When I heard that the water level was rising in Lake Powell, located in northern Arizona, and that passages that previously had to be circumvented could now be traversed, I thought with rising gas prices and low motorboat gas mileage, now was as good a time as any to explore the second largest made-made lake in America.
In recent past years the level of the water in the lake had diminished, making certain short cuts unusable. So when you wanted to rent a houseboat or powerboat to explore some of the canyons, you had to go an extra fourteen miles out of your way to get to them. With a houseboat getting about a half mile to a mile per gallon of gas, it doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that with gas prices going through the roof, adding on an extra 14 to 28 gallons wasn’t bringing back the tourists who liked to visit Lake Powell. But this past year (and predictions for next year), the lake has gained back enough water to allow passage from the marina where Lake Powell Resort is located to the various canyons straight across, saving you mileage, time and money
I always wanted to explore Lake Powell, which people who’ve been there described as kind of like the Grand Canyon on water. Of course, the Grand Canyon was created by water, the same water, in fact (the Colorado River) that created Lake Powell. But the Grand Canyon was something one could view from above, on land, and any trip down the river would mean rafting over some tricky passages. The lake, on the other hand, was the reason to go to Lake Powell. That’s why there are so many houseboats, powerboats, jet skiers, and just plain water lovers there during the spring-summer-fall seasons. Two million visitors, in fact, go each year to soak in the geographic wonders created by the erosion of the sandstone mountains, buttes, cliffs, swells and mesas over a period of 300 million years, when the entire area was underwater.
The Lake reached its high point 14 years after the completion of Glen Canyon Dam in 1966. That’s how long it took for the river to back up to create the 254 square miles of lake which has 2000 miles of shoreline, due to all the inlets and canyons, making it longer than the distance of the West Coast of the U.S. from the tip of California to the top of Washington State. That’s still a hard number to grasp, but it’s true. Lake Powell is a very big lake! And living on a houseboat for a week isn’t a bad way to spend one’s vacation—providing, of course, that the people you share the boat with are people you like. Otherwise, it can get downright nasty.
Through Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas (888-896-3829; www.lakepowell.com) you can rent a houseboat for five days or more and receive your final fueling free. You can also get 10% to 20% off peak-season prices. The 46-foot Voyager, which sleeps eight, costs $2,660 for five days. The 54-foot Adventurer, which sleeps 12, costs $3,725 for five days. There are other, larger houseboats that are more luxurious and cost between $6,000 and $12,000. But if you decide to rent a houseboat, you probably won’t use it to travel all over the lake, but instead you’ll find a nice secluded spot to anchor and take a powerboat to head the fifty miles over to see the famed Rainbow Bridge, a sacred Indian site and natural wonder, or to enter Navajo Canyon and sense the awe of motoring between sandstone walls that change color as the sun rises and sets.
Rainbow Bridge was declared a national monument by President William Howard Taft in 1910 “to preserve this extraordinary natural bridge, having an arch which is in form and appearance much like a rainbow and which…is of great scientific interest as an example of eccentric stream erosion.” It’s quite something to stand before it and imagine how it was created, and how it will one day collapse. The river first went around and then cut through the soft Navajo sandstone to carve out the 290 feet of space from the bridge’s base to the top of its arch, which also measures 275 feet across the river. When visitors like Teddy Roosevelt and writer Zane Grey made the journey to see this site it took them a week traveling by river and then hiking seven miles up-canyon. That was before Lake Powell existed. So one can hardly complain about the two-and-a-half hours it now takes a cruise boat to get you close enough to stand near the bridge and have your picture taken where dinosaurs once walked. They know about the dinosaurs because one footprint has been discovered on a nearby rock, and if you spray it with water you can get a good picture of it, and then imagine what kind of Jurassic Park this place must have been so many thousands of years ago.