Snowbirding 2018: Lake Havasu Adventure

It wasn’t supposed to be like that.

I spent Sunday through Wednesday camped out at Cattail Cove State Park on Lake Havasu, about five miles upstream from the Parker Dam on the Colorado River. I put the boat in the water as soon as I arrived and didn’t take it out until I was ready to leave. I was on the boat every day. (I think I’ve used my boat more in the past two months than I have since I bought it in 2011.)

You have to understand one important fact: the winter weather in southern Arizona is perfect. It’s clear every day and the sun warms the air consistently to temperatures in the high 60s to low 80s — unless a cold front happens to blow through and drop daytime temps to the low 60s. It gets chilly at night — I still need to turn the heater on when I get up in the morning — but that’s because all that daytime heating escapes back into space without a blanket of clouds to hold it close to earth. But day after day is beautiful, perfect for just about any outdoor activity.

On Tuesday, I decided to take the boat to Lake Havasu City for lunch. The weather was good, the wind was relatively calm. The city, with its famous relocated London Bridge attracting tourists, was a haven for boaters. There was plenty of docking space and lots of restaurants within walking distance.

This terrible photo is the only one I have of my boat anchored just past the swimming beach at Cattail Cove.

I packed a few things in my small day pack and walked out to the boat, which was anchored just off the beach. I’d set a stern anchor with a fender as a buoy so the boat wouldn’t swing around and get beached if water levels dropped — a trick I’d learned while camping on the Colorado River backwaters in December. The bow line was secured with rocks on shore. That meant I had to wade out to the boat. No big deal; I was wearing a short denim skirt and didn’t get it wet when I carried Penny, my bag, and the bow line out. Within a few minutes, Penny and I were settled in the boat, the stern line was disconnected, and the boat was idling out toward the lake.

I say “idling out” because my boat has no true idle. It’s a sport jet propulsion system — like in a Jet Ski or Waverunner — so it’s always moving. This worked fine at Cattail Cove because there was a big No Wake area all around the beach. As I puttered out toward the lake, I was warming my engine, which, in my opinion, let out a lot of smoke when it was cold. I’ll have it checked and serviced when I get home.

Once past the No Wake buoys, I opened it up to about full throttle. At 5000 RPM, that gives me about 32-35 miles per hour. As the boat accelerates, the front end comes way up out of the water with very little speed gain. Then the front end drops down and it moves, planing over the surface of the water. My little boat loves smooth water — the smoother the better, in fact — and the lake was smooth enough that morning.

I headed upriver, favoring the Arizona side and watching out for hazard buoys that marked underwater “reefs.” When you remember that Lake Havasu is basically a flooded canyon area, those reefs make sense: they’re rock formations that were once rock ridges high above the river surface. As the water levels rose, the ridges became submerged, but some of them are still quite close to the surface of the lake. These hazards are all marked at Lake Havasu — remember, it’s a popular boating destination — so you’d have to be a real idiot to run aground there.

I sped uplake, feeling the warm air blow through my loose sleeveless cotton shirt. I’d tied my hair up with a clip at the back of my head so I wouldn’t be combing knots out of it later in the day. Although the boat has a bimini top, it wasn’t hot enough to deploy it. I was enjoying the feel the sun on my skin. I had a good base tan, especially on my face and arms, after two months mostly outdoors in Arizona and wasn’t worried about burning.

According to my rough measurements on Google Maps, Lake Havasu was about 15 river miles away. That was the longest distance I’d taken the boat that winter. I had plenty of fuel, but knew that my oil situation was less than optimal. My boat’s two-cycle engine has an injector system that takes oil from a reservoir under the hood. I’d poured in the last of the extra oil the previous day but the reservoir was far from full. One of the things I wanted to do at Lake Havasu City was buy more oil.

