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5 things you didn’t know about Boulder City

Written by: Burton Miller (Blazin’ Paddles Tour Guide)

Famous Guests Have Stayed at the Hotel

The Boulder Dam Hotel is a historic and charming colonial revival style inn built in 1933. Over the years it has seen many famous guests. Classic Hollywood stars loved retreating to the quiet Boulder Dam Hotel for leisure and lodging while filming. Notable celebrity visitors have been Bette Davis, Shirley Temple, Henry Fonda and Will Rogers. Influential business people have also spent the night including Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, George Pepperdine (founder of Pepperdine University) and Howard Hughes after his plane crash at Lake Mead in 1946. The hotel has seen political and world leaders including senator Robert Taft and Pope Pius XII when he was still Cardinal.

Staying Cool at the Movie Theater

The movie theater on Arizona Street was the first air conditioned building in town. Dam workers and families would pay admission – regardless of the movie – just to cool off! In the 1990’s the movie theater, still in operation at the time, was forced to shut its doors due to competition from the more technologically advanced theaters in Henderson and Las Vegas. At risk of falling into total disrepair, the empty theater was purchased in 1997 by Desi Arnaz, Jr. and renovated into a dance studio and performance hall.

The Big “BC”

If your Blazin’ Paddles tour passes through Boulder City, chance are we’ll point out the big BC painted on the side of the hill. This ironically doesn’t stand for Boulder City. It’s for Bootleg Canyon. Since Boulder City was a federal reservation, there was no alcohol or gambling allowed, even after federal prohibition ended in 1933. They wanted the federal workmen fully focused on their task of constructing Hoover Dam. Even after the dam was completed, BC was federally regulated until it was chartered as it’s own city in 1960 and the prohibition was later repealed in 1969.

Bighorn Sheep Love Boulder City

On the river we are always on the lookout for the Desert Bighorn Sheep. It is not uncommon to see at least one sheep on tour, as they visit the river to drink water in the hotter months when there is no water elsewhere or when rain is scarce. However, Hemenway Park in Boulder City is home to an entire herd of sheep! They spend hours at the park keeping cool in the shade of the trees and eating the grass. The herd at Hemenway Park is a big draw for wildlife lovers, just make sure to keep a safe distance and do not disturb them while watching or taking pictures.

So Long, Boulder City

For film buffs, Boulder City plays an important role in the Oscar-winning La La Land. Emma Stone’s character Mia Dolan grew up in Boulder City, and in the film she creates and performs a one-woman show called So Long, Boulder City. Her character’s love of film started because her aunt worked at the library and she would walk there as a child to watch classics. “Del Prado Library” in the movie is not a real library, but Del Prado is a real housing development in Boulder City. Nothing was actually filmed in Boulder City but director Damien Chazelle chose it for the story because he liked the name and it was feasible that Mia could drive there within a day from Los Angeles.


Blazin’ Paddles Equipment

We choose to guide our guests down the River in Wilderness Systems touring kayaks because of their spacious cockpit and stability. It’s an ideal kayak for day-trips with watertight hatches to store cameras, snacks, lunches and personal gear. These boats are perfect for the kind of flat water you will encounter in the Black Canyon.


Touring Kayaks

There are many different types of kayaks. Blazin’ Paddles uses touring kayaks because they track well, have a good turning radius, and fair initial stability. Initial stability concerns how stable the kayak is at rest – in other words, how easy it is to get in and out of the boat. Initial stability also determines how comfortable you will feel during low-motion activities like wildlife watching or during a water fight! Secondary stability is concerned with how stable the boat is while underway. Touring kayaks have a high secondary stability. Our kayaks also have foot pegs. Footrests allow you to use torso rotation to effectively paddle the kayak.

Unlike whitewater kayaks that require a snug fit, touring kayaks have a looser fit in the cockpit to allow for greater comfort and larger paddlers. Also, we don’t use cockpit skirts because we only really need them during water fights! The overall volume of a boat is important if you want to take a lot of gear. However, we choose longer kayaks simply because the longer the kayak is, the faster and more efficient it will be. We want you to spend your energy having fun, not wrestling with the boat!

