from nevada to arizona on a surfboard?
Probably the only benefit of being an occasional gambler is that you can get free hotel rooms. I had just completed an incredible three day jeep expedition through the Mojave Trail that finished in Laughlin Nevada. Since I was in the area, I booked a free hotel room in Vegas for a few nights because how could I go wrong there (said no one ever)? The desert scenery along the Mojave Trail and Red Rock Canyon was beautiful, but it was time for some water in my life. Kitesurfing Lake Mohave was on my bucket list. It would be my first time crossing state lines on a surfboard.
Lake Mohave from a distance
I had heard about people kitesurfing Lake Mohave, about an hour south of Vegas where wind speeds of 30-40 mph were common. I had also read that kitesurfing Lake Mohave could be dangerous and that several kiters had been seriously injured there. Extreme gusts of wind can unexpectedly launch kiters into the air with no telling where they will land. Since the border between Nevada and Arizona runs right through the middle of the lake, you could literally get launched into another state. It didn’t sound like ideal conditions, but I’m usually up for adventure and seeing new places. Plus, how often do you get to kite surf from one state to another?
6 Mile Cove at Lake Mohave – dead calm water with no wind (the mountains across the way are in Arizona)
it’s not an adventure if you don’t get lost
Siri doesn’t know this area very well though so I had to find it the old fashioned way. I drove around, made wrong turns, and asked locals when I got lost. Fortunately, driving around Nevada is so beautiful that you don’t mind getting lost. My first missed turn took me to Cottonwood Cove boat docks, at Lake Mead. I couldn’t believe how quiet and peaceful it was there. I laughed at the irony that no one was there on probably one of the best days of the year.
That’s one of the things about being retired. You avoid traveling during the times when everyone else is because it’s too crowded and costs a fortune then. Sure, the water might be colder, but we have had some of our best experiences visiting places in their off season. The lack of long lines and crowds often make up for the off-season weather or water temps.
Cottonwood Cove – peaceful day in the winter off-season
Follow the power lines into the desert
Eventually I found a local who could direct me to 6 Mile Cove at Lake Mohave. He told me to follow the power lines leading into the desert from the entrance to the Lake Mead recreation area. It was a long and bumpy dirt road for my Prius to handle. I figured there was a good chance my car would get stuck in the middle of the desert. However, I had come along way and wanted to check kitesurfing lake mohave off my bucket list.
the long dirt road to 6 Mile Cove at Lake Mohave
the friendliest sport on earth
When I arrived, there were only two other kiters camping there and an RV. The lake was as calm as could be, not even a light breeze. The forecast called for wind though so I killed time with the other two kiters I met there while we waited for wind. Kitesurfing is one of those sports that brings strangers together. I love regular surfing, but it’s a crowded sport, and nobody wants to see another surfer arrive at their surf break. There’s not a lot of kite surfers in the world though, and so local kiters generally welcome new kitesurfers to their area. This could change in twenty years if the sport gets too crowded.
flying a wind meter kite at 6 Mile Cove – Lake Mohave (waiting for real wind)
kitesurfing lake mohave – let there be wind!
The wind didn’t arrive until noon on my second day at 6 Mile Cove. It was dead calm when all of a sudden someone somewhere turned a switch and the wind kicked up to 20mph. I had never seen the wind and water change so dramatically in a matter of seconds. Out on the water the three of us had 360 degree views of Incredible mountain scenery all to ourselves.
a new friend catching some big air at Lake Mohave
That night I was back at the tables in Vegas because that’s what gamblers do. Even though I lost $200 that trip, I was still grinning as I swapped stories of adventure with the others gathered around the roulette table.
hilltop view of 6 Mile Cove at Lake Mohave
keep your eyes on the road
We first heard about Red Rock Canyon over 20 years ago. We were climbers in college back then, and we saw it in a magazine. Ok maybe we weren’t real rock climbers. Real climbers were hanging off the edge of half dome in a hammock suspended only by pieces wedged into the rock. That being said, we were weekend warriors who could sport climb (5.10-5.11) and appreciate the sport. When we saw Red Rock’s colorful hues and smooth surface in the magazine, it beckoned us from our Southern California apartment five hours away.