The trip was uneventful. The landscape around the lake is rugged, rocky desert. There are only a few places where roads can reach the lakeshore and that’s where you’ll find remote desert communities of manufactured homes and RVs. Black Meadow Landing is a community directly across the lake from Cattail Cove. Havasu Palms is another community on the California side about halfway to Lake Havasu City. On the Arizona side, there are numerous boat-in campsites, many of which have ramadas and toilets.

Many of the small coves had fishing boats in them. There was a bass tournament going on — or coming soon; I never did get the whole story — and lots of folks were fishing. There were also numerous pleasure boats speeding one way or another and, closer to the city, quite a few patio boats.

Signs of civilization started up suddenly, right after a construction site. Soon there were buildings and roads and parks on the Arizona side. I reached a No Wake area and cut speed, letting the boat settle back into the water. Then I putted along into the narrow, manmade channel that led to the city’s centerpiece: London Bridge.

Lake Havasu City
The lay of the land at Lake Havasu City. The canal exists solely so London Bridge has water to cross.

London Bridge — which was the real London Bridge from London, England — was brought out to the Arizona desert as a tourist attraction. Of course, Lake Havasu City didn’t need a bridge. There was nothing for a bridge to cross. So the folks who arranged to buy and move the bridge turned a peninsula of land jutting out into the lake into an island by digging a canal. They then assembled London Bridge in the city to reach the island. You can learn more about it on Wikipedia, which also includes a great photo of the city right after the bridge was assembled.

(The island, by the way, used to have Lake Havasu City Airport on it. They moved the airport about ten miles north of town and redeveloped the land with parks and resorts and condos.)

Penny at the Bow
Penny at the bow of the boat as we puttered up the canal toward London Bridge.

My boat is difficult to control at slow speeds, but I managed to set the throttle at a low enough speed to satisfy No Wake rules while maintaining control. This turned out to be about the same speed as a kayaker who was in front of me for most of my drive through the canal. Finally, I saw the bridge and the restaurants and shops clustered around it. There were numerous empty boat slips on the right. Signs said they were public. I aimed the boat into one of them, cut the engine, and drifted in.

Boat at London Bridge
I parked my boat next to a sailboat in one of the empty slips near London Bridge.

Penny was out of the boat before I’d even had a chance to tie up. After securing the fore and aft lines for the boat, I gathered my things and joined her on the floating dock. I fastened her leash and led the way out, through an unlocked gate to a sidewalk where tourists wandered and locals power-walked. I was in search of pizza.

You see, I’d gotten my hands on a Lake Havasu City dining guide and had found a pizza restaurant right near where I parked. I hadn’t had pizza in months. But although it was in the guide, it didn’t seem to exist. I couldn’t find it, anyway. So I kept walking. Soon, I’d walked under the bridge and was running out of options.

There was a fish and chips place with outdoor seating near the bridge and I homed in on it. I fastened Penny to the fence near a table and went in to order. My timing was perfect; a tour boat from Laughlin had just arrived and let off its passengers. Although a loud (possibly drunk?) guy from the boat was in front of me on line, a long line quickly grew behind me. I ordered fish and chips (of course) and a Bloody Mary and went out to wait for my food with Penny.

It was a perfect day for people watching. More than half the folks in the area were seniors who either lived there or were visiting for the day. There was a London style telephone booth near the water that a lot of tourists liked to stand in to pose for photos and I watched them one after another. Other folks milled around while exercise minded folks hurried through. There really isn’t that much to do in the bridge area other than shop in tourist shops.

London Bridge
The view from my seat at the fish and chips restaurant on a rare moment with no one on the sidewalk.

My lunch arrived and it was very good. I used malt vinegar on my fries; I really do prefer it over catsup.

As I ate, the wind started to kick up. I got into a conversation with the couple at the next table who were there with a dog. Although I thought at first that they were a married couple, I soon realized that they were either friends or dating. When I offered him the bowl of water the waitress had brought for Penny, he said that his dog preferred iced tea, put the dog on his lap, and let the dog lap tea out of his cup. (Ick.) He then told me that he’d been living in Havasu for a few years and he thought it was paradise. (Coincidentally, that’s what the Welcome to Lake Havasu City signs said.) Then he offered to drive me down to Cattail Cove if I thought it was too windy to make the trip in my little boat. His companion was very agreeable did a lot of nodding.

