“We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls ride over the river, we know not. Ah, well! we may conjecture many things.”
- John Wesley Powell, from "The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons"
The spectacularly clear water of the Colorado River
The Mississippi River may be the longest and most well-known river of America, but the running the Colorado River is a far more daring affair. Seven National Parks and several other smaller monuments preserve this 1,450 mile (2,333km) long river. If national parks are any measure of grandeur, the Colorado River is the most grand natural feature in the country. Recently, I was able to kayak about 40 miles (64km) up and down a beautiful section of the river known as Topock Gorge. Its certainly not as massive as the Grand Canyon, but it is just as gorgeous.
Map of the Topock Gorge

How I ended up in the Topock Gorge and Lake Havasu

I heard about the Topock Gorge through a Las Vegas old-timer that I met in Red Rock Canyon. I sensed that he knew a thing or two about some of the better adventures around this part of the country. We talked a while and found out that both of us had pretty much done all the things to be done in the area, but he did mention the Topock Gorge. Great birding and kayaking was what I heard! About a month later, I managed to scrape up two days of off time and headed east from Los Angeles.
A simpler way to travel
I found a guy in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, who rented me a touring kayak for 40$ (great price for two days on a good kayak) and he dropped me off at Castle Rock north of the city. From here, I cast off and headed upriver upon the Great Colorado!

This trip was my first time really on the Colorado river so there were many things that I did not anticipate or expect. Towards Lake Havasu, the river is much more like an estuary than a river. There are multitudes of reeded islands and temporary sandbars. It was actually quite difficult to navigate; there's little current and many islands which can cause confusion. As I paddled further up river, the banks became closer together.
From the bow
Through the Devil's Elbow
As the river narrowed, I pushed further and further into an area of complete wilderness. This gave me a great sense of serenity and joy. I was the only one out on this section of the river so I felt like an explorer. In a sense, I was; I could find no real maps of the area and was going off of a brochure! Obviously its difficult to get lost on a river, but the feeling of total solitude among a strange land of natural arches, building-sized sand dunes, and an epic river made the trip like a modern-day "Huckleberry Finn" story.

After about 10 miles of paddling upriver, I hit a section called "The Devil's Elbow". This section is most certainly one of the most beautiful sections of the Colorado. A "Grand" canyon is created here with walls that are hundreds of feet high. I hit this section right at sunset so the appenglow created a heavenly picture. The water was emerald-green and I could hear the sounds of hundreds of waterfowl who seemed to be enjoying the river as much as I was. It was almost saddening to leave this section.
Yes, it feels like that!
Camping and Onward to the I-40 Bridge

I pushed on for another 3 miles and the stronger current slowed my pace. Fortunately, a nice sandbar was formed on an island which made for a perfect campsite. So there I was, camped under a billion stars, cooking up dinner, drinking beer and listening to the distant howl of Arizona coyotes. I confess I howled back at them; "This is California Joe, all's well on this side of the river!" Who cares if it was silly? Nobody else will hear!

The next morning was just as glorious. I set off at sunrise as the river's current picked up. I was trying to make it up to the I-40 bridge which would make my paddle upriver 15 miles long. It was grueling to paddle that last 2 miles. The current was not rough, but it was fast. I navigated towards the shore where it was lighter and finally made it to the I-40 bridge.
The Interstate-40 bridge between California and Arizona
Riding the Current Down to Lake Havasu

I believe the current was strong due to water being released upriver and this current carried me all the way down to Lake Havasu. The  second day of kayaking was not much work at all! Half the time I was simply steering with the rudder without paddling. What was more notable was hitting the Devil's Elbow once again. It was noon-day when I entered this section and the water was a brilliant emerald green. I simply had to stop to take it all in.
I don't mean to wax poetic in a blog that's supposed to be a guide, but it was a supernatural experience to be kayaking on the Colorado River. The natural beauty of the desert and the river was breathtaking to say the least and I simply had to stop and enjoy this glorious creation. As I paddled down, I found myself doing quite a bit of praying and meditating. It wasn't necessarily on scripture, but I was just being thankful to God for such a gorgeous place and that I could make it down here for two days. (end waxing poetic!)

Eventually, the current dropped me off in a very windy Lake Havasu. The guy said he'd pick me up wherever I happened to be at 4:00PM. There was an extreme amount of wind on the Lake so I was able to make it down another 10 miles. Lake Havasu is very cosmopolitan and "touristy" compared to what I just paddled but pretty nevertheless. The famous "London Bridge" crosses part of the lake onto a man made island. This is the actual London Bridge that at one point crossed the River Thames! In the 1960's when the old bridge was replaced, the founder of Lake Havasu City literally bought the bridge and shipped it over from the U.K. piece by piece to a most unlikely location deep in the Mojave Desert. How strange!
Windy day on Lake Havasu
Thus, my epic trip on the Colorado river ended unceremoniously on a city beach full of old Midwestern retirees escaping the Feburary winter doldrums. It was a grand trip through a grand river and I will return soon. I drove off into the sunset to return to my humble abode in Orange County, happy that I'd taken my chances on the Colorado River!

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