There would be lots of nature, a jungle of sorts, instruction on desert survival and even some snacks picked straight from the plants most human desert inhabitants avoid. However, the guide looked the part and gave the desert chow his stamp of approval, so why not trust him? We drove into the 9.5 square-mile Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge located about 20 minutes outside of Lake Havasu City via a hard-packed dirt and rock road. But we soon found ourselves out of the safety of the car and trudging through greenery unseen in the desert parts of Arizona. Our guide said we were walking in skunk cabbage. It seemed a bit of a harsh name given that I didn't notice a smell, and the big, romaine lettuce-like leaves and white flowers made it seem pleasant enough. Soon enough, the ground became increasingly marsh-like and I could feel my feet sinking with each step. Our guide said the Bill Williams River actually ran underground through the area. We would be swallowed quickly by a mix of Cottonwood trees the dreaded Salt Cedars, the enemy of this once flush, riparian area. The Cottonwood's seeds, which appear to be wrapped in the fluffy white stuff, completely covered the tree-top canopy and the ground. The guide began explaining how the rather dead-looking trees steal all the water and kill the native vegetation, and how they were introduced originally by railroad builders to control erosion. Then I asked why they were called Salt Cedars. The guide snapped off a piece of the nearest specimen and said taste. Touching it to my tongue, I discovered that, indeed, it was salt-flavored. My trust in the guide grew and I figured I'd perhaps try more desert cuisine, considering the first taste-test wasn't fatal. Again, bouncing around the back seat of the vehicle, we were tearing down a less-improved route called Trail's End Camp Road near the California side of Parker Dam. We again found ourselves out of the vehicle, and our guide commenced snapping up pieces of other plants to taste. This time, the fare was a handful of extremely dry and dead-looking Primrose seeds. A bit earthy, I thought. But I felt obliged to Dave and his penchant for desert cuisine, and again survived the ordeal. Bouncing back toward the highway, Dave provided a list of dos and don'ts for surviving in the desert. Included in the list was the medicine-like, woodsy, tangy bark Dave had made me separate with my teeth from a Brittle Bush a few miles back. He said it had anesthetic properties, which I discovered was true. I also learned that its breath-freshening properties left something to be desired; my wife wouldn't kiss me afterward. Dave returned us to the resort, and we parted ways with our hungry guide. The lake was extremely inviting, making me wish I had my own boat to take out. I didn't, but had found plenty of ways stay entertained in the Home of the London Bridge, as the city bills itself. Sunburned, tired, muddy -- and with a weird taste in my mouth -- I lay down for a nap.
"Commentary: Feasting on Lake Havasu." Arizona Capitol Times (2008). General OneFile. Web. 26 May 2010.
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