I thanked them but told them I thought it would be okay.

London Bridge
Another shot of London Bridge. The Union Jacks are a nice touch.

A while later, I left in search of ice cream. Instead, I found a Hobie dealer and got to see the full line of Hobie paddle kayaks I’ve been thinking about for the past few years. These boats are very cool. They’re sit-on kayaks with comfortable, removable seats and drop-in pedal propulsion systems. Some models are even compatible with an add-on sail kit and petite outriggers. Before I bought my first kayaks, I considered one of these. But they don’t come cheap and I was worried that I wouldn’t use it. Now I’m thinking that I might, especially if I could figure out a way to take it south with me without towing a trailer or putting it on the roof. In any case, it was good to see them and be able to ask a knowledgeable person questions. The folks there were very helpful, even after I told them I couldn’t buy from them due to inability to transport it. The place is called Southwest Kayaks and they rent kayaks, too; I recommend them if you’re in the Lake Havasu City area. If I’d been staying in the area, I would have rented a kayak with a sail kit just to give it a try.

I went to various places to take photos of the bridge. By that time, the wind was really blowing. We headed back to the boat, stopping only to buy an ice cream cone for me (and a taste for Penny) and take a few more photos. Then we were back on the boat and I was casting off with the engine put-putting in “idle” speed out into the channel. This time, Penny’s life jacket was on and mine was on my seat as a back rest.

Penny Life Vest
I swung around for one last photo of the bridge before leaving Lake Havasu City.

The water in the channel was smooth enough, but I could sure feel the wind at my back as I retraced my route back out toward the main lake. When I got out of the channel, I could see whitecaps on the water. All the boats I saw were coming in from the lake.

I saw a marina on the right and headed toward it with thoughts of buying fuel and oil. But then I looked at my fuel gauge and realized that at nearly half full I had enough to get back to Cattail Cove. I should have enough oil, too. The wind would only get worse and taking 30 minutes to fuel and get oil I probably didn’t need would just make for a rougher ride all the way back. So I turned back toward the lake and increased speed a little to hurry through the No Wake area. When I passed the last No Wake buoy, I hit the throttle and the boat climbed out of the water into planing cruise.

But it was not a good cruise. The water was beyond just choppy and the boat would periodically surge out of the water while the engine screamed with nothing to pump through it. The hull repeatedly hit the water hard: bam, bam, bam. The fuel gauge swung wildly from nearly empty to half full — what was the real level? And then I heard the first beep.

You see, the oil reservoir has a warning system to let you know when you need to add oil. It beeps when it’s low. When I’m in rough water, the oil level sloshes around and, if it’s low enough, causes that warning system to beep. That basically tells me that I need to add oil pretty soon. If I don’t, the level will get so low that it’ll beep constantly, which is not only annoying, but stresses me out about running out of oil and destroying my engine.

So just like that, my boat told me what it wanted: go back and get more oil. And some fuel probably would be a good idea, too.

I happened to turn on the tracking feature in the GaiaGPS app on my phone when leaving the No Wake area the first time; you can see the start of the track in the middle of the loop here. You can also see where I turned around, went back to the marina, and then headed back out down the lake.

I turned around and headed into the wind. That was not fun. With the wind at my back, when water splashed up, it splashed away from the boat. But when I was driving into it, the splashes went right into me. I had to slow down to minimize the splashing but somehow that didn’t minimize how wet I was getting.

Then I was past the No Wake buoys and was supposed to slow down a lot more. I slowed down a little more. I honestly didn’t see a reason to maintain No Wake speed. Not only would that have kept me at a virtual standstill driving into the wind, but there was a lot more wave activity from the wind than from my little boat no matter what the speed was.

