Kerrick James

In the mid-1990s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation opened Black Canyon, on the Colorado River below Hoover Dam, to wider public recreation. Day trips became possible via the dam’s access road, and explorers soon followed. In 1995, I was one of them.

I joined friends from Bullhead City on a kayaking trip to experience this scenic part of the Colorado, and 9 miles from our put-in, we found a unique space on the Arizona side. I’ve kayaked into sea caves in places such as Hawaii and Curaçao, and their wonders include echoing acoustics, strange light effects and incredible photo opportunities. I shared a few images with Peter Ensenberger, who was Arizona Highways’ picture editor at the time, and he assigned me a story that ultimately ran as a cover feature in September 1996.

When I was writing captions for that story, I named this place Emerald Cave — a name it still bears. In midafternoon from July to early September, the setting sun angles into the cave’s entrance and reflects off the rocks and through the water, creating the sensation of floating on an emerald crystal. This illusion, though, lasts less than an hour — when the sun hits the cliff wall to the west, the green water and lighting magic fade away.

Recently, I returned to Emerald Cave to experience its magic again. I was savoring the illusion from my kayak when a young lady snorkeled in, and I can only imagine how the cave looked from her underwater point of view. That’s why I’ll be going back with a snorkel when summer arrives and the sun creates new emerald afternoons on the river.