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White Rock Canyon attractions make fine day trip

Historic Ringbolt Rapids and nearby Arizona Hot Springs, at the end of White Rock Canyon in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, make fine destinations for a daylong, cool-season outing.

These attractions on the Arizona side of the Colorado River are accessible only by trail or from the water. To reach the area, follow U.S. Highway 93 to the Nevada-Arizona border at the bypass bridge just south of Hoover Dam. Continue south on U.S. 93 about 3½ miles beyond the bridge. The trailhead is at a parking area that was enlarged and paved as part of the bypass project. If you reach the turnoff to Willow Beach, you have gone too far.

The 3-mile trail descends into a wide wash that soon narrows into White Rock Canyon, from the highway to the river, the trail drops 800 feet in elevation, an easy stroll on gravel on the way down. There is no safe drinking water along the way, so carry at least a gallon per person. Pack a lunch and snacks. Dress in layers and wear sunblock. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.

Flash flooding carries white boulders and gravel into the canyon, which twists toward the river through dark volcanic stone. In some places only a few feet separate the canyon walls, putting the canyon bottom always in shadow. Don’t make this trip if skies are threatening, as the canyon is no place to be during a flood.

The trail reveals a wide variety of desert plants, cactuses and even a few wildlfowers. Warm-water seeps along the base of the cliffs create several miniature gardens, brightening the otherwise austere landscape. Sandy places record the overnight travels of many desert creatures, such as bighorn sheep, coyotes, rabbits, reptiles and birds.

The canyon widens to dramatic views of the river coursing through Black Canyon. Now deeper and wider in the upper reaches of Lake Mohave, the site was once a series of frothing rapids, a serious hindrance to navigation during a colorful period when steamboats plied the Colorado River in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To help steamers fight their way through the rapids, huge ringbolts were sunk into the stone walls channeling the river. Boat crews strung hawsers through the rings, which enabled them to use their steam power on the rope lines to pull themselves upstream. A few ringbolts can still be seen near the canyon’s mouth.

Hikers pausing for a trail lunch enjoy watching the river traffic. It is a far busier place today than in the steamboat era, with pontoon rafts, kayaks, fishing boats and pleasure craft of all sizes traveling along the Colorado. Nearby Arizona Hot Springs is a big draw, the most popular of several hot springs accessible along the river. Many boats pull into a cove about a quarter of a mile south of White Rock Canyon to reach these springs. Visitors using White Rock Canyon Trail head south along the river and over a ridge to reach the cove.

The hot springs are in a colorful slot canyon that creates the inlet. The springs feed a small stream with cascades, falls and pools augmented by sandbags to make them deep enough to wade and sit in. A metal ladder must be scaled to reach the upper portion. The higher up you go, the hotter the water. Posted warning alert visitors to the possible presence of a lethal amoeba, naegleria fowleri, which enters the body through the nose. Enjoy the hot springs for rinsing off trail dust, soaking and relaxing; just don’t get your face in the water.

The White Rock Canyon Trail should take about five hours round-trip, including time spent at Arizona Hot Springs.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.

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