Eventually, I made it into the marina. It was sheltered there and I had no trouble tying up at the dock. I went right inside to inquire about oil and bought a quart; I usually buy it by the gallon but they didn’t have gallon sized bottles. Then I hit the ladies room. Then I went back to the boat, added the quart of oil, and topped off the fuel. About 20 minutes after arriving, I was ready to get back on the lake.

Of course, just as I expected, things out there were worse. The wind was blowing at around 19 miles per hour. How do I know this? Because at one point I was driving at 19 miles an hour (per my phone’s GPS) away from the wind and my hair and clothes weren’t blowing around. That was seriously weird.

We rode back at the fastest speed I could drive without the boat repeatedly screaming out of the water. That was usually around 15 to 20 miles per hour. At one point, the water seemed calmer and I got it up to 30 miles per hour. But then later I had to slow down again.

The whole time, Penny sat on the seat beside me. I think she wanted to be done with our adventure more than I did.

I drove close to shore, hoping that there would be some shelter from the wind and waves, but it was impossible to avoid them. The wind blasted down the lake, turning the whole surface into a choppy, white capped mess. I thought more than a few times about how nice it would have been to get back to Cattail Cove in a car with that couple from the restaurant and their iced tea sipping dog.

Other than the wind, the weather couldn’t be better. It was still bright and sunny without a cloud in the sky. The air was warm and I saw no need to put on a long-sleeved shirt. The boat wasn’t taking on any water so there was no danger. I did worry a bit — probably needlessly — about the hull banging down on the water surface so many times and mentally rehearsed what I’d have to do if something broke. And there were still a few boats out on the lake so if I had a serious problem and needed help I probably wouldn’t have to wait long.

I finally saw the trailer homes at Black Meadow Landing. Then the buoys at Cattail Cove came into view. I slipped between them and cut speed, maneuvering against the wind to my stern anchor buoy and line. I killed the engine as I reached out and caught the line, then held tight and let the anchor bring us to a stop.

The water in the cove bounced around a little. No one was on the beach. No one was in sight. The wind was howling there, too.

I tied off the line and the boat swung around, leaving the bow over deep water. I could see the bottom, but I knew it was deeper than I wanted to jump into. I repositioned the anchor twice, tossing it toward shallower water each time. Soon, it became obvious that I’d have to get my clothes wet. When I did finally jump in, expecting the water to be up to my thighs, it was up to my waist. And it was cold.

I had half a mind to let Penny swim to shore, but I didn’t. After tying the boat’s bow line to rocks on the beach, I went back to get her and my bag. I walked back to the campsite with my skirt completely soaked and dripping. No one was outside to see me.

It had been a bit more of an adventure than I like, but it was still a great day out.

Snowbirding 2018: Boat in Tow

I finally take my little boat to Arizona and get it out on the Colorado River for the first time.

Way back in 2011, when I was spending my fourth summer in Washington State for cherry season, a friend of mine sold me her little jet boat. It’s a 1995 Sea Ray Sea Rayder F-16 and I blogged about it here. It’s not much of a boat, but it runs reliably and it does get me out on the water. What else could I ask for?

The Boat’s Aborted Travel South

My Boat at the Campground
I was living in my fifth wheel for the summer, camped out at a golf course campground when I used my boat for the first time.

I used it for the first time in May 2012, out on the Columbia River. Although I’d been expecting my future wasband to join me in Washington that summer, he had other plans that included his request for a divorce. A (misguided) friend of mine assured me that I’d be able to patch things up when I got home in the autumn and I believed him, so I continued my summer without much thought about his request, especially since he didn’t actually file for divorce.

Near the end of the summer, I emailed him about my plans to bring the little boat home for the winter. I figured I (we?) would take it out on Lake Pleasant, as we had my jet skis years before, and possibly on other Arizona lakes and rivers. Maybe we could recapture some of the fun we’d had earlier in our relationship. When I got no response from him, I started poking around and discovered that although he hadn’t filed for divorce, he’d gotten a lawyer and was living with another woman. He hadn’t filed for divorce because he was hoping to get his hands on half the money I earned drying cherries that summer. I immediately did three things: filed for divorce, changed my will, and scrapped plans for bringing any of my assets home.