Our kayaks are made of the heaviest of the popular materials, polyethylene (HDPE#2). This makes them more resistant to damage. Also, polyethylene is easily recycled again after its useful life.

Rudder or no Rudder?

Now for the great touring kayak debate: rudder or no rudder? We have paddled both ways. You are not really supposed to use the rudders to steer. Rudders are mainly used to help you track better in a crosswind. Currently, we have decided not to use rudders to make it simpler for the vast majority of guests. We will continue to monitor this and depending on customer feedback, we may add back rudders to the kayaks used on the full-day tour. Finally we have chosen to use the extremely lightweight Aqua Bound Stingray carbon-fiber hybrid paddles. You will love how light and efficient these are.

The models of Wilderness System Touring Kayaks we use are:

• Focus 155
• Tsunami 175
• Polaris 180T

We encourage you to book a tour and come experience easy river kayaking for yourself!

Black Canyon Wildlife

The Black Canyon of the Colorado River is one of the best places to see wildlife in the Las Vegas area. You can see bald eagles, bighorn sheep, large reptiles and even the elusive mountain lion if you’re lucky!


Desert Treasures

Recently we’ve been seeing a lot of bighorn sheep, but they blend so well into the desert, they are even hard to see in our pictures! The desert tortoise is Nevada’s state reptile, also tough to see and they can live up to 50 years old.

Iguanas and lizards are very common and not too difficult to see since they are active all day. The desert iguana can grow up to 14” long and appears dark brown or light tan depending on the time of day. The Gila monster is extremely rare and is one of only two venomous lizards in the world. I’ve only ever seen one and that, unromantically, was in the middle of the road! It’s difficult to comprehend what it is when you finally see one and you think that it’s too fat to be a lizard and too short to be a snake, so what is it?


The one type of wildlife nobody ever seems to want to see are the snakes. There are four types of rattlesnakes in the Black Canyon area and all are to be considered dangerous. Rattlesnake venom is very toxic, so as with all wildlife, we like to view them from a safe distance. Any bite requires immediate evacuation and this includes bites from baby rattlesnakes!


The king snake is one of the most readily identified non-venomous snakes in the Black Canyon area. It’s quite large at up to 42 inches and has a thick body. It’s easily identified by its pattern of black or dark brown rings alternating with white or cream colored rings along its entire body.

Black Canyon Birds

Our guests are often surprised by the number of bald eagles we see. In addition, we have several species of owls in the Black Canyon area as well as hummingbirds and several species of ducks including common mergansers and grebes. The riparian landscape along the river provides an excellent feeding ground for insect-eating birds.

In the river you’ll find a variety of fish including largemouth bass, striped bass, black crappie, bluegill and channel catfish.

So no matter what time of day (or night) you visit Black Canyon, you’re almost certain to see a variety of interesting wildlife that make up a special and unique desert kayak experience to remember.

Kayaking in the Black Canyon

This article was originally published at

The weekend prior had a scorching high of about 109 degrees. But on this day, the weather was on point. What a great day to kayak!

It was an excellent day to kayak with Blazin Paddles.

It was an excellent day to kayak with Blazin Paddles.

I love this!

I love this!

I invited my stepson, Trevor, and our family friend, David, to join me in this adventure. Ever since I showed Blazin Paddles’ Facebook pictures to Trevor, he was all gung-ho about going. He was even more excited that Blazin Paddles’ headquarters was close to a Roberto’s Taco Shop. We made a pit stop there, where he and David each chowed down a breakfast burrito before heading out to the tour.

This was our sweet ride to the launch area at Willow Beach.

This was our sweet ride to the launch area at Willow Beach.

From Boulder Highway, en route to our destination, we could already see a hint of the water.

