Beyond the valley’s glittering casinos and concrete congestion lies an emerald secret.
Winding between the Nevada and Arizona state lines, the Black Canyon Water Trail offers silence and solitude to visitors and local residents looking for an escape.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell gave a national designation to the 30-mile trail in June, making it the first nationally designated water trail in the Southwest and the first in the nation that traverses a desert. The trail encompasses a 30-mile portion of the Lower Colorado River and is now one of 16 national water trails.
“Unique” is the word Lake Mead spokeswoman Christie Vanover uses to describe it.
The Black Canyon trail begins at the base of Hoover Dam, where freshly filtered river water starts to swirl downstream.
The dam sifts out the silt, leaving the emerald green trail water crystal clear.
Because the dam is heavily guarded, access to the trail at that end is limited to guided tours, though kayakers and boaters coming from the other end, near Eldorado Canyon or Willow Beach, can paddle close to the dam.
From the loading dock at the base of the dam, visitors can peek down the massive spill tunnels at the bottom of the dam or peer up at the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge. On Thursday, people packed onto pontoon rafts and prepared to launch.
The wind that catches in the canyon and whips around each bend cools the air over the water trail. Shade from the cliffs provided relief from the sun.
Black Canyon’s primary season is summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
White Rock Canyon, which serves as the trailhead for on-foot access to Arizona Hot Spring, is a volcanic area. The hike takes about three hours each way, and in summer can dangerous. Last month, one man was found dead near the hot spring area and a woman who was believed to be hiking in the area is still missing.
The Black Canyon trail is a cooler and less strenuous alternative.
“We’re really stressing that if you want to access the Arizona Hot Spring in the summer, you really want to take the Black Canyon Water Trail to access it,” Vanover said. “It’s the easiest and safest way.”
The hot spring pools are in the heart of Black Canyon. Sheer, steep cliff faces jut up on either side of the river, home to a wide array of native wildlife.
Desert big horn sheep graze high above the river bank. Peregrine falcons glide through the sky. Ducks bob along in the wake of boats.
The land along the Black Canyon trail is free for camping. No permits are needed, though campers are limited to a 14-day stay at each campsite.
Willow Beach on the Arizona side of the river marks a decent halfway point, Vanover said. Continuing along the river leads to Eldorado Canyon, the end of the official trail. Families can start from Willow Beach too, and paddle upstream or downstream. Black Canyon access points are available on the trail’s website, blackcanyonwatertrail.org.
The water on the trail is fairly tame, said Izzy Collet, chairwoman of the Lower Colorado River Water Trail Alliance, so families with young children are welcome, though anyone under 18 is advised to wear a life jacket.
Collet said besides the scenery, the trail is rich with cultural history, calling the trail a “jewel.” Above the water, one can see remnants of catwalks and cable cars used by dam workers decades ago.
“There’s a lot to see and do,” Collet said Thursday. “It’s hot and dry outside, and this is just a little piece of paradise,” she said.
Contact Rachel Crosby at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5290. Find her on Twitter: @rachelacrosby.