So the boat stayed in Washington, stored in a friend’s garage until I could return. There was a hilarious scene during the divorce trial when my future wasband’s lawyer tried to get me to admit the boat was worth more than it was by offering me too much money to buy his half of it. I took the offer but my wasband backed down — he didn’t really want the damn thing; it was just a failed stunt cooked up by his lawyer and the old whore managing his side of the divorce. I was awarded the boat in the divorce without having to pay him a penny for it — after all, it was mine — and was back on the Columbia River in it, even before the divorce papers came through.

Thoughts of Going South

Time passed. Although I loved my new home in Washington State and used the boat there in the summer, I didn’t like the short, dreary winter days when I had no flying work and little reason to stick around. In 2014, I began wintering in Arizona, mostly in a generous friend’s guest house and in my RV on BLM land.

I started seriously thinking about bringing the boat south with me for the winter in 2016. I’d sold my big fifth wheel and had replaced it with a truck camper. This gave me the ability to tow something behind me when I went south. In preparation, I took the boat on its trailer to the local Discount Tire shop to get the tires replaced. That’s when I discovered that they were the original tires and were 21 years old. Can you say “dry rot”?

But when it came time to go south that year, I didn’t feel comfortable about bringing it. The camper was still pretty new to me and I was going to be covering a lot of miles with stops along the way. Did I really want to deal with a boat behind me on a complex trip? The answer was no. So I left it home and made the trip without it.

I began regretting that decision in January when we camped out along the Colorado River at a campsite with a boat ramp and easy access to the river. I had my kayak with me, but it was a royal pain in the ass to get on and off the roof of my truck camper. It would have been nice to launch the little jet boat and use it to explore the river.

At Walker Lake
Here’s a shot of last year’s truck camper (the Turtleback) with my kayak on top. It was a PitA to get it back up there after using it.

But what really convinced me I needed the boat in Arizona was the day trip I made to Arizona Hot Springs on the Colorado River, just downstream from the Hoover Dam. I’d rented a boat to get there and wanted to go back, possibly to camp along the river near the mouth of the canyon downstream from the spring.

The Boat Goes South

Still, it wasn’t until early October 2017 that I committed to take it south. That’s the same time I committed to getting a booth at Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama in Quartzsite for 10 days in January. The boat would do double duty: I’d also use it as a utility trailer to haul the additional gear I’d need to set up my booth.

I had to make some preparations.

First, I had to buy a hitch extender that would enable me to hook up the boat behind the truck with the camper on top of the truck. You see, the back end of the camper extends at least a foot and a half behind the truck’s back bumper. I searched online and found an extender that would work for the boat’s relatively light load. I had to get it cut down to size at a local metal shop; the guy did the work in exchange for being able to keep the part he cut off.

Next, I had to load up the boat with all of the items I wanted to bring for my Quartzsite booth and possible boat camping along the river: canopy booth tent, extra tarps, tent camping gear (including a new tent), fresh water jugs, cooler. I also had to give the boat’s cover a good coat of water-proofing spray; although it lived in my garage, I remembered the cover getting soggy the few times it had been out in the rain. I didn’t want everything inside the boat getting wet if I hit rain or snow on my way south.

Once everything was stowed and the boat was covered, I used a pair of ratchet tie-down straps to firmly secure the boat to the trailer. I wanted to minimize bouncing which I knew the lightweight boat did when I trailered it anywhere. I had a long drive ahead of me and I didn’t want any problems back there.

Finally, I had to hook everything up. That meant getting the camper on the truck (after getting a firiend to help me get the truck’s tailgate off), and then getting the boat hooked up behind it. I wound up using my Jeep, which has a handy front tow hitch, to get the boat out of the garage and position it on the concrete driveway apron in front of my big RV garage. Then I carefully backed the truck with the camper on it to get it into position and hook it up. I needed a trailer wire extension piece to make the connection between the truck and the boat’s light system.

