Get on or near the water to view some of the West’s most dramatic canyon formations.
By Maggie Espinosa
Of the many destinations in the Western United States, one location boasts approximately 1,960 miles of shoreline, 161,000 surface acres of water, and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It’s also a national preserve. Its vast spaces make it large enough to be situated in both Arizona and Utah. This place is Lake Powell, the centerpiece of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Part of Lake Powell’s shoreline belongs to American Indian tribes, whose history forms part of the area’s attraction. This multifaceted destination will allow you to fill your days with water sports and historical tours or relax in the comfort of your motorhome and take in the natural beauty.
The second-largest man-made lake in the United States is deservingly named for Civil War Maj. John Wesley Powell. He and his crew of nine men mapped and wrote about the region’s splendor in 1869. Almost 100 years later, the Glen Canyon Dam and power plant was built across the Colorado River, forming Lake Powell. It provides water storage to the Southwest and generates power for growing communities. The dam extends 1/3-mile across the canyon from rim to rim and stands 710 feet tall.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area encompasses the dam and Lake Powell. The entire area spans 1.25 million acres, but the lake occupies only 13 percent of the total land mass. Although the majority of Lake Powell sits in Utah, Arizona is home to the dam.
Visitors to the lake today will notice the effects of a long-lasting drought, which has appreciably lowered the lake’s water levels. This has caused some inconvenience for boaters, since the water is now below some (but not all) of the docks that were constructed prior to the drought “” and they’ve been closed as a result. It also means that access to Rainbow Bridge National Monument requires a longer hike. But the lack of snow in the neighboring mountains (the lake’s main source of water) has little bearing on leisure activities. Everywhere you turn, you can see more of nature than before “” not to mention the “bathtub ring” of lighter-colored rock at levels where the lake used to be. And you can still explore the lake by water.
Page, Arizona: a fine hub
Lake Powell is accessible from many locations, but we will focus on Page, Arizona. Page is only 6 miles from Wahweap Marina, where those who don’t have their own boats can depart on commercial cruises or rent a variety of watercraft.
Page is on the edge of tribal land, and Indians hold powwows and entertain guests with their many traditional dances there. Men, women, and children dressed in beautiful clothing proudly demonstrate choreography passed down for generations.
You also can head to an Indian trading post in Page for an afternoon of shopping. There you can choose from a fine selection of Native American art, crafts, and jewelry. Business owners deal directly with the local artists, which assures authenticity and affordable prices. Gold, silver, and turquoise jewelry shine in the cases. A wide selection of hand-woven rugs, baskets, and books guarantee you’ll find the perfect souvenir.
For more traditional shopping, stop by the Dam Outlet. The humorous name keeps with the theme of the Glen Canyon Dam. Clothing, accessories, and gifts are among the items available.
When visitors don’t want to cook in the motor coach, the town of Page offers many types of restaurants from which to choose.
Antelope Canyon and Rainbow Bridge
A few miles east of Page on the Navajo Reservation is Antelope Canyon, discovered by an Indian girl in 1931. Unquestionably, this site epitomizes spectacular raw beauty. Step into a Technicolor world of orange, purple, yellow, gold, and red. Traverse the sandy canyon floor as you see rock formations in the shapes of a bear head or a shark. Wind-scoured sandstone walls become an artist’s palette as sunlight filters in from a slit 130 feet above.
Access to the upper chamber of the canyon is via a 3½-mile-long sandy wash. No climbing is necessary, so virtually anyone can make this trip. The road to Antelope Canyon is restricted by the Navajo Tribe, so you must visit with a licensed tour guide or with a Navajo guide at the road gate, if someone is there. At least two companies provide tours of the canyon that depart from Page: Overland Canyon Tours (928-608-4072) and Antelope Canyon Tours (866-645-9102 or 928-645-9102). Check with the Page-Lake Powell Chamber of Commerce for more information (the chamber’s contact information appears elsewhere in this article).
The appeal of Lake Powell to boaters is the fact that it affords views of inspiring canyons and formations. At least 96 major side canyons are accessible by boat. For example, long-ago residents left petroglyphs on the walls of Cha Canyon. Boaters can disembark and explore these 1,000-year-old-archives. (You also can hike into Cha Canyon.)
As you search for the next canyon, you may spot a heron along the shore or watch golden eagles soar above as you drift beside canyon walls that are 1,000 feet tall. The rock layers hold fossils and dinosaur bones that date back more than 200 million years.
Day-long boat cruises (7½ hours, including lunch) also are available to see a famous sandstone arch called Rainbow Bridge. Spanning 275 feet and standing 290 feet tall, it is the world’s largest natural stone bridge and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Rainbow Bridge National Monument is nestled at the base of Navajo Mountain and is the most popular destination on the lake. To area Indians, the formation has deep spiritual significance.
If you don’t have your own boat, you still can visit the bridge by taking the boat cruise. Either way, visitors disembark and take a trail from a courtesy dock to the Rainbow Bridge viewing area. No one is permitted to walk up to or beneath the bridge. The trail length varies, depending on the water level of the lake; as of mid-September 2004 it was 1½ miles long, making this a 3-mile round-trip hike.
Explore more by water
Watercraft rentals allow you to zip, zoom, drift, and paddle around Lake Powell. You can explore a few of the 96 canyons on a houseboat, cabin cruiser, ski boat, kayak, etc. Gliding along the lake can be calming and restorative. Peaceful enclaves provide solitude as you dive overboard for a swim in the chilly water. The water’s edge isn’t all rock; beaches dot the shoreline for boaters to come ashore and enjoy a picnic lunch. It is easy to see why 3 million visitors make the trek annually to this immense national park.
As of September 2004, public boat launching was still available at Wahweap, Bullfrog, and Halls Crossing marinas. If you have a canoe, kayak, or smaller boat, other launching points can be used; check prior to your visit.
Wahweap Marina, the largest, has numerous houseboats available for rent. Powerboats and kayaks also wait to be taken for a spin. Hourly, half-day, and full-day rentals are offered. For boat rental information, phone (800) 528-6154 or (928) 645-1111, or visit www.lakepowell.com.
Fishing is a year-round sport at this desert oasis, and it is said to be fantastic of late. Some of the most productive fishing is in the winter months. Lake Powell has moderate water temperatures ranging from 45 to 85 degrees, and it never freezes over. Game fish such as largemouth and smallmouth bass, striped bass, walleye, crappie, and carp are plentiful. The time of year and the correct spawn cycle will determine the best fishing coves. From the back of canyons to the deeper water, the fish are always biting. As you might imagine, fishing boat rentals are available, too, including bass boats and 14-foot fishing-utility boats.
Lake Powell is an unforgettable vacation experience. The area has something for everyone. Well-maintained roads allow easy accessibility. Activities are within a short distance of each other, meaning short walks/drives to fun events. This national recreational area is a must-see destination for people of all ages. Much more to do is available than mentioned here, so be sure to investigate it for yourself.
Page-Lake Powell Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 727
644 N. Navajo
Page, AZ 86040
The chamber operates a visitors center in the Dam Plaza (644 N. Navajo) and also provides information through the mail and online.
Other helpful Web sites that deal with Lake Powell, boat rentals, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and more include:
Page-Lake Powell Campground & RV Park
849 S. Coppermine Road
Page, AZ 86040
This campground offers full hookups, including cable TV, and is located just south of the city center.
Wahweap RV Park and Campground
100 Lake Shore Drive
P.O. Box 1597
Page, AZ 86040
Wahweap has two RV parks, Upper and Lower, which are next door to each other on the shores of Lake Powell. The upper campground maintains 87 full-hookup sites, and the new lower campground has 90 full-hookup sites and 112 no-hookup sites. Showers, a store, and laundry facilities are available.
Other RV parks operated by the same company along Lake Powell include the following. They are in Utah, approximately 95 miles from the dam.
Painted Hills RV Park
Lake Powell, UT 84533
Village Center RV Park
Halls Crossing Marina
Lake Powell, UT 84533