….”I stare at the cliffs, and at the domes, plateaus, and mountains beyond, remembering what I sometimes wish I could forget: Glen Canyon as it was, the wild river, the beaches, the secret passages and hidden cathedrals of stone, the wilderness alive and sweet and charged with mystery, miracle, magic…..” Edward Abbey….from “Abbey’s Road”
The creation of Lake Powell, which straddles the Utah-Arizona border, was one of the most controversial projects ever undertaken in the American West. It was a plan that would dam the Colorado River and flood Glen Canyon, and begin a debate that would last until this day. Environmentalists squared off against politicians and big industry. In its haste to provide hydroelectric power to the western states, the government approved, without environmental analysis, a project that wiped out religious Navajo sites, and created what some believe will be huge sandbox in 400 years. Silt and soil carried from the Colorado and San Juan Rivers is being deposited in Glen Canyon, slowly filling it with sand. Additionally, the Navajo Generating Station to the south burns thousands of tons of coal per day to produce electricity, which adds to air pollution locally, and to locations hundreds of miles away. Coal mining operations degrade the water quality in Glen Canyon, and add to the silt problem by leaching pollutants and soil from abandoned and active mines.
In exchange we are left with a lake that holds trillions of gallons of water, and has more than 1900 hundred miles of shoreline. It is a haven for fishermen, house boaters, and jet and water skiers. Lake Powell receives hundreds of thousands of visitors a year from all over the world. Without doubt, it’s a place filled with spectacular scenery and multiple recreational uses. But it’s hard not to believe that what lies below these waters is even more inspiring.
I’ve been there several times. The photos on this page were taken during two house boat trips, a few years apart. The two shots below were taken from the roughly the same spot at Rainbow Bridge during different years. Notice the dramatic water fluctuation. This fluctuation is also adding to woes of Lake Powell.
The rising and lowering action of the water forces the Colorado River to cut through established mud flats, which adds to the sedimentation of the lake. In the last thirty years, Lake Powell has lost over 2 million acre feet of water, according to reports issued by the Glen Canyon Institute. This fact is what leads many to surmise that over time the canyon will be filled with silt. The Glen Canyon Institute is dedicated to the restoration of Glen Canyon. Visit their site to read more.
Probably, the most popular way to see Lake Powell is to rent a houseboat. With your floating home, you are free to navigate the many narrow and winding side canyons. You can easily find a secluded beach to act as a base camp…and you can easily become lost. With the high cost of gasoline, and the fact that houseboats average less than one mile a gallon, getting lost is an expensive mistake. To avoid this a good map is an absolute must, as well as a good pair of binoculars to read the navigational “signposts” which are placed on buoys all over the lake. Here are some links for houseboat rentals, maps and other information for planning your own trip.
Lake Powell Visitors Guide
Lake Powell Resorts and Marinas
Most visitors arrive at Wahweap Marina in Page, Arizona, at the southern end of the lake. Farther north, lie the more remote marinas of Dangling Rope, Bullfrog, Hall’s Crossing, and Hite marina at the northern tip. Wahweap is the most practical because it is closest to major airports in Las Vegas and Phoenix. But if you’re house boating you’ll probably want to drive to lake Powell. You’ll have to bring your own food, ice chests and other camping equipment. The smaller marinas mentioned offer gas, some groceries, and other services as you travel on the lake.
Here are some snapshots taken from, and around, our houseboat.
The best time to visit Lake Powell depends on which kind of weather you like. Super hot days where the temperature hovers around 100 degrees, and the evenings are comfortable…around 70 degrees…can be experienced in the summer months of July, August and September. As you can imagine, this is when the lake is most crowded. If you jet or water ski, the water will be warmer and calmer during these months.
In April, May and June, the daytime temperature ranges from the 70s to the 90s, with the nights falling to the 40s and 50s. There is also a considerable amount of wind during these months, which makes it difficult to maneuver the large houseboats. The fall and winter temps stay below 50. This is a favorite time for fishermen. Gone are the houseboats and jet skis, and anglers are left with hungry fish who move to shallow waters in search of food.
Doing some research into the history of Lake Powell you’ll find it is hated by naturalists who compare Glen Canyon with the Grand Canyon. Some feel it was even more spectacular. Writer Edward Abbey seems to mention the lake in virtually every book he has written. In “The Monkey Wrench Gang”, one of Abbey’s few fictional works, a band of misfits plot to blow-up Glen Canyon Dam. Still others, mostly local businessmen, tout the revenue and recreational opportunities that are created because of the lake. And the government points to the power the dam generates for an ever-growing population in the west.
My own feeling is that I’d like to see Glen Canyon restored to what it was. That means dismantling the dam and unleashing the flow of the Colorado River. I also feel that until this is accomplished, the lake is there and you might as well enjoy it. It’s a great family vacation…a chance to float though a secret, narrow canyon in the spectacular red-rock region of southern Utah. A place to find a hidden beach to call your own for a few days. A relaxing getaway to pop a cork and drop a fishing line in the water.
As Edward Abbey puts it, “Come on in…the earth, like the sun, like the air, belongs to everyone…and to no one”.