The last thing I did was set up my “poor man’s backup camera” so I could keep an eye on the boat while we made our way down the road. As it turned out, I only used it for part of the trip. My new truck camper had a window in the back door that made it possible for me to see out the back through my truck’s rear-view mirror. It wasn’t as good as the backup camera, but it was good enough to keep an eye on things.

And then I headed out with Penny.

My October Vacation

I know I promised a blog post about my October vacation, but I guess you can count that as a broken promise. If I don’t blog about something right after it happens, it doesn’t get blogged about.

The short version is this: I gave myself two weeks to get from Wenatchee to Wickenburg — a trip I have done in the past in just two days. We visited friends along the way: Jim and Teresa in Coeur d’Alene, ID; Ann and Robert in Torrey, UT; Janet and Steven in Hotchkiss, CO. I camped in all kinds of places, from nice riverside campgrounds to crowded National Park campgrounds, to remote roadside pullouts on BLM land. I visited several national parks, hiked for miles, wandered around prehistoric Indian ruins, and did some night photography. The boat trailered behind me like a champ, never giving me any trouble at all. Sure, I looked funny camped out in the desert southwest with a boat, but who cares? At least I gave people something to talk about.

Why yes, I did tow my boat through multiple southwest desert national parks and monuments last October. Here they are at Capital Reef National Park in Utah.

I arrived in Wickenburg at month-end, stayed in my friend Jim’s guest house for two days, and left my camper and boat parked out of the way in his yard with a new solar panel keeping the boat’s battery charged. Then I took my truck down to Gilbert and spent two days with my friends Jan and Tiffani there. I even got a chance to fly a Schweizer helicopter for the first time. By November 4, I was home, just in time to see the first snowfall for the season.

The boat and my camper and my truck waited five weeks for my return.

Take Me to the River!

I returned in early December, after my annual Santa flight. Although I’d originally planned to bring the helicopter south with me, I didn’t have enough guaranteed work to make the trip worthwhile. So I left it behind at home and flew commercial to Phoenix with Penny and a big bag of all the things I’d forgotten to pack in the camper in October.

I spent one night with my friends in Gilbert, reclaimed my truck, and met some other friends in Scottsdale for lunch and a Segway tour. (There’s a long story there that, at this point, isn’t worth telling.) Then I went back to Wickenburg and camped out for two days in Jim’s guest house again. I didn’t do much in the area other than prep my truck, RV, and boat for my winter travels. That included making sure the RV batteries were charged — they were since I’d left the rig plugged into Jim’s house for five weeks — and topping off the fresh water supply. The waste tanks had been dumped before I parked it.

I did take my friend Janet out for a boat ride on Lake Pleasant one day. I wanted to make sure the thing ran. It would be horrible to get it out to the river and then not get it started. But it started more quickly than I expected and we spent an afternoon out on the lake, tooling around, fishing, and exploring the Agua Fria Arm of the lake before it shut down for bald eagle breeding season.

It was the trip on the lake I’d envisioned five and a half years before, but with a different person. We probably had more fun.

Back at Jim’s house, I loaded the boat up again, covered it, and strapped it down.

Finally, on Monday, December 11, I had everything hooked up and headed out to the river. I was planning on staying at a campsite we called Janet’s Point which is about 8 miles south of I-10 on the Arizona side of the river. The campsite is a big flat area with its own boat ramp and access to both a backwater and the Colorado River. Unfortunately, a redneck loser was there — that’s another long story not worth telling — and I wound up in my second choice spot, which was on the same backwater about a half mile away. When Janet joined me with her little trailer and dog the next day, we launched my boat and I motored it over to our campsite.

Our First Outing

Still with me? Yes, I know my backstories can be long.

