Dams, Downwinders, Casinos, and clear water: A Badfisher Self Support Journey on the Lower Colorado
-Written By Michael Tavares
Zack Hughes, Bradley Hilton, and myself set off for a 5 day 150 mile self support trip on the lower Colorado River (Hoover Dam to Parker Dam) in early November. We needed a self support adventure, a good paddling beat down, and one final long SUP trip before the long winter of the west set in. We settled on the lower Colorado River section for a couple reasons. First off, the long body of the Colorado that exits the Hoover Dam is relatively unimpeded (with one large portage) as it snakes its way through human altered riverbeds until it reaches the tail end of lake Havasu (parker Dam). This means easy paddling and a great place to get in as many miles as possible in 5 days. Secondly, it’s one of the sections of the Colorado that whitewater paddlers like ourselves would typically stay away from (completely flat water & a power boating mecca). Oddly, this added to its allure and always makes for a different type of adventure. Lastly, in true snowbird fashion, the warm water and air temps of the Southwest seemed like a good choice before switching over to snow season.
This trip perfectly coincided with the design of the all-new Badfish Badfisher, an 11’6” inflatable SUP that the crew at Badfish redesigned for fishing and expedition paddling. We just happened to have 3 prototypes that were dying to be paddled, abused, and put to the 150 mile test. While an 11’6” X 36” wide inflatable board might not be the first board that comes to mind for a trip such as this, we were pleasantly surprised. Paddling and carrying tons of gear came with much more ease than expected as we picked our way down the slow moving lower Colorado River.
We met at a campsite on Lake Mead just above the engineering marvel of the Hoover Dam. We packed our bags and got a good nights rest before setting out the next morning for a “lucky” trip down the Lower Colorado River. Let the beat down begin!
Launching from the base of Hoover Dam is both an exciting experience and a strange place to enter the Colorado River. A true engineering marvel that is holding back an insane amount of water (even at its lowest recorded level), as well as a grim reminder of what has happened to the Lower Colorado River Basin. Never the less, after a short shuttle drive down to the base of the dam and a quick security check by Homer Simpson guarding the gate at the bottom, we were given 15 minutes to get into the water and begin our journey down the mighty Colorado!
For day one we had our sites set on doing the entire Black Rock Canyon, as well as a good chunk of the Mohave reservoir. As the Hoover dam quickly faded away in the background, all eyes were set on making it 150 miles to the base of Lake Havasu to the parker Dam where my Subaru patiently waited. During the first 12 miles paddling the swift crystal clear water that exits the base of the Hoover Dam, we worked out the kinks in our strokes, marveled at the breathtaking scenery of the Black Rock canyon, and wondered what was in store for our next 5 days on the water. One thing we didn’t know was that a serious wind event was approaching and that our trip would be turned into an epic journey that worked to our advantage! As we worked our way past Willow Beach, the normal takeout and marina below the Hoover Dam, we entered the first signs of the Mohave Reservoir. I hadn’t heard much about the Mohave Reservoir in the past except that it was about as remote as it gets for a reservoir on the Colorado River and that its very, very Windy!
As we hit mile 20, the lake started to open up into larger bays that resembled stretches of Lake Powell. The wind started to pick up giving a nice little push from the north. About the time the wind started to crank, we were due for a quick lunch break and we rafted up and floated down the middle of the reservoir.
Thoughts and doubts about the trip started to fly. In our true trip fashion, we hadn’t looked at the weather and had no idea we were due for high winds. It’s almost better that way, you never know what you’re in for! A quick wind app check on the phone while we had a bit of service proved that the next few days we could expect 40 mile + winds from the north. We were both a little excited (since north winds would be directly at our back the entire trip) as well as nervous for what the next few days would be like paddling with fully loaded boards with 40 mph tail winds!
In true Badfish style we decided to celebrate by fashioning a ghetto sail with a blue tarp from Bradley’s camp set up and sail down the reservoir for the next 5 miles while we rested, why not?!
The last 5 miles of the day were spent trudging across bays in the middle of the desert looking for a campsite. We settled on a nice little mucky beach in Roadrunner Bay about 31 miles from the put in. We cooked some food, told stories, and rested up for the next days wind event.
As we awoke to a slight breeze from the north in our protected cove, we could already see the wind whipping out in the main body of the lake. We made quick work of camp and set our sites for paddling the rest of Lake Mohave and camping close to the Davis Dam (a massive dam we planned to portage the morning of Day 3).
As we peeled out into the main bay we were greeted by north winds just as the forecast has predicted. We made quick time of the first 10 miles to the wide and fat section of the lake. It was a pure delight for many reasons. The obvious was that we were literally getting blown down the lake, which picked up our paddling average to an easy 6mph with fully loaded inflatables. Secondly, there were literally no boats and not a single person on the entire reservoir. Anyone that’s spent anytime on the flat water sections of the Colorado River knows that it’s a power boating mecca. This trip proved the complete opposite due to weather and time of year. We practically were the only people within sight for most of our trip (with the exception of dozen large cities we paddled through). Lastly, our experience paddling across lake Mohave was an amazing sight of desert wilderness mixed with man made intentions of taming the Colorado.
Day 2 felt more like paddling in the ocean than a lake as we stayed out in the main body of the lake to catch the wind and get blown all the way to our destination close to the portage. I would say that throughout the day, we had an average of 20 mph sustained tailwinds with gusts in the 30’s and over 40 at some points. We were greeted with waist high crashers all day as we blundered across the desert expanse.
We pulled another day with above average mileage and we pulled into a sweet little beach just within eyesight of the Davis Dam. We scoped out the mornings portage on Google maps, stretched out our sore muscles after 7 hours of downwind swells and drifted off into an early night on the Mohave with the lights of Casino towns in the distance.
Day 3 started off with a bang! We scrambled up a rocky ravine to the river right side of the behemoth Davis Dam along with a mile walk around to the base (one trip with the boards and one with the drybags). After some friendly talks with the locals we met hanging out in the Tailwaters area of the dam, we peeled out into about an 8,000 cfs release of crystal clear Colorado River water (which is odd). We quickly made our way through a plethora of casino towns and power boating communities nestled on the banks of the somewhat mighty Colorado River in the area. We had a break in the wind on day three and the sunny skies made for some amazing paddling.
The moving current also gave us a nice bump in motivation. We smiled at the Casino tourists, waved at the jet skis, and gave small tidbits of our “insane plan” to the folks that asked from the banks. In all, a marvelous day paddling the dam controlled waters of the lower Colorado just above lake Havasu! We blazed through the town of needles as the sun started to set and even snagged a quick beer from some power boaters that simply wanted to chat and see what we were up to with all that gear! We nestled into a small beach camp, looking ominously close to the high water line from the dam releases. Another day done, we tried to prepare for another day of promised tailwinds from the north…this time a 40+ all day prediction!
We awoke at 4 am to the sound of lapping water on our boards (which we were sleeping on). Grumpily, we drug our gear further up the beach into the reeds and got a few more hours of restless sleep before the Day of insane Downwinding began! The forecast was calling for north winds all day hitting 40+, music to our ears. We set our sites on paddling 8 miles to the Interstate 40 Junction, then busting out most of the length of lake Havasu into Lake Havasu City…which turned out to be some of the most fun downwind paddling conditions I have ever experienced, let alone with a fully loaded 11.6 inflatable!
As the clock struck 8am, just as the forecast called for, the winds went from almost zero to a tailwind of nuclear proportions. If the winds had been coming from any other direction, we would have spent all day sitting on shore hunkered down, but for some reason the stars were aligned and we were in for a treat.
After a quick water fill up at the Topock Marina next to Interstate 40, we peeled out into the upper stretches of Lake Havasu and literally got blasted down the entire lake to Lake Havasu City! We spent the day smiling, surfing, swimming (well just me), and laughing all the way down the entire reservoir! We had the whole place to ourselves, which is insanely rare for Lake Havasu, due to gail force winds, crashing waist-chest waves, and relentless swell which we lavished in!
Pulling into the sheltered cove canal and paddling under the “London Bridge” in Lake Havasu City was a surreal experience. After getting blown down most of the reservoir, we pulled into a public dock, grabbed some In-N-Out Burger and paddled another 5 miles to a vacant campsite on an island in the lake.
All the stories of spring break, speedboats, and insane parties on Lake Havasu are absolutely apparent by the shape of the town and lower reservoir. But, on that day, we had the place to ourselves and got to experience a truly unique downwind journey on the tamed Colorado River.
Camp that night was spent with scheming plans for more self-support downwind adventures. We crashed early under the warm November skies of Arizona.
After packing on a few extra miles the first 4 days due to our “dumbass luck” conditions, we only had about 15 miles to the takeout around the corner from the Parker Dam.
Paddling conditions were yet again in our favor and we limped all 15 miles with a light tailwind at our backs and enjoyed the vast and vacant stretches of lower Lake Havasu. The last day of any trip always seems to have a bittersweet feeling attached. The feeling of wanting to continue paddling for another 10 days and the feeling of getting back to whatever is waiting around the next corner or day.
As we pulled into the marina at the base of Lake Havasu with the Parker Dam in our sites, we snapped a few pics, and reveled in the fact that we just had the luckiest 5 days of weather down the lower Colorado. We laughed all the way back to the put in!
We were stoked with the fact that we just paddled 150 miles in 5 days on the new Badfisher’s as well. We really had no idea what we were in for considering our last few self-support trips had been on 16ft missiles. In terms of the boards, they were by far the easier to pack and manage gear on with their ample width and tie down points. We were worried early on that the width would be too much for that many miles, but in the end, it worked in our advantage as we never had to worry about tipping in the 40 mph winds! Why not take the most comfortable board on a trip if you have the option…and if we had any time to fish, we would have been easily slaying fish all the way down the lower Colorado. One last plus of the board was durability. On all previous self-support trips, board damage has always an issue and concern, but we beat the hell out of these boards without batting an eye.
Stay tuned for more trips and news from the Badfish Crew and in the meantime keep on shredding! For more info about the all new Badfisher click here or visit your local retailer when they hit the shelves.
Thanks for reading and see you on the river!,