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Desert Companion

Liquid courage

I was later told it looked like I was doing some sort of bizarre, avant-garde dance: Whipping and whirling and hands flapping wildly as my legs bent at completely unnatural angles, scrobbling and pedaling cartoonlike for purchase on the water-slicked rocks. We were hiking up Boy Scout Canyon — just one stop on our daylong kayaking trip down Black Canyon — and I’d clearly met my nemesis in the form of this rocky keyhole waterfall. Between the babbling water and the slimy coating of moss, negotiating the tight pass was already a slippery proposition. Add in my natural clumsiness that makes me an unwitting slapstick act most of the time, and we had on our hands a recipe for OW MY FACE.

Then, a miracle. Somehow, my hooves found safe ground — I seem to recall my knees locking like parking brakes at the first faint intimation of solidity — and I was spared the dubious souvenir of a skull tattoo courtesy of mondo faceplant. That didn’t prevent the later jabs and jokes from tripmates about my dork ballet debut, but better that than the alternative — sucking chicken broth through the mouth slot of a head cast. In short, this little backways tour of just one facet of Lake Mead took me unawares — and I lost my footing.

The stumble is a facile metaphor, but apt: Lake Mead surprised me. To be frank, I’ve always thought of Lake Mead National Recreation Area as an outsized blue-collar kiddie pool, a place for ruffian staycations enjoyed by people who wear Daisy Duke cutoff jeans without a whiff of irony. That’s more or less how I used to partake of the lake in my youth (minus, I should say, the Daisy Dukes): We’d trundle out there in a friend’s van, veer off a side road, build a roaring pallet bonfire and ingest inadvisable volumes of Funyuns, Schaefer beer and other substances while blaring very important and awful punk rock tapes. We kept the lake at a moral distance — and not arbitrarily. In our mind, Lake Mead’s artificiality inspired an amused contempt for it. Besides, how seriously could you take a lake whose most notorious feature was carp as big as Yugos? Any body of water that hosted such brutes surely hid other mutant horrors in its turgid waters — say, tentacled dominatrix mermaids with machine guns and flesh-eating pro wrestlers.

Support comes from

Well, I’ve never enjoyed being proven wrong so much. At the urging of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Lynn Davis — an undying fan of and tireless advocate for Nevada’s natural gems — Art Director Chris Smith and I spent three separate days exploring the lake we thought we knew, from its lazy, lolling river solitudes to its sun-dappled open water, from its historic secrets to its wild and severe outlands. We chronicled our adventure on page 46 — and that’s where yours begins in our annual travel issue. Of course, if you’re looking for escapes further off the horizon, we’ve got those too — whether it’s one-tank trips in our big Southwest backyard (p. 63) or splashier excursions around the continent (p. 57). In short, whatever your taste for a trip this summer, we’re sure to have only pleasant surprises in store. In all cases, buckle your seatbelt or strap on your life jacket. But most importantly: Don’t forget your capacity for wonder.

***

Corrections

Artist Brent Sommerhauser was an assistant gaffer in the creation of the Domsky Glass sculpture for The Cosmopolitan’s Book & Stage venue. Artist Larry Domsky conceived, designed and fabricated the piece.

The location for April’s “British Invasion” fashion spread was the theater for The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil at The Mirage.

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