We quickly discovered that the level of the water in the river and the backwaters fluctuated wildly depending on how much water was released 70+ river miles upstream at the Parker Dam. The first morning, my little boat was mostly beached and didn’t start floating again until after noon. It was worse the next day. That’s when I got the brilliant idea of putting an anchor off the stern to keep the back end in the water. Problem solved.

Drone photo of our campsite
Here’s our backwater campsite, from the air. You can’t really tell in this shot, but my little boat was half out of the water. Oops.

When the water was full up that day, we took the boat out. It was just Janet, me, and Penny. We motored slowly in the backwater for that half mile, got to the channel, and zipped out into the river. I brought it up to full speed and we headed upriver. My logic is that if the boat’s engine is going to crap out, I’d like to drift back toward where I want to be. But the boat ran great.

The only problem was shallow water, which was really freaking out Janet. She apparently had some bad experience running aground with a sudden stop that sent things flying. I wasn’t worried about running the boat aground nearly as much as I was worried about that 120 horsepower sport jet engine sucking up sand. But the boat, when planing at speed, had a shallow draft — seriously, I should look up just how shallow it is — and never ran around, although I had my finger poised over the engine kill button more than once. We motored all the way up to where we could see the I-10 freeway bridge cross the river. Then we turned around and headed back.

Along the way, Janet got a text from her friend Steve. He’d come down to our campsite to visit us, found us gone, used his chainsaw to cut come of the wood we’d gathered into usable pieces, and had headed back toward his camp near Quartzsite. We saw his van, with the bright blue fishing kayak strapped on top, as he drove up the levee road. Janet connected by phone and soon I was motoring toward where he’d stopped along the road.

Wouldn’t you know it? He stopped right by the shallowest part of the river. The boat’s hull scraped the soft sand and I hit the kill button. We were stuck momentarily and used that time to have a shouted out conversation with Steve. Then the river’s current pushed us free and we drifted away. When the water got deep enough, I started the engine and we continued back to camp.

We were a lot more confident about the water depth on the way back. We’d both paid close attention to where the sandbars were on the way upriver and I managed to maneuver between them as we headed south. We purposely passed the opening to the channel back to camp, going an extra half mile or so just to see what it was like down there. But then I turned us around and we rode back to the channel. It was a bit tricky getting in to the very narrow channel with the river’s 6-8 mile per hour current. I had to crab the boat in. Once I was out of the current, I turned the wheel hard to straighten out, zipped through the opening, and reduced power down to no wake speed. We puttered the half mile back to camp.

A Non-Event? Maybe, but that’s not the point.

It’s funny how a boat ride I’d imagined for years turned out to be such a non-event when it actually happened. But, in hindsight, I don’t think it was the actual boat ride that interested me so much. Instead, it was the logistics and challenge of getting my little boat down to Arizona, as I’d planned to do so many years before, and finally doing it. The boat ride itself wasn’t a big deal.

And I think this long and drawn out story illustrates something about me that I’ve only recently begun to be aware of: I live for challenges. Small or large, possible or impossible — my life seems to revolve around finding challenges that interest me and turning them into reality. Or, when I fail, learning valuable life lessons along the way.

Let’s face it: I’m a smart, healthy person with money in the bank, retirement funded, and a comfortable paid-for home to live in. There are no challenges to survival and maintaining the simple status quo of my life. It would be very easy to just kick back and live a boring life at home year-round, entertained by television and punctuated by carefully planned packaged vacations.

And that’s pretty much what I experienced when I was in a relationship with my wasband.

Although it didn’t bother me when I was younger, it ate at me as I got older and heard the ever-louder ticking of my life clock. There is more to life than just waiting around for the end of it.

Finally getting my little boat down to Arizona and taking it out on Lake Pleasant and the Colorado River was a challenge — admittedly a small one — and it feels good to have tackled it and succeeded in making it happen.


I started this blog post in December — which is when I actually got the boat out into the river — and set it aside for a full two months. I thought I should trim it down a bit and I definitely needed to add photos. But I wound up keeping just about everything I’d written before adding links and photos and getting it ready to publish.

