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By Chris McBeath
Contributor to Travel Writers' Tales

As Nevada's scorching desert sun soaked into my shoulders and back, I tingled all over at the prospect of plunging into the cool Mohave waters. And with only desert hills, the scent of sagebrush and a family of big-horn sheep for company, I inched forward until swoosh, giggle, splash, the heat of my naked body met its chill factor. But within minutes, I was back on board the houseboat, sitting atop the slide, and ready for the next descent!

After a few days in the ever-morphing, sensory-overloaded Las Vegas, this was antithesis absolute. And getting here had been half the fun.

The adventure began on the Colorado River at the foot of the monolithic Hoover Dam. A Black Canyon rafting trip is the only way to view the dam's awe-inspiring 247 square mile (640sqkm) surface from such a humbling perspective, and as the 30-passenger motorized craft started its journey down river, the vivacious crowd had grown quiet, obviously pondering the enormity of the dam's structural engineering. And what lay behind it; Lake Mead is the largest man-made lake in the United States, extending 110 miles and holding some 28.5 million acre feet of water.

Within minutes, though, the vistas changed. Reinforced concrete walls gave way to nature's own - canyons that towered some 2,000 feet up into the sky; rock crevices steaming with near-boiling spring waters and an array of anomalous, tropical vegetation. Along the rock faces were petroglyphs left by the Southern Paiute and Anasazi Indians who once settled here, as well as large brass rings embedded into the rock. Early European settlers had used them to winch paddle wheelers through the river's turbulent waters. Then there are the osprey nests, great blue herons, eagles and big horn sheep which scramble effortlessly over the stunning volcanic rock formations that drop without remorse into the water.

The rafting trip through Black Canyon ends at Willow Beach Harbor. Once the transfer point for workers on the Hoover Dam, today it is a backwater marina for fisherman as well as the transfer point to buses back to Las Vegas. However, with a little planning, the best of your desert vacation is yet to come. This is where to catch a boat-connector to Lake Mohave and an even more exhilarating ride down the Colorado River as it opens up to reveal rolling desert hills West across Nevada and East into Arizona, and the crystal blue waters of Lake Mohave just 30 minutes later.

Our 50 ft houseboat had already been moved from its home base at Cottonwood Cove Marina, and was anchored at a secluded bay beach alongside a zippy 18'ft ski boat and various water-toys such as skis and a towable donut. A hot tub and water slide were part of the houseboat package as were all the comforts of a modern, floating home. Even the fridge had been stocked to order.

The contrast of where we had been just hours before, to where we were now, was startling. First was the space - vast expanses of water, sand and sky. And nothing else. Then there was the silence. Not even a soft buzz of an insect. And then came the clarity of a star-filled sky - brighter and inkier than we had ever seen.

From sensory overload, we had come to a place of sensorial perception. And as we relaxed, everything sharpened its awareness. By day we explored the fingerling backwaters of the lake where catfish, gar and soft-shell turtle hung out; cruised the shoreline for wild burros and mountain sheep and walked between kreosite bushes, barrow cacti and arrow weed, tracking the evidence of desert creatures that only awakened in the cool of night - cougar, coyote, lizards and snakes.

Even if house boating isn't your thing, the Cottonwood Cove complex offers numerous lakeside accommodations, a full-service RV park and campground facilities. Whatever you choose, a few days on Lake Mohave restores the senses after the carnival atmosphere of Sin City and since the folks at Cottonwood look after all the nitty-gritty details from hotel luggage transfers until you board your flight home, the entire experience is seamless and worry free. Besides, skinny dipping keeps you young.

Photos: Bill Vanderford unless otherwise noted:

1. Eagle with Prey
2. Floating between Canyon walls
3. Lake Mohave Houseboat
4. Big Horn Sheep Family
5. Lunch in canyon
6. Impact Imminent - Chris McBeath
7. Just Before Impact

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