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In addition to exercise in warmer weather, I wanted some good instruction to improve strokes and more since we're basically newbies to the sport. We solicited every outfitter that appears when you Google "kayak lake mead". Because of his comments during our initial email and phone contact we chose Mr. Robert Finlay of KayakLakeMead.com and feel we could not have chosen better.
Iím an experienced guide (off-piste skiing) and instructor (SCUBA, military diving, skiing, flying, motor-racing, consultative selling) and a keen observer of guides and teachers. Robert excels at both skills. His is no cookie-pushing service. It's the real deal-- not just a double-decker tour operation. He's keenly interested how you're doing and helping you out (literally as well as figuratively).
Robert paddles a path less traveled and will take you to spots on Mead others don't normally go. And you don't have to limit yourself to kayaking. Robert is also very skilled in mountain-biking, hiking, technical climbing, and fitness. We spent two days with him and would have eagerly opted for more except for obligations with friends traveling with us.
Day One we put in at Willow Beach on the Colorado and paddled upstream with Robert working on our technique as well as general gawking, including Peregrines feasting on cold Coot. Although we were besting a 2KT dam release, Robert's stroke made it easier for me and we covered ground faster than our normal geezer speed.
Robert is an avid long-distance, endurance kayak racer (the 300-mile Everglades Challenge, for example) so you can bet he's worked long and hard perfecting a most efficient cruising stroke. It shows. I found it a simple stroke, powerful, energy efficient, and not difficult to learn. After some practice during the ensuing days I managed to easily outdistancing our traveling friends by a couple of miles in no time at all. Furthermore, I am recovering from chemo and have arthritis which I mention because his stroke was kinder to this body than others Iíve tried. Another thing I like about his stroke is I found it easier to remain in the groove, on the sweet spot, and in the zone. Iíll bet you won't regret learning learning from him.
Needless to say the return trip downbound was a brief but most excellent float with Bighorn Sheep, a million Coots and lots more. If all you have are a few days, definitely go up and down the Colorado for the dramatic surroundings. Further, if you like to surf the party sausage boats will oblige. Suffice it to say we plan more trips on the Black and Robert has offered to take us to seldom-seen places such as Windy and Cartwright Canyons which are reachable from Willow Beach.
Day Two with Robert took us to Temple Bar on Lake Mead which is a must for broad vistas and stalking wildlife. Panoramas everywhere and plenty of interesting spots to poke into. Given that the elevation of Mead was about thirty feet above 2010 you can spend sleuth time wiggling through the tops of Willow trees in the puckerbrush which is my favorite paddling activity. Just be sure to bring a quiet paddle. I was using a new Werner Kalliste which is one loud stick. Hard to sneak anything with it. Must have seen a bazillion Roadrunners in Temple. The Blazing Star bushes at waterís edge were a delight. We are definitely heading back to Temple Bar.
Lake Mead was kind to us. Air temps in the low to mid 60s, 51 on the river and 54 on the lake surface, with hardly any wind. (We didnít use full skirts, just splash decks.) Be aware, though, that Mead has a long fetch in places and plan accordingly. We recommend honing your cloud and micro-meteorological skills. Another highlight of Robertís expertise is his knowledge of cold-weather paddling, good skills to nail down.
If you seek out Robert, it is important to distinguish between Robert Findlay's KayakLakeMead.com and other guide services out there with URLs close to his. If you just Google ďKayak Lake MeadĒ youíll get a bunch of other outfits as well as his. Be sure to pick kayaklakemead.com. Check out all of his web site, one of the broadest and deepest kayaking websites with much meat and little fluff. Worth perusing even if you donít plan to paddle Mead.
A further comment about Robert Findlay: The three of us were lollygagging on the Colorado digging wildlife when I asked him about his self-rescue technique (see his website). He asked if Iíd like to see it. Actually I wanted to try it myself but the water temp was cold enough Iíd probably have had a stroke since Iím so out of shape. So Robert kindly asked if my wife would like a demonstration as sheíd not seen his videos. Further he graciously asked if sheíd not mind his keeping his clothes dry. She affirmed that would be a good idea as we were floating in 51 degree water in the cool shade of the canyon walls, with a breeze, and steep cliffs offering no place to land and dry out. Consequently, we were treated to a most boffo demonstration of the easy way to re-mount your boat and don clothing. How many guides will do that? If you plan a trip to Lake Mead, we think youíll not regret spending time with Robert and the others at kayaklakemead.com. And no, I have not received any special promotional consideration for this blurb. I am just very favorably impressed. He made our trip something special.
After our too-short time with Robert we spent several days above the dam on the mid-reaches of the Western shore. Echo Bay makes a good base camp if you travel with a tag-a-long like our mini toy hauler. However there are many other places to camp in the area. Just please be sure to leave your site cleaner than you found it and bring a decent toilet and firepan.
There are several places to launch, especially if you have good 4WD capability. The Echo Bay Marina/Resort has a nice2WD launch which is not the marinaís paved ramp. Rather, take the road that goes left just across from the motel. Itíll lead you to a pleasant sandy beach that was a ramp at one time. In fact, the white lines marking boat parking can be seen extending out underwater and are visible many yards from the shoreline. We found many good places along the mid-lake Western shore for beaching with very little mud compared to Lake Powell in Utah.
There are several interesting indentations to explore both North and South of Echo. Robert recommends Cathedral Cove which is off Azure about 4miles South of Echo Bay. Interestingly, there is a short baylet close to the marina in which we actually saw as much or more wildlife than other places, including a huge herd of Roadrunners and a Golden Eagle chomping on a Coot.
Not too far North of Echo is Overton Beach and the Overton Wildlife Management Area. The beach road is closed, but you can enter the WMA. Just be sure that if you paddle there, stay in the waters that are sourced by Lake Mead itself. Other waters are off-limits.
We use our 16 ft. toy hauler for accommodations and can highly recommend Canyon Trails RV Camping in Boulder City. Clean, very quiet, close to Albertsons and Von's, and only a block from Rt. 93 which heads South to Black Canyon, Willow Beach and Temple Bar or connects to the northern route up the lake. If you stay in Boulder City, check out the coffee, croissants, and soups at Miloís in Old Town. Ace and True-Value Hardware stores are close by. Ace is the more complete choice. A word of caution: Try to avoid arriving from the West right after Christmas otherwise youíll be gridlocked with holiday travelers on Hwy 93 between Las Vegas and Boulder City anytime between 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM. Oddly enough powerboat and PWC traffic on Mead during the holidays was next to nil. Actually the very occasional mid-sized powerboats provided entertainment for our surfing pleasure.
We also stayed at the Echo Bay RV camp, about 60 miles. North of Boulder City and about a mile from the launch mentioned above. You can find RV spots in Overton and Logandale, but we didnít check them out. There is auto and boat fuel at Echo Bay; however the pumps close at 4 PM. Gasoline is pricey in Nevada, more than a dollar higher than Utah and Colorado while we were there.
If you're looking for fine warm weather, winter kayaking, Lake Mead provides plenty of variety. It's large, with plenty of dramatic scenery, critters and flora to keep you interested. And if you tire of the water, there's good hiking, and biking. And the Strip is just minutes away should you tire of being away from it all.
Best bet is to check at the Lake Mead Nat.Rec.Area Information Office which is just off HWY 93, however as of 9 Jan. 2012 this building is being renovated. The NRA has temporary quarters in Old Town Boulder City
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