Lake Powell

Published in the September 2008 Issue Published online: Sep 20, 2008
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When you're cruising on a new waterway, do your juices start pumping to discover what's around the next bend? Do you think of yourself as adventurous when pitted up against nature with no lifelines? Does exploring the unknown provide a natural high on a whole new level? If you have answered yes to any of these questions then perhaps you have some Lewis and Clark blood in you or, in this case, some of John Wesley Powell's genes. You owe yourself the boating adventure of a lifetime on Lake Powell in southern Utah, especially if you own a pontoon or a deck boat.

Loaded with gobs of storage for supplies to support an extended stay on the water, these boats are the perfect exploration vehicle for some amazing discovery adventures at Lake Powell. Less the microwave, the air conditioner and other luxuries, they can function like primitive houseboats or RV's. They're a multi-purpose watercraft for a once-in-a-lifetime and a true life-enriching experience. With 1,900 miles of shoreline and 96 canyons, this lake is packed full of stuff you have only heard about or seen in movies. Don't wait. Plan it and do it.

Do it soon.

Stretching 186 miles in length from northern Arizona to southern Utah and the second largest manmade reservoir in the United States, Powell's shimmering turquoise water can be seen from space. But it's here on earth where her magnificent splendor is revealed. For you explorers, Lake Powell is an "E-Ticket" ride to the most fun you can have with your swimsuit on. It's like a boating adventure through the Grand Canyon with unparalleled scenery.

The Sales Pitch After

Three wonderful trips to Lake Powell, my wife Dawn and I wanted to share our next experience with our good friends, Mike and Lisa Rodela who had recently bought a new pontoon. A data dump with photos, maps and a PDB magazine article was all that I needed to persuade them. Even Lisa was excited, and for her, camping ranks about as high as a bad case of the flu on her list.

As soon as they agreed, we felt we had assumed and shouldered the burden and responsibility to guarantee them an enjoyable vacation. We hoped like crazy that everything worked out as advertised. We began worrying about things that we have no control over-like the weather. It sounds crazy now, but such is human nature.

Planning & Prep

We felt we had loaded the provisions for the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria on the two pontoons to survive two weeks on the water. Our cargo included tools, containers of gas, food, bottled water, clothing, pillows, bedding, maps, binoculars, a lap top, lawn chairs, a red rubber dingy, huge ice chests, spare props, a Porta-Potti, fishing poles and tackle boxes. To include everything, we were stingy and acutely conservative when we loaded our spacious pontoon boats.

We had been using walkie-talkies for launching and retrieving for several years so these handy gadgets became the tool of choice for boat-to-boat communications. Both boats enjoyed a fresh tune-up and were outfitted with dual batteries to ensure reliability. Plus the trailer wheel bearings were greased for this 700-mile round trip.

Murphy's Law and the Significant Seven

After ascertaining that none of us were magnificent, two ladies, two men, two dogs and one teenager became the "Significant Seven" on a pilgrimage to the enormous waterway of Lake Powell. The plan was to convoy with two trucks and two pontoon boats from Lake Havasu City, Ariz., to Flagstaff, then north through a large portion of the Navajo Nation (which is over 27,000 square miles or about the size of West Virginia) to Page, Ariz.-331 miles one way.

But before we departed from Havasu, Murphy struck and we had to be reminded of rule number one, Murphy always wins. Murphy's Law is an adage in Western culture that broadly states, "If anything can go wrong, it will." Mike and Lisa had two tires blow on their truck. This caused an unplanned purchase of all new rubber for their truck and boat trailer. Then we had another visit from Murphy-a transmission cooler had to be installed in their truck because of a heating problem and our take-off had to be postponed again; we were starting to feel like the Space Shuttle crew. We were on the launch pad, we were anxious to start our voyage, but couldn't leave.

When we decided "all systems were go," we only traveled an hour when along came Murphy again. We had to change a water pump on their truck on Sunday morning in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Kingman, Ariz. Oh, did I mention I sold them the truck? I felt lousy and lower than whale waste about these events.

The Lake

I wondered what else could go wrong, but our luck was improving as we eventually made it to the Navajo Nation. "Murphy, leave us alone," I yelled. I felt anxious; services were scarce now. Only weathered roadside stands selling handmade Navajo jewelry and leather crafts sprinkled the last 70 miles of the highway. As we approached Page, I hoped all woes would be forgotten when they saw the phenomenal Lake Powell. It's a Ben and Jerry's indulgence experience for the eyes-the beauty and the immenseness dazzle all of your senses.

The lake was born in 1963 when the 710-foot-tall Glen Canyon Dam was completed to contain this portion of the 1,400-mile-long Colorado River (along with other tributaries: Dirty Devil, Green, San Juan, Escalante, etc.). Through exploration of this tremendous body of water it became the perfect houseboat lake, or in our case, the perfect pontoon boat lake.

Chronological Countdown

The Colorado River began carving and grinding its way through this country over six million years ago. Humans are recent inhabitants. Evidence of Native Americans in this region dates from the time of Christ through 1300 A.D. Some petroglyphs, pictographs and dwellings still remain as do the small foot-hold cups the ancient Anasazis carved in the rock walls to ascend to their cliff dwellings.

In 1776, Dominguez and Escalante, two Franciscan priests, were the first white men to explore this area. Lost and teetering on starvation, they made "The Crossing of the Fathers" a Colorado River historical event when they found a spot to safely cross the river for their return trip to Santa Fe. Padre Bay now covers some of their route with water.