We took the boat out one more time before the forward/reverse cable decided to seize up and limit the boat to idle speed. I was fortunate to have that; it made it possible to limp back down to the boat ramp and get it back on the trailer. It took a week in Blythe to get the parts and have it repaired. Then it was back in the water for Christmas and a few more rides on the river. I had the throttle cable replaced, too, and the boat runs more smoothly than ever.

I parked it for nearly a month in a back parking lot at Tyson Wells while I camped out there with my booth. Then, last week, I hooked it back up and headed back into the desert, finally ending up at Buckskin Mountain State Park upriver from Parker, AZ. I had it out a few times, including all the way down to Parker for lunch one day and up to the Parker Dam another day. I enjoyed the luxury of being able to park at a real dock at the campground during my stay.

My boat docked at the Cantina on the Colorado River.
Parked at the Bluewater Casino’s Cantina boat-in restaurant.

I’ll leave Buckskin for Cattail Cove State Park later today and, of course, bring the boat with me. There’s a boat ramp there that’ll give me access to Lake Havasu. Although I’d love to take it all the way up to Laughlin — as I did years go via jet skis with my wasband — I’ll likely limit my explorations to Topok Gorge.

Next weekend, I’ll be at Willow Beach Campground just downriver from Hoover Dam. I’m looking forward to taking it up to the hot springs every day during my stay.

Will I bring the boat with me next year on my travels? Probably not. Although it hasn’t been much of a burden to tow it around with me, it is a lot simpler to travel without it. I know I can do and that’s apparently enough.

Besides, I’m not sure whether I’ll be coming back to then Colorado River next winter. I have other, more challenging travel plans in mind.

Snowbirding 2018 Postcards: At Buckskin Mountain State Park

The original plan for my first two days away from the Quartzsite area was to stay in Parker, AZ, at the Bluewater Casino. There’s overnight parking there, as well as a boat ramp and marina. But when I got to Parker on Thursday, I realized that it was the weekend of the big Parker 425 off-road race. I didn’t want to be anywhere near that crazy event so close to the weekend.

So I continued driving up Route 95 in the Arizona side of the river until I reached Buckskin Mountain state park. That’s where I got a campsite in the “cabana” area right on the river. The cabanas are cinderblock structures, open on front and back, with a picnic table inside and a grill outside. You back into a parking space in front of your cabana and use it as part of your site. It’s not perfect, but it does make a nice, easy place to hang out outdoors in the shade. Best of all, there’s a power outlet, so I can enjoy little luxuries like my microwave and don’t have to worry about running down the battery when I watch a DVD at night. And who could complain about a waterfront campsite?

View from my site.

On Friday morning, I took a short hike to a viewpoint overlooking the camp. That’s when I confirmed something I suspected the evening before: I’d been to this campground before. It had been about 10 years ago, when I was still married. My wasband had come with me to a two-day aerial photo gig for the Parker 425. I’d flown the helicopter while he’d driven out with my first camping trailer, a Starcraft tent camper hybrid. We spent the night at Buckskin and he’d complained — what else is new? — about all the retired guys who walked by and tried to chat him up. We’d walked up to that same viewpoint during our short stay. I know that if I looked hard enough in my archives, I’d find the photos I took there.

Buckskin Mountain State Park, from the overlook trail.

Although I’d intended on continuing along the 1-mile loop trail yesterday morning, a cool breeze started up while I was chatting with another camper at the viewpoint bench. I decided to go back to camp and do the longer hike when I was better prepared with water and a sweatshirt if I needed it.

Buckskin is a nice place to stay — if you like camping in campgrounds. There are scheduled activities, such as Friday night campfires, which I attended last night, and Saturday ranger-led hikes, which I’ll join today. There are free DVD rentals and a trading paperback library. There’s also a bookstore/gift shop. The Tuesday ice cream social, which I’ll miss, is probably a real hit with the retirees who stay here. And while it’s a shame the marina store is closed, being the only one using the dock for my boat is kind of nice.

Campfire at the park.