From Boulder Highway, en route to our destination, we could already see a hint of the water.

We reached the launch area at Willow Beach Marina after a 40-minute shuttle ride from Blazin Paddles’ Henderson office. Ryan Borup, the owner of Blazin Paddles, explained that we were on the Arizona side of the Colorado River a few miles downstream from Hoover Dam.

While Ryan prepped the kayaks, we had time to walk around the marina, use the facilities, and visit the sundry shop for last-minute essentials. There were a few families already picnicking nearby and just kicking back.

Our kayaking playground for the day

Our kayaking playground for the day

This duck was already having a grand time in the crisp and clear water.

This duck was already having a grand time in the crisp and clear water.

The water was so inviting! It was clear and so was the sky that framed it. From a distance, we could see only a handful of adventurers and a family of ducks that already beat us to the water.

Getting ready to launch, we approached the bright colored kayaks already lined up on the shore. Each was already equipped with a paddle, a life jacket, and…a water gun! A sure sign of more fun things to expect.

Also on the front of each kayak was a water gun strapped onto the bungee cords.

Also on the front of each kayak was a water gun strapped onto the bungee cords.

Ryan, assisted by companion guide Jackie, instructed us to put on our life jackets. Safety first! He followed that up with quick tips on how to get in and out of the kayak without tipping over. Then he demonstrated how to properly hold the paddle and effectively maneuver the vessel.

Excited to launch. Let's do this!

Excited to launch. Let’s do this!

I quickly loaded my snacks inside the rear storage compartment of my chosen kayak. Then I tucked away my iPhone, protected inside a ziplock bag, in the small hatch in front of the cockpit. Before long, we were off.

I chatted with Ryan as we leisurely paddled to our first destination. He grew up in Alaska where his father was stationed while in the military service. That explains his love of the outdoors and how he was somehow led to this business.

Meanwhile, Trevor behind me asked, “Um, is there a better way to paddle? I seem to be all over the place.”

“That could mean your one arm is stronger than the other,” Ryan replied as he gave him advice on how to make adjustments.

Later, when I lagged behind, I chuckled as I watched him zig-zagging ahead of me.

After a few adjustments, Trevor got the hang of it and was kayaking like a pro.

After a few adjustments, Trevor got the hang of it and was kayaking like a pro.

Along with three other guys in our group, we went for a short uphill hike to explore the location. We had to take pictures of the gorgeous view of the Black Canyon from up there.

Gorgeous view of our kayaking location.

Gorgeous view of our kayaking location.

Our group walking past a fire pit as we made a short uphill hike.

Our group walking past a fire pit as we made a short uphill hike.

Our group walking past a fire pit as we made a short uphill hike.

Our group photo with Black Canyon as our backdrop

Ryan is very knowledgeable about the history of the area. Throughout the tour, he showed us some interesting sites and told us fascinating facts. He emphasized that the water here remains 55 degrees year-round. During our second stop, we bravely took a hasty dip in the freezing water. It was refreshing but I could feel my hands going numb.

It was in this spot that I noticed an old-fashioned wooden cart suspended on cables. I also saw a make shift trail that ribboned along the canyon edge. On the opposite canyon wall, there was an outpost with ladder accessibility.

Apparently, these intriguing structures were part of an old gauging station. There were several used during the construction of Hoover Dam. Back then, a gauger would walk along the trail to get on the cart. Then using the cables, he would pull himself to the measuring station and monitor water levels. As part of the tour, Ryan showed us remnants of a river gauger’s house nearby. It’s incredible to see these remains from the 1930’s.

What remains of a 1930's river gauger's house

What remains of a 1930’s river gauger’s house

One highlight of our tour was when we all backed into Emerald Cave one at a time and created a sardine-like formation inside. We gazed in amazement at the emerald green water in front of us.

Inside Emerald Cave

Inside Emerald Cave

When the sunlight hits the water, it reflects back hues of emerald green.

When the sunlight hits the water, it reflects back hues of emerald green.

