Upper Colorado River

Upper Colorado River
There is no better illustration of the paradoxical existence of water in the desert than the ribbon of life we call the Colorado River.

A desert by definition is an environment lacking water, yet the very contours of a desert are shaped by this resource that we usually never see in this environment. As the massive Colorado marks the border between California, Nevada and Arizona, it has also marked a colorful history as humans through the years have settled it, founded it as a nerve center for commerce and finally caused it to become the most litigated river in the world.


A trip down California’s “East Coast” displays a lush riparian environment filled with birds and wildlife spanning two national wildlife refuges. Naturalists at Large has perfected delivering a consistent experience for hundreds of participants from student to adult as they paddle and explore thirty miles downriver. Guided by our naturalists participants learn to handle a canoe, begin discussions of southwestern water history, learn arid land camping strategies, explore environmental/political issues associated with the river, learn firsthand where water comes from in the southwest and foster strong bonds with their groups as everyone works together toward a successful trip. For the upper river section there are several options to choose from including an opportunity to tour the Hoover Dam before putting the boats in the water right below the dam, hike slot canyons, check out real petroglyphs and even soak in a naturally occurring hot spring. (Minimum age group 9th grade)

Educational Overview:

Curriculum Available: All curricula are compatible with the California State Science Standards.

Sense of Place: An introductory activity geared toward gaining an appreciation for not only the variety of landscapes California offers, but how our site fits into it both historically and in present day.

Geology: The Colorado River has carved out some of the most glorious canyons in the world. Learn the geology of the area and how it is continually changing.

Desert/Riparian Zone Ecology: Prickly, pokey and downright painful if you don’t look where you sit! Learn about desert ecology and how living things have adapted to harsh environmental living.

Human History: Study the colorful history of Native Americans, miners, ranchers and river men who learned to thrive in an inhospitable environment.

Water Politics: Discover where water comes from in the southwest and discuss some of the environmental and political issues surrounding the “most litigated river in the world.”

Evening Programs: Astronomy, Sensory Awareness and Campfire

Group building: Activities facilitated by your naturalist to help your trail group grow as a functional unit.

Trust Initiatives: Trust building activities to support individual challenge activities.

Additional Options:
  • Tour the Hoover Dam: Tour one of our national treasures and learn how it powers the west.
  • Hoover Dam Put-in: Stand at the base of the Hoover Dam as you begin your trip down the Colorado River. (Small groups only; approx. 36 kids)
  • Scheduled Ranger Talks
  • Service Projects: Microtrash pick-up
Site Facilities:

Primitive camping along the river with composting toilets. Naturalists at Large provides all tents, kitchen and canoeing equipment.

Activities Available:
  • Canoeing: Canoe handling, paddle skills, self-rescue. Discover the Sonoran and Mojave deserts from the seat of a canoe!
  • Sandbar play/Swimming: Sandbars are the ideal midday play zone allowing great opportunities for group bonding and priceless memories.
  • Hiking: Hike a slot canyon and check out such natural wonders as hot creeks/springs and real petroglyphs.