WILLOW BEACH, ARIZ. – One of the things I miss about my newspaper life is the quiet pleasure of a cool dateline, dangling at the start of a story like a sparkle of anticipation. So grant me this one.
Willow Beach is a boat landing and picnic spot at the bottom of Black Canyon on the Colorado River, 13 river miles downstream from Hoover Dam. It’s not so much a river here as a narrow lake, “Lake Mohave”, which backs up behind Davis Dam. Mondays and Tuesdays are “no motor” days, so you can paddle upstream through Black Canyon toward the base of Hoover Dam without the noise.
Walking downstream from the boat ramp I came upon a snow goose, up out of the water, looking quite alone. You never see snow geese by themselves – they’re serious flockers. My bird book and a search of eBird reports suggests it’s not that common here. Its effort to flee my presence seemed pretty lackluster, so I suspect it was sick. Bird rarities can be great for list-keeping (it was my 100th Arizona life bird) but they’re always sad to me.
Willow Beach is a pretty spot, but strange. The water here is a rock solid 55 degrees, cold by desert standards, because the Hoover Dam power plant intakes are deep in Lake Mead. So what we have here is far from “natural”. It lacks the annual flood cycle you would have had before the dam was built, it’s slow and easy, and really cold. The coots and ring-billed gulls don’t seem troubled – hundreds of each. Nor did the dog jumping in and out of some guys’ canoe.
But this is a very different Black Canyon than the one Joseph Christmas Ives powered up in his steamboat in 1858.