White men were scarcely seen in this region until John Wesley Powell, the one-armed Civil War veteran, explored the Colorado River with row boats in 1869 and again in 1871. His 1869 scientific expedition to record and map this area was a wild, dangerous, white-water story that included desertion and murder. Powell named the area Glen Canyon, which became a National Recreation Area in 1972 and encompasses over 1.2 million acres. It is most appropriate that this body of water bears Powell's name in honor of his contributions and courage.

In late 1879, a Mormon party of 230 people traveled through this region to locate a new route to Montezuma in the Utah Territory. They spent 45 days dynamiting a trail to descend a mile-long steep canyon grade for a river crossing. Men, women, children, horses, cattle, sheep, oxen and 83 wagons cautiously passed down through the now famous "Hole in the Rock."

Base Camp One-

Rock Creek Bay

Near the mouth of Rock Creek Bay, we established our first base camp. Clear blue skies with temperatures in the low 80's blessed our days. The cool nights were illuminated by the brilliance of the stars. The lake's gentle ripples rocked our pontoons like cradles, which contributed to some great slumber. Distant coyote songs never even caused our snoring dogs to stir.

Aromas of sizzling bacon and hot coffee the next morning made our breakfast a cruise through the pleasure zone. It appeared Mike, Lisa, and their grandson, Kohl, had quickly adapted to the wild and stark remoteness. We all felt some comfort with the knowledge we were striking distance from the nearest trading post-the Dangling Rope Marina to the north. Gas and ice were the most precious commodities we needed, along with an occasional ice cream from this solar-powered, floating marina.

Boat trips pass red, orange and bronze landscapes that appeared like colossal ancient Egyptian cities pushed us routinely into sensory overload. Mountain tops, buttes, and mesas seemed to be capped with huge biblical-type temples and regal palaces for pharaohs. The sculptured enormity of this region was humbling. We felt as tiny and insignificant in this mammoth canyon as earth's minute role in the infinite vastness of the universe.

Rainbow Bridge

Considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Rainbow Bridge, at 290 feet high, is the world's largest natural bridge. Discovered by the white man in 1909, it is 42 feet thick and 33 feet wide. The arc spans an amazing 275 feet. Plenty of boat mooring and a decent trail allows access.

The hot, dry, dusty hike was a small price of admission for our visit to this geological wonder proclaimed as a National Monument in 1910. We stood in awe at nature's handiwork and felt the reverence of the Navajo sacred ground. After we returned to our pontoon, a tour boat from Wahweap Marina arrived with a collection of camera-toting tourists. These tour vessels are large and swift. As we exited Forbidding Canyon, the turbulence from this tour boat had not calmed. The water sloshed up and down on the steep canyon stone walls, like the splashing in a bathtub.

Camp Traditions

The ladies had planned wonderful menus that pleased everyone's palate. Tantalizing barbequed hamburgers and chicken, and even some gourmet meals followed the busy days of exploration and fishing. Every evening after dusk, we spent time together on Mike's boat to view the "photos au de jour" on his lap top computer. Then we retired to our pontoon for some quiet time prior to sleep. Dawn and I cherished the serenity of the night as we studied the galaxies which offered rich rewards in this remote corner of the world.

Base Camp Two-

Davis Gulch

After a one-night stay at Bullfrog Bay, we returned south to Davis Gulch, located in the 23-mile long Escalante River Arm. We camped near LaGorce Arch, a 100-foot-wide and 75-foot-high natural window. Camped next to us were several Brigham Young University students who hosted a professional fireworks display that evening. Reds, blues, greens and whites flashed on the stone walls while deafening booms reverberated in the deep canyons. The pungent smell of phosphorous tainted the air. Early the next morning, bagpipes played "Amazing Grace" from their boat's stereo system. The music was our reveille as it amplified through the canyon and its solemn anthem gave us chills.

From this new location, we were able to explore additional canyons and sights. My wife Dawn wanted Kohl to see the ancient Anasazi cliff dwelling so we boated further up Escalante Arm. It was difficult to imagine how these people, using only small foothold cups, climbed up and down the steep cliffs, with food, water and supplies.

For further exploration, Dawn and I paddled the red rubber dingy to LaGorce Arch for a better view. Micki and Norm, our two dogs, accompanied us to share the adventure. At the end of the navigable water, we hiked until we discovered a small water fall that cascaded into a blue pool of cool water. It was near this area a young artist-poet vanished without a trace in 1934. We retraced our steps then paddled back to our campsite. We all frolicked in the tepid water and enjoyed the warmth of the sun. The tall canyon walls reduced the length of our direct sunlight during the day and only revealed a slice of the starry sky at night.

Tasty, barbequed striped bass for dinner were compliments from Mike and his grandson, Kohl. These two anglers caught some nice stripers (which have no limit) during our stay. The striper record for Powell weighed in at 48 pounds and 11 ounces, but we were satisfied with their four- and five-pounders.

Homeward Bound

The boat trip back to Stateline Marina was sad on our final day. We waved at the north bound boats and presumed their vacations had just started while ours was near its end. Houseboats full of excited passengers towed several long strings of speed boats and jet skis. Low water levels in recent years was responsible for the lake's bathtub ring and increased the travel distance as boaters had to detour around Antelope Island. We savored the remaining scenery before the retrieval of our pontoons.

Lake Powell had been a fantastic adventure and a wonderful experience for all of us. Kohl had shared quality time with his grandparents and returned with memories to last a lifetime. We captured the essence of the lake with over 700 photos.

Post Script

Ah yes, for those who were wondering, Mike and Lisa's truck made it home without a problem. I felt so relieved, but Murphy was not done yet. I had a boat trailer tire explode on Interstate 40 in an area that had no shoulder. Thundering 18-wheelers rocked the trailer and frazzled my nerves as I changed the tire in the dark. But nothing could dampen the memories from this extraordinary trip. Not even Murphy.

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