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Calendar >  Travels With TR – Lake Powell and the Canyons – Land of Adventure

Travels With TR – Lake Powell and the Canyons – Land of Adventure

By   /  November 20, 2014  /  No Comments



tom & carol     My family and I, along with many others, have traveled to Arizona many times to enjoy Lake Powell and the surrounding areas.  Lake Powell is a large reservoir on the Colorado River that borders Arizona and Utah. Over 2 million people visit Lake Powell and the surrounding canyons every year. The lake is the second largest man-made reservoir in the United States, behind Lake Mead. The lake and surrounding canyons comprise roughly 1.25 million acres and the lake itself is 161,390 acres.  The lake was created by the flooding of the area, formerly known as Glen Canyon, after the building of the Glen Canyon Dam.  The Hite Crossing Bridge is the only bridge spanning the canyon and is located at the northeastern point of Lake Powell marking the upstream limit of the lake.  The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area was created in 1972. Today the National Park Service manages this area.

The history of this area goes back hundreds and hundreds of years to a time when early American Indian tribes lived in small settlements in the canyons and on the side of the canyon walls.  These Indians, called by historians today the Anasazi, were the early beginning of what would become the Navajo, Hopi and other American Indian tribes. This area was left untouched by the early American settlers until the exploration of the Colorado River in 1869, by a 35 year old American Civil War veteran John Wesley Powell. Powell and 9 companions began, in what is now Utah, on a float trip that would cover 4 months mapping the Colorado River.  The adventure was full of mishaps and danger.  The mapping lasted from May 24th to August 29th and by the time the explorers left on the Virgin River area, only 5 members of the original team remained.  Several of the men had left the river early and tried to hike out of what we now call the Grand Canyon, only to meet their demise. In Page, Arizona, the John W. Powell Museum, on Lake Powell Blvd., can be visited and many of the artifacts of Powell’s trip can be seen.  One of these is one of the boats Powell used on the river.  One interesting fact is that Powell strapped himself to a chair on one of the boats to go through the rapids.  By the way, Powell only had one arm, he lost an arm during the Civil War. If you are lucky enough to take one of the Colorado River raft float trips, the river guides will point out along the way a wooden boat high on a canyon wall that marks the high water mark that the Colorado River would have existed during Powell’s explorations. I highly recommend a river trip if you get a chance, but be sure to book way in advance as the number of people on the river is limited. There is a short one day trip visitors can take out of Lee’s Ferry, located one mile from the bottom of the Glen Canyon Dam. This will give you an idea of what it would be like to be on the river.  These trips can be booked out of Page, Arizona.  My wife and I have been lucky enough to float the river on a 7 day adventure that began at Lee’s Ferry and ended at Diamond Bar, not far from the north entrance to Lake Mead. For this trip we were able to hike many of the canyons along the river after we set-up our camp site, explore areas that cannot be seen from the North or South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and most importantly we rafted some of the most dangerous rapids on navigable rivers in the United States.  This included the famous Lava Falls, one of the steepest rapids rafts encounter on the river.  It is an adventure you will never forget.

But, the way most people see the Colorado River is on Lake Powell, formed from the Colorado River after the building of the Glen Canyon Dam. Two other rivers flow into Lake Powell, the Escalante and San Juan Rivers. The Glen Canyon Dam was controversial when it was built.  It is located just below Page, Arizona, and extends 1/3 of a mile across the canyon. The location of the dam today is the result of a compromise. It is located close to Lee’s Ferry crossing, once a site where ferry boats carted people and wagons across the Colorado River.  The building of the dam was controversial as environmentalists and others felt the dam and subsequent creation of the lake would cover sites and ruins that were some of the most beautiful in this region.  The original dam site was moved to the location we see it today. The dam was completed September 13, 1963. It took 11 years to create Lake Powell and fill it to its high level mark, reached on June 22, 1980.  Today, the lake height fluctuates quite a bit based on snow runoff in Utah and other states.  Since 2000, the Colorado River has been flowing below average resulting in lower lake levels.

The way hundreds of people see Lake Powell today is on one of the many water crafts available for rent or touring. Houseboats come in a variety of sizes.  The size and the number of days you rent the houseboat will determine the cost.  They generally begin at around 46’ and go up to 75’ and the prices per day can range from $575 a day to $1,600 a day.  There are off season prices available. The main concern boaters should have is the weather, which can get very windy and stormy at times. Visitors can also rent wave runners, power boats for a day’s adventure or you can sign-up for a boat tour that will take you to Rainbow Bridge.  My family has rented different sized houseboats four different times on Lake Powell.  Our activities included water skiing, fishing, touring the side canyons, exploring and hiking, lazy days on the Lake and lots of great meals.  It is a fun time for families and friends, but make sure these are folks you want to spend a week around as you are on a house boat and space can get a bit cramped.  Many visitors bring tents to do some camping at the camp sites you pull into with your houseboats. Next to the marinas there are RV parks and campgrounds as well as lodges.  The Lake Powell Resort at Wahweap and the Defiance House Lodge at Bullfrog are very nice with great restaurants.  I remember sitting outside of our room at Wahweap on one of our visits and watching an incredible lightning storm show with different types of lightning s strikes appearing from different views. Another way visitors can see the canyons of Lake Powell is to take a Hummer or Jeep tour.  Bookings out of Page are available.