"Awesome!" David gave it a big thumbs up.

“Awesome!” David gave it a big thumbs up.

On our way back, it was so relaxing to just paddle away. I liked it best when there weren’t any boats or jet skis speeding by. It was nice to enjoy our surroundings with peace and quiet. Both Ryan and Jackie said that they typically spot bighorn sheep around here. But they camouflage so well that sometimes you don’t easily see them.

During the home stretch, we hit some wind. That sure tested my endurance. I felt like I grew some muscles because I powered through it. Though snacks were provided during the tour, I was ready for my packed sandwiches by the time we got back. We all agreed it was a great time and that we want to return and do it all over again!

Jackie and Ryan from Blazin Paddles took us on a fun kayaking adventure we won't forget

Jackie and Ryan from Blazin Paddles took us on a fun kayaking adventure we won’t forget

Ryan Borup of Blazin Paddles Kayak Tours

Ryan Borup of Blazin Paddles Kayak Tours

Helpful Info

Half Day Tour: $135/person (3 hours water time); snacks and water included
Full Day Tour: $185/person (7 hours water time); includes lunch and trip to hot springs
*They also have a Twilight Tour that launches around 5:00 p.m. and includes a campfire activity.

What to Wear:
Swimsuits, water tees and shorts, hat, water shoes or closed toe shoes (You will get wet.)
Don’t forget to put on sunscreen.

What to Bring:
Some snacks and water will be provided. You are welcome to bring additional snacks and drinks.

Getting There:
Although locals can meet at their Henderson Office, they do pick-up/drop off on the Strip.

Other Tips:
Make sure you are physically fit to join the kayaking tour. Though not necessary, it may be helpful to watch a video on how to kayak properly. Then you’re all set!

Lake Mead Water

Hoover Dam was the largest dam in the world at the time of its completion in 1935. The dam created Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, which covers about 248 sq. miles and is capable of holding 28.9 million acre-feet of water. After construction of the dam, it took about 6 years for the lake to fill up. But right now, Lake Mead is at the lowest level it has ever been since the Hoover Dam was constructed. It is at 41% of its full capacity.

Dangers of Drought

The May 2016 water level of Lake Mead was 1073.80 ft. At 1075 ft., the Bureau of Reclamation declared a level 1 water shortage declaration and if it stays below 1075 ft at the end of the year, the Bureau will step in and force the seven states that are part of the Colorado River pact to enact emergency water saving measures. If Lake Mead ever falls to 1025 ft. the Department of the Interior will take control of Lake Mead’s management and water allocation. At 950 ft. no water will be passing through the turbines. This “dead pool” level used to be assessed at 1050 ft., but investment in new turbines has allowed the Bureau of Reclamation to re-assess that lower level by 100ft.

About 96% of the water in Lake Mead once fell as snow in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming. However, we’re 16 years into supposedly the worst drought in 500 years. This has resulted in a drop in the water level of over 130 ft. during those 16 years. Although the amount of water Lake Mead receives each year varies, the amount of water released does not vary much from year to year. Lake Mead is at its highest levels in the late fall and early spring months. Although the level of the lake is expected to continue to fall during the summer, by the end of 2016 the lake is expected to return to at least 1078 ft. to avoid a formal water shortage declaration.

River Facts

According to the Colorado River Compact of 1922, California has senior rights to the river. Therefore Nevada and Arizona are the first ones to take water allocation cuts in times of drought. On the other hand, electricity costs from Hoover Dam are some of the most inexpensive in the country. Since the capital costs of the dam were paid off years ago, electricity is only 1.83 cents per kilowatt-hour. The maximum amount of power the dam is capable of producing is down 30% from when the lake was full and for every foot that Lake Mead drops, generating capacity is reduced by another 5-6 megawatts.

Natural cycle, water politics or one-way trip? We’d love to hear your comments, feedback and ideas during one of our tours. Book with us and start a discussion!

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