The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies and reminds you who you are.” Lynn Culbreath Noel


In the dark hours of the morning, the Perfect Stranger and I left Laughlin, bound for Needles, California. If you have ever driven across the I-40 in California; you may have exited at Needles to get gas, and perhaps wondered what this “in the middle nowhere” town has to offer. Call it an offer or perhaps an open invitation; paddling Topock Gorge, the crown jewel of the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge was my inspiration for visiting Needles.


Leaving the I-40, we exited from Park Moabi Road, bound for the Pirate Cove Resort and Marina. The Pirate Cove Resort is a first class family destination nestled along the banks of the Colorado River. With a 250 slip marina and a seven lane launch ramp, it’s a summer haven for boaters and water lovers. In the off-season, it’s home to migrating fowl and snow bird campers. For the next few days, Pirate’s Cove would be our base camp and kayak launch point.


Out of  sheer convenience, we booked a kayak and shuttle package from Desert River Kayaks. For a mere $55, the company will deliver rental kayaks and shuttle you back to camp.This was my second time renting gear from Desert River Kayaks. The owner Helen Howard, has spent 46 years observing the changes in recreation and resource preservation on the Colorado River. As a board member of the Lower Colorado River Water Trail Alliance, Helen holds the Colorado river close to her heart. Her knowledge of the river and willingness to assist clients in trip planning makes Desert River Kayaks my first choice.


With expected overnight temperatures in the high 20’s, we decided to set up camp before Helen delivered our gear. I have made a point over the years of trying to avoid pet peeves. My pet peeve with camping; setting up tents in the cold and at night.


Around 730am, the Perfect Stranger and I left Pirate Cove Resort bound for Topock Gorge. This majestic 17 mile paddle had been on my adventure list since 2001. I was finally here! Not only was I here; I was sharing it with someone I was falling in love with. Perhaps it’s human nature, or maybe it’s just me: however I feel when we fall in love we tend to start thinking more about the future than focusing on the now. As much as I was appreciating and honoring the now, I found myself thinking about the future. How can I date a woman who lives 500 miles away? Would I entertain a long distance relationship? Is a long distance relationship really sustainable? Do long distance relationships need an agreed end point? Do long distance relationships feel more like romantic getaways, or do they simply lack in the daily rituals and routines that regular relationships experience?


Bringing it back to the now, why contemplate or worry about a long distance relationship with a woman I hadn’t even held nor kissed. Maybe it wasn’t worry; it was more wanting.


Barely half a mile down the river, the perfect stranger and I decided to make our first stop. Mother Nature’s light show had led us ashore. The shades, shadows, and textures of the early morning captivated me. I have often wondered if photography can legitimize a landscape. Is it really possible to capture the authenticity of a scene? Perhaps I am merely freeze framing the feelings landscapes evoke in me, or maybe I’m simply shutter friendly?


After a brief snack, the perfect stranger and I headed back out onto the water. In the distance, we could hear the sound of a roaring freight train. We were now approaching the Santa Fe Rail Bridge. Built in 1945, the Santa Fe Bridge lies next to the modern Interstate I-40 Topock Bridge and the Old Trails Arch Bridge



Completed in 1916, the Old Trails Arch Bridge was the longest three-hinged arch bridge in the nation. A decade later,with the opening of Route 66; the bridge was bypassed, abandoned, and deemed worthless. In the ultimate act of recycling, Pacific Gas and Electric appropriated the bridge. Thanks to a fresh coat of paint, this centennial bridge gives the appearance of a far younger structure.


Paddling under the Old Trail Arch Bridge meant we were officially entering Topock Gorge and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. Home to over 318 species of birds; the Refuge lies within the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south migratory route along the western coast of the United States. Birders flock to the refuge during the autumn and winter months, not just for rare species such as Yuma clapper rail, Southwestern willow flycatcher and peregrine falcon, but also for the sheer abundance. Thousands of Canadian snow geese, ducks and other waterfowl seek winter shelter in Topock Gorge and Marsh.



As the perfect stranger paddled slightly ahead of me; the words of Loren Eisley came to mind, “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”


The morning lighting on the Colorado River had created a fairytale kind of magic. I will never forget the breath taking cloud reflections, the sunlight sparkles bouncing off the water’s surface, and the perfect stranger, finding pink and purple peace on the river.


In many ways, I feel photography is about capturing unguarded micro-second moments. While a creative eye is considered invaluable, I feel the ability to recognize limbically driven moments is crucial. Personal is when you feel someone’s spirit, intimate is when you know them.


With twelve more miles ahead of us, I could only wonder,what is next?