Las Vegas – living here or visiting – is not all about gambling. Here is the Frugal Princess report I promised you, about a Las Vegas ”Adventure” that takes you far away from smoky casinos and into a wonderful fresh-air world of nature.
(My remarks are in brackets.)
Black Canyon Tour
By Angela Sparks Howard
Steve and I are back to our routines in Columbus, GA, after recovering from our weeklong trip to Vegas. We agree that of all the trips to Vegas over the last 20 years, this trip was by far the best of the best. One of the many reasons for this pronouncement was our Colorado River Exploration Tour through the Black Canyon with my mom and step-dad Brad.
Our adventure began early one morning, and I must say that 8:30 a.m. is MUCH too early to arise in Vegas, especially for my mom who usually doesn’t “do mornings.” We were picked up at The Gold Coast, a handy spot since Steve and I were staying there and Mom and Brad live just a short drive away. After another pick-up on the Strip, off we headed out of town in a comfortable, cool van fully stocked with water and an entertaining driver. After about a 45-minute drive south on US 95 toward Laughlin, we entered the El Dorado Valley where our guide told us about a dormant organism that only comes alive when the dry lake area fills with rainwater, where we could see a 400-acre solar plant gleaming in the distance, and where we discovered the old town of Nelson, NV, with a total population of only 40. We saw no one on their porches or working in their gardens or even driving down to the one-road town. We city-dwellers had to wonder, “where is everyone, where do they work, and what do they do all day?” [I think it is a town of hermits!] Our guide told us an interesting story about a famous Indian in the early and the wild history of this area. The full story can be found here.
Just down the road and around the bend we pulled into the “town” of Techatticup Mine, population consisting of Tony and Bobbie Werly, their sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. Right away I wished I had my good camera with me because the whole town is a photographer’s dream backdrop. Hollywood thought so too because scenes from several movies were shot at the location, including 3000 Miles to Graceland starring Kevin Costner.
We had the opportunity to tour the “country store” and heard curious stories of the goldmine’s history. Our guide cleverly described the Werlys as organized hoarders, but thankfully that was the case since the store/museum was jammed packed with a fascinating inventory. At one point Steve asked if there were drinks to buy and Tony told him to check out the freezer. But when Steve opened the freezer expecting to see cold sodas or water, he immediately jumped about 3 feet off the floor because inside he was confronted with several rattlesnakes – frozen of course – but they looked very alive and dangerous! Now THAT was funny!
Next stop, a short walk from the Country Store, is the hidden entrance to the 500-foot gold mine which has been restored to allow visitors to enjoy the cool 70-degree-year-around temperatures. It was great to get out of the heat and really fun to be able to imagine the history that took place where we were walking. At one point the guide turned out the lights to demonstrate the “can’t see your hand in front of your face” effect. Very eerie! Here are more details than this blog allows.
Just another short drive down the road was the boat launch area. Warning – the walk from the parking area to the shore is a little rocky and difficult to maneuver for anyone who is not sure-footed. Surprisingly, our boat was not what we were expecting. We were imagining a white-water type raft, but since this was a very smooth “float” trip, we rode in a large boat with pontoons and a motor.
Once on board, the seats were so hot we couldn’t sit down without covering them with the hand towels provided by the tour guide. I was thankful for the more comfortable, larger beach towel which my mom had brought with her. At this point I understood how hot the day was going to get! I also realized that the boat would stay relatively dry and for the second time I wished I had brought my good camera! Luckily, cell phones take really great pictures now and also my husband brought his nice waterproof camera.
And off we floated…toward destinations unknown. The bright blue of the river against the red rocks of the desert was instantly breathtaking. We ate our lunches on the “raft” as we enjoyed the scenery. These were provided by Black Canyon Tours in a nice little insulated bag and included a wrap, bag of chips, an apple and a bottle of water. Soon we docked again at a rocky “beach,” and we were certainly ready to jump in the water and cool off! The water was refreshing and revitalizing and we enjoyed a short period of splashing around before getting back onto the boat.
The cool water was just a memory as we travelled down the river and really began to overheat. Temps were predicted around 105 degrees for the day, and with no shade on the open boat and the sun glaring down and reflected by the water it felt even hotter. Mom was fading fast, looking like she might be in danger of extreme heat exhaustion, but the guide was well-prepared for such emergencies with a bucket to collect river water which can be poured over your head to cool you down. [Angela seemed to enjoy giving me this “treatment” far too much!].
They also provided small washcloths kept wet with cool Colorado water for your head and neck – we looked like desert Arabs – so even those who wanted to stay dry soon found that keeping your clothes wet was the best way to stay comfortable. In fact, dumping water over each other added fun to the trip.
Despite the baking heat, the 12-mile float down the Colorado River was something I will never forget. The stark, simple beauty of the desert was breathtaking and unexpectedly serene. At times no one said anything and all we could hear was the drone of the boat motor. Every now and then the guide pointed out and named different bird species soaring overhead or landing near the boat to fish. We made one more stop on the shore closer to the marina and the dam. The guide warned us that the temperature of the water would be MUCH colder than down river so he teasingly told us to enter the water at our own risk. Well, we were all so hot that we took our chances and got into the water – cold or not. He was definitely right! The water was freezing, but just what we needed to cool off.
By the end of the trip, we were tired, ready to get out of the heat, have a drink and sit in an air-conditioned van. On the way “home” we stopped briefly at the top of the Hoover Dam for a photo opportunity. The drive over the Dam allowed a spectacular view of the new bridge that you really can’t appreciate when you are actually traveling on it – such an engineering marvel! I remember 25 years ago driving over the top of the Hoover Dam to get from Arizona to Nevada. You can’t do that anymore, but you can still enjoy the same views.
When we got home late that afternoon, we were all SO exhausted but with such happy memories. It definitely goes down in my book as one of the best experiences I have shared with my family!
Mom wanted me to mention that she was able to get the tour ½ off by taking advantage of a Groupon offer. [I find Groupon a good place to find bargains for things in Vegas I can’t get a comp for!]
My retired-but-always-a-Ranger husband wanted me to add a packing list if anyone else ever wanted to take this trip (translations listed if required):
- Bonnie Cap, cover, or patrol cap (sun hat or baseball cap)
- Canteen or Camelback for hydration (water bottles)
- Lickies and Chewies (snacks)
- Shower Shoes (flip-flops or water shoes)
- Swim suit under clothes (Note: No need to bring a change of clothes if you wear items that dry quickly).
[Finally, I would suggest that perhaps this trip might be a little more comfortable outside the very hottest Vegas months.]