Sitting in the hotel looking for a desert oasis to fix my river running withdrawal…

Last year at our company’s users’ conference I had some time to kill and thought “There must be a river around here.” As this year’s conference approached I began to research rivers in the area but there was nothing in the line of whitewater, so I figured a trip to Reno might be in order. Lack of water in the Truckee River was a non-start to this trip.

With Reno out of the picture and time running out to make plans I called “River Expeditions.” I found them on the web advertising an 11 mile trip down the Colorado that put in smack dab at the bottom of the Hoover Dam; how cool is that? Having never visited the dam before, I thought “What a great way to see it for the first time.” For around $175 dollars we had a guided trip down the river that included the river permit, a guide, a boat and a day’s worth of food.

Dan, our guide, picked my friend Pete and me up at the hotel with boats in tow and we were off to the launch site. It was critical that we had our driver’s license so we could get through security check points to gain access to the dam base without incident.

Once at the launch site, we began to unload our gear and it was then I noticed the length and weight of my touring kayak. My barge for the day was a 17 foot long Prijon with a rudder controlled by my feet; a shocking departure from my 6 foot Allstar.

Pete settled in to the boat immediately since controlling the rudder was similar to the techniques he uses when flying. I on the other hand never quite got the hang of it so I used my paddle to control the beast of a boat.

Paddling below the dam was awesome and there was one piece of information that was an eye opener: Dan informed us that sharpshooters were watching our every move. With that bit of information, we turned our river barges, a/k/a kayaks, downriver and began our journey through the rock walled gorge that lacked the greenery that one grows accustomed to in the southeast. The height of the gorge was incredible and as we made our way through we realized that if something were to happen it was going to be a long hike out.

As we made our way downriver our first stop was at the Sauna Tunnel. To gain access to the tunnel we beached the barges and walked up a narrow path to the entrance. The historical note here is that this was one of the initial diversion tunnels. These tunnels were built to divert the river enabling the dam to be built.

Once they got about 100 yards or so in they discovered a natural hot spring. With this they abandoned the tunnel and moved further up river to build the diversion tunnels that can still be seen today. The abandoned tunnel is now a walk-in sauna left for visitors like ourselves to experience.

Making our way through the tunnel the presence of a hot spring was never so evident. The air was hot and humid while our feet moved through ankle deep hot water. About 50 feet into the tunnel our guide discovered his flashlight was dead and for whatever reason none of us cared and continued to the end and then turned around and made our way out. The only thing to compare it to would be the tunnel ride on the Etowah, except on foot.

Once out, it was back out onto the river and into the 102 degree heat. Surprisingly the water was a cool, crisp 50 degrees. An occasional dip in the water was a quick way to cool off and enjoy the river. A few more stops at points of interest brought us to a hike through finger canyons to a hot spring – just what the doctor ordered on a hot September day in the desert! This was too cool! We found several pools of water and a natural shower powered by a 20 foot falls.

The day would bring us through many more natural wonders that included a few sightings of wildlife. Most of what we saw were various birds, mountain goats and fish.

The next major item of interest was the old gauge site where in the late 1920s the official gauge reader would go out and check the water level. We complain about the commute here in Atlanta – well this guy did not have to sit in bumper to bumper traffic but he did have to make a 2 mile hike each day to work.

The official reader had a home absolutely in the middle of nowhere and sat along side what was then a Class 5 river. He would leave his home and walk to the first crossing of the river via a cable and a small cart. From there he would walk along a “catwalk” that hugged the canyon wall for about a mile and then take another cable car to the gauge house.

This was a task he was to do daily to track the water level to determine where Hoover

Dam was to be built.

An interesting note is that when they first started building the damn they had to get barges up the Class 5 river. To do this, they affixed iron rods into the earth which were used to run ropes through to help pull the ferries upriver. Some of these iron loops still exist.

After the gauge it was the home stretch to the take out. One of the final features to see was one that Steve Reach would love. If any of you have paddled the Hiawassee with Steve, you know he loves to make the eddy in to the grotto. Well, on this river we had a little cave that you could pull in to and take a rest in before paddling the final 3 miles.

At the take out, we were exhausted and ready to grab a bite to eat and sleep! The one thing we knew as we pulled off the river was that we just had an awesome time.

It was not until the following night that I realized how amazing an opportunity this was. At our user’s conference we had Alastair Fothergill, the producer of “Planet Earth,”? as our keynote speaker. He shared excerpts along with stories from the making of the show. The overwhelming theme was that there are wild places out there that few have experienced and the objective was to share these places and wild things with us.

The other take away was, when possible, go experience these wild places but preserve their wonder and awe. It was then I realized what an opportunity we seized by paddling the previous day. True, anyone can sign up for the trip, but many do not because it is too much work, does not sound like fun or they feel it’s too “touristy.”

Through this trip we experienced the amazing variety and beauty of this plant that could not have been experience any other way. You can watch The Travel Channel, but it is not the same as doing it.

Next time in Vegas, avoid the guilt of loosing your life savings at the craps table and just go out and have a dam paddling adventure in the desert! If you’d like to see more pictures from the trip, please visit: http://

By Todd McGinnis

From The Eddy Line, January 2008