
What we found was a massive lake, rimmed with colorful rocks showing the many levels the lake has rested at and then receded from over the years. The water lines resemble rings on a dirty bathtub, with invasive zebra mussel colonies hanging on for dear life twenty and more feet above the lake's surface. The tight twisty fingers we looked forward to floating in were dried up and instead looked like canyons rising out of the lake.

Enjoying the mesas and pretty clouds on a sunny day from the comfort of our boat.

In our three days on the lake, we saw just three other boaters, all in power boats speeding along in a hurry to get somewhere, I don't know where. One boat was piloted by a gentleman we'd met at Temple Bar when we were simultaneously launching our watercraft. He'd motored out into the lake to find us and make sure we were okay. We assured him we'd brought plenty of provisions and were self-sufficient, perhaps even better equipped than those back in the tiny outpost we'd left.

Our two nights of backcountry kayak-camping were superb. After sailing We set our camp up on a sheltered beach with lovely 360-degree views. Between our 4-man tent, our outdoor rug, our camp chairs and table set, our sun shelter and our doorstep swimming beach, it was like a private palace in the desert.

After sweeping aside some rocks and smoothing out the sand, we had a lovely foundation for our indoor/outdoor, sun-shaded, pop-up, backcountry cabin.

Our only visitors, apart from the concerned stranger, was a curious duck that swam by each evening. The first night as I lay comfy in our tent reading a novel, I heard an animal noise in the distance. It sounded like a howling coyote at first and I was very excited. Then the noise shifted to that of a donkey (wild burros are common at Lake Mead), before eventually revealing it's true source--a couple of lost cows calling out in anguish.

The sunset from our campsite was peaceful and placid, like we were the only people on the planet.

Our final sail started off with light winds and ended with gusts and water waves so strong that my entire cockpit filled up with water. The boat became a floating bathtub and I opted to sit on the trampolines and laugh like a hyena while the cold water pelted me and Josh sailed us back to dry land. It was an epic ending to our incredible adventure on Lake Mead.


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