red rock canyon – steep overhanging climbing route in calico tanks
A climber looks at mountains and rocks differently than everyone else. Just as a photographer is always scanning the scenery while driving instead of watching the road, a climber is always looking up at the rocks and mountains. The first thing a climber notices about Red Rock Canyon is its smooth hard sandstone surface that won’t tear fingers apart like granite does. Throw in the gorgeous colors, 5 minute approach, and beautiful mountain scenery and you have a climbers paradise.
red rock canyon – hiking/scrambling up calico tanks
“When I was a kid, we walked through 10 miles of snow to get to school”
Times were much different 20 years ago though. The visitor center you see today didn’t exist, and Siri wasn’t at your fingertips waiting to tell you how to get to Red Rock Canyon. The internet barely even existed then to the average person and hardly anyone had a cell phone. Ok, we didn’t walk through 10 miles of snow to get to school like our parents did, but you get the picture. Times were wildly different and information was scarce.
red rock canyon – mount wilson, oak creek canyon and rainbow peak (left to right)
Exploring the outdoors two decades ago involved gathering information the old fashioned way. You had to get your hands on a hard cover climbing guide and a fold out map. Even with those, your adventure involved many wrong turns before you reached your destination.
red rock canyon – view of keystone thrust from calico tanks
Remember pay phones?
If you got lost, no one would know for days or weeks because when you stayed in a hotel room, you didn’t use their phone. It cost too much to call out-of-town from a hotel phone. Sure, there were pay phones in the lobby, but even back then, using a pay phone wasn’t that much less ridiculous than it is today. Pay phones were for emergencies. People didn’t hang out at phone booths and use them to update their friends and family about their cool selfie pictures and awesome day.
red rock canyon – calico tanks
The only people you talked to on vacation were the people that were physically right in front of you. If you documented your trip with a few photos, you didn’t see any of the pictures until a few weeks later when you paid a fortune to develop them. People knew you made it home safely only after you arrived home and made a phone call from your land line.
red rock canyon – calico tanks
“huh – I expected the red rocks to be redder than this”
Now you might be able to understand how we failed to find Red Rock Canyon twenty years ago. Somehow we ended up in the middle of the desert with no red rocks in sight. It sounds ridiculous now given how easy it is to find the visitors center these days. It’s only 30 minutes from the strip, but we lived in an information dark age then. Wherever we were that day, we bouldered around for a few hours and then returned to our casino hotel. The visual and auditory stimuli of the Vegas casinos took over and we forgot all about our failed attempt. We lost interest in climbing a year or two after that trip as adult responsibilities took over.
red rock canyon – turtlehead peak
“ok mr. double down”
Gambling blood runs deep in our family, and so we have been to Vegas about 20 times since then. Unfortunately, we never bothered to make a second attempt at Red Rock and nearly forgot all about it. The architects that design the casino mazes are great at their jobs. They managed to keep us at the craps table all those visits instead of venturing outside the strip. Nonetheless, we usually had a great time with only a few regretful nights trying to exceed my ATM withdrawal limit. You know its time to go to bed when even the pit boss doesn’t want to let you take out more money.
red rock canyon – climbers on calico tanks
red rock canyon: 20 years later
This year I finally left the casino and had an incredible experience at Red Rock Canyon. Part of me wished I was climbing it, but part of me was happy to just explore it. It’s easier to just wander and appreciate its natural beauty without the heavy gear or a specified climbing route. Besides, I’m 20 years older now, physically at least. My knees can no longer handle hiking with heavy climbing gear, and I have to carry around peppermint for when my heartburn acts up. Mentally, I may not be a full 20 years older, but I do worry more than I did back then.
red rock canyon – calico tanks as sun begins to go down
The park host at the new visitors center said the scenic loop drive would take about 45 minutes. Instead, I managed to spend 7 hours hiking and exploring. I didn’t stop until the park closed, which fortunately didn’t happen until just after sunset. It’s the only time I can remember being happy that it gets dark as early as 5pm in the winter. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have witnessed this crazy sunset. I thought lava was about to spew out of Rainbow Mountain.
red rock canyon – sunset at rainbow peak
There is still so much more to explore at Red Rock Canyon. Next time we are in Vegas, I may even take my climbing gear. That shouldn’t be long from now as you know we are gamblers. Our Vegas trips will now include at least one morning at Red Rock Canyon instead of 10am gambling (8pm gambling still perfectly ok)!
red rock canyon – hiking the keystone thrust