One of the sites most visitors to the Lake want to see is Rainbow Bridge.  You cannot take a houseboat into the canyon where Rainbow Bridge is located. You must take power boats or wave runners to a dock and walk to the arch.  Rainbow Bridge is one of the world’s largest natural bridges, 278’ wide and 290’ above the streambed.  It was designated as a National Monument May 30, 1910.  The first time our family was on a houseboat and we visited Rainbow Bridge there was a great deal of water flowing beneath Rainbow Bridge and you could actually float under the arch.  Today, due to the change in the water levels, you can only walk below the arch.  The Navajo Indian Tribe has wanted to limit access to the arch.  The last time we were at Rainbow Bridge the tribe had stationed guards to make sure visitors stayed away from the arch and did not attempt to climb on or get too close to Rainbow Bridge. Several years ago there was a protest that shut down access to the arch for a short period of time.

There are a number of Marina’s located on Lake Powell.  The Wahweap Marina was one of the first built, a short drive from Page, Arizona.  The first buildings for the lodge were completed in 1965.  Other Marina’s are Antelope Point Marina, Halls Crossing Marina, and Bullfrog Marina. Hite Marina recently closed due to the low water level.  Along the edge of Lake Powell at Dangling Rope Marina boaters can restock at the convenience store, fuel their boats and water craft and visit the snack bar for ice cream. Dangling Rope is not a Marina boaters can stay or camp.

Many of the places in the canyons boaters can visit, usually using smaller water craft, are linked to the early Anasazi culture.  There is the Defiance House, a 700 year old ruin in Forgotten Canyon, the Hole in the Rock crossing where early Mormon settlers crossed, Rincon – a mile wide channel where wild donkeys roam the banks, Cathedral in the Desert located 23 miles from Bullfrog Marina featuring sandstone walls over 1000’ feet tall and Three Roof Ruin high on the cliffs toward the end of Escalante Canyon.

Many boaters just want to travel the canyons for the beauty of the canyons themselves. On the southern side of Lake Powell there are canyons with names like Antelope, Face, Gunsight and the largest – Navajo. On the Northern side canyons like Lost Eden, Iceberg, Forgotten Canyon draw house boaters to its banks. In Escalante Canyon, said to be the most beautiful of the canyons of Lake Powell, there are limited camping sites.  Most visitors to this canyon use kayaks and smaller water craft to explore the narrow canyons.  Most of these canyons go back for miles, making for many hours of exploring.

One activity everyone who visits Page and Lake Powell should take part in is a visit to Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon located on the Navajo Reservation.  This beautiful slot canyon is ¼ mile long with 130 foot sandstone walls. Slot canyons are throughout this area, but can be dangerous to enter without a guide.  Sudden down pours, even miles away, can lead to flashfloods.  There have been deaths each year from unsuspecting visitors caught in these canyons or from falls that trap them.  There was a movie made from a true story, about an experienced climber who traveled alone to a slot canyon in Utah and became trapped. The movie was called “127 Hours”.  For Antelope Canyon, you can book tours in Page.  A truck will pick-up the visitors and drive them a short way out of Page on Route 98 for a bumpy 3 ½ mile ride on a dry, sandy wash.  A licensed tour guide will then take you through the slot canyon pointing out many features. Midday is the best time to walk in the slot canyon to get the best pictures of the sun on the sandstone walls. Antelope Canyon was discovered in 1931 by a young Navajo girl who was herding sheep.  A  similar story to the discovery of the ancient ruins in the canyon walls of Mesa Verde, where the Wetherill brothers are said to have discovered the cliff dwellings as they tracked down horses they were herding. Some evidence shows that the brothers find was in 1888 and a previous discovery was in 1873 by a prospector.

With careful planning, lots of research and talking with people who have been before, a vacation to Lake Powell can be the adventure of a life time. The more people you can get to share the cost of a trip like this, the easier it will be on those going. The more people on the trip, the easier the experience of camping with a houseboat will be as well. If a houseboat is not your idea of a good time at Lake Powell you can have just as good a time staying at the lodges, taking day trips and enjoying the beauty of this part of the United States.

REMINDER – Summer trip 2015 to Croatia and Slovenia still open for sign-ups.  Drop me an e mail – trobertsasb@yahoo.com for more information.


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  • Published: 10 years ago on November 20, 2014
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  • Last Modified: January 4, 2015 @ 7:06 pm
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