The scenery on the drive from Las Cruces, New Mexico to Page, Arizona changes frequently from sparse desert scrub to soft mountain vistas as the back roads slide quickly into the rear view mirror. Long before the magically changing southwest landscape gets boring, you find yourself in Page, a town that exists because of Lake Powell. After a quick excursion through the community of about 7,000, take a short drive across the 710-foot tall Glen Canyon Dam into the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The $5 entry fee into the recreation area belies its size. It’s hard to comprehend that you’re entering a protected area of land and water of over one million acres.
The ultimate destination of Lake Powell is surrounded by this desert and canyon area and stretches almost 200 miles through northern Arizona and Utah. Fed by the Colorado River, Lake Powell takes on enormous proportions. When you think about a lake, seldom would you think of over 161,390 surface acres of water. This is a big lake! If you took the 1,960 miles of shoreline in Lake Powell and stretched it out, it would be longer than the shoreline of California, Oregon, and Washington put together. It’s also deep, averaging 400 to 500 feet, which gives it a fabulous deep blue color under equally brilliant blue skies.
A short drive past the dam takes you to Wahweap Lodge and Marina where Steve Ward, the Director of Public Relations at Lake Powell Resorts & Marina will be our guide as we explore the ancient canyons and waterways of Lake Powell. Wahweap is in Arizona while the majority of the lake is in Utah but you quickly forget about traditional boundaries and shift into serious vacation mode when you leave the dock.
Steve probably knows as much about the lake and recreation area as anybody around and certainly came in handy when maneuvering a 59-foot houseboat around the marina. Actually, the boat isn’t difficult to handle and was incredibly stable on the water. Get past the original intimidation of its size and you’ll become quite comfortable in a short time. The biggest lesson to remember is there are no brakes. Stopping requires a little forethought.
The 59-foot Admiral Class boat we’re taking out may not be as luxurious as the Queen Mary but a tour of the interior will certainly make you believe it’s as large. Four queen size beds and a queen sofa sleeper provide bunks for 10 but the boat is rated for 12 passengers. Two bathrooms, two single bed staterooms and a double bed sleeping room make up the private areas. A full size kitchen, dining and living area fills out the rest of the interior space. There’s a huge upper deck that’s half covered and would be my choice for sleeping in good weather. Fortunately, the weather is almost always good at Lake Powell. Where else can you get a Sunshine Guarantee that promises a free day of house boating if you have a cloudy day? Rain is scarce and you can count on a great sunset to end your day. When you’re not sleeping or lounging on the upper deck, zip down the water slide into some of the clearest, cleanest lake water on earth.
Part of the rental can include a speedboat with a capacity of 8. The ideal way to explore the lake is to find a secluded beach in one of the 96 canyons and anchor the houseboat to the beach. Hop into the speedboat and start to explore some of that extended shoreline. Don’t forget to stop every once in a while and do a little exploring on foot. Half the beauty of Lake Powell is in the rock wall canyons sculpted by thousands of years of wind and water. One of my favorite places was near Cookie Jar Butte. Large naturally formed pools fill with water a deep azure color and look like perfect swimming holes on a hot day. Make sure there is an easy exit before you jump in. Some of the pools have steep, slick walls.
The most famous landmark on the lake is Rainbow Bridge and unless you want to make a pretty long hike through rough terrain, it’s best approached by boat. This is the world’s largest natural bridge and has been a sacred site to Native Americans since long before the lake made it accessible to the rest of the world. It spans 275 feet and arches to a height of 290 feet. The top of the bridge is 42 feet thick and 33 feet wide. The approach through narrow, tall canyons hides the bridge from view until you turn the last corner and tie up at the floating dock. It’s about a quarter mile walk along the dock and another quarter mile walk to the viewing area but it’s more than worth it. You really can’t imagine the size of this bridge until you are standing below it looking up. Plan a little extra time here to sit along the rock wall of the canyon and listen to the sound of the wind and water and you’ll understand why it’s always been a sacred place. There are plenty of cheerful birds to add to the natural symphony and if you are still long enough, you’ll discover a teaming neighborhood of wildlife.
Bring your own food and supplies or for a small fee, the marina staff will fill your shopping list and have the groceries stowed away when you arrive. This is a real bargain and timesaver when vacation days are all too short anyway. Not too far up the lake is Dangling Rope Marina for those last minute items you forgot to list. Dangling Rope is a pretty unusual marina. It’s only accessible by water and everything is brought in and out by boat including the gasoline they sell. One of the things you have to do on a trip to Lake Powell is go to Dangling Rope Marina and buy a loaf of bread in the marina store. Walk out anywhere along the docks and start to toss pieces of bread into the water. In a few seconds, the water will become a teaming mass of huge, greedy, open-mouthed Carp all trying to get their share of the bounty. This is as delightful for adults as it is for children and shouldn’t be missed.
Take your speedboat home at the end of the day and be prepared for a never-ending light show. The setting sun on the high rock walls is constantly changing the hues from tan to red and as the sky changes from deep blue to dark purple, be prepared for a vista of stars like a million twinkling lights on black velvet. I was constantly torn between staring into the campfire on the beach and staring at the heavens. So many stars, so little time!
A highlight of any visit to Lake Powell is a guided scenic half-day or full-day tour that can be booked through the Wahweap Marina. You can sit topside and enjoy an elevated view as your host explains the geological marvels around you. Dinner cruises are also available on the nostalgic 95-foot Canyon King Paddlewheeler.
Day rates on the rentals are available and you can rent anything from personal watercraft up. The houseboats start at 36 feet and top out at the 59-foot Admiral. The best bargains are the package deals where you get everything included in a 3, 4 or 5 day trip. Summer is the high season of course and prices reflect that. In the spring, a 5-day package on the 59-foot Admiral class boat runs $2,260 and in summer goes to $3,680. You can get Houseboat & Lodging, Houseboat & Powerboat, or Houseboat, Powerboat & Lodging packages to suit your needs.
Lake Powell is no more than a days drive from just about anywhere in the southwest and if you’re coming from further away or are just in a hurry, you can fly into Phoenix and take a shuttle plane to the Page Airport. The shuttle isn’t cheap but will save you a lot of time.
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