Wednesday, August 5, 2015

2003 Houseboating and Kayaking on Arizona's Lake Powell with Elderhostel

Our Elderhostel group of 19 spent six days on three houseboats out of Wahweap Marina in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area which administers Lake Powell on the Arizona/Utah border. Its over 1.2 million acres include 2000 miles of shoreline that can be explored, more than the entire west coast of our country. This Elderhostel program was hosted by Yavapai College of Prescott, Arizona.

Lake Powell was created by Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Arizona, and straddles the Arizona/Utah border with most of it being in Utah. It is the second largest man-made reservoir in maximum water capacity in the United States behind the nearby Lake Mead which is formed by Hoover Dam and is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area administered by the National Park Service. The lake is named for the famed one-armed explorer John Wesley Powell who in 1869 courageously explored the Green and Colorado Rivers in wooden boats, including his daring adventure through the Grand Canyon and its 160+ rapids. Lake Powell extends 186 miles and boasts over 2000 miles of shoreline to be explored, more than the entire west coast of our country.

To gain perspective of the cliff height in the photo below, note our lead houseboat dwarfed by the towering cliff. The white rock near the bottom has calcium carbonate deposit because that area has been under water for four decades. A multi-year drought had the reservoir level 97 feet below normal in fall of 2003 and the white "bathtub ring" is the result. Lake Powell is a reservoir designed to store water in the wet years and gradually release it during the dry years, thus steadily generating electric power and maintaining consistent water flow down the Colorado River, and it has been doing its job admirably during this lengthy period of below average moisture, though everyone hopes rain and snowmelt will soon refill the vast reservoir.

The still, clear water beautifully reflects the colorful canyon walls as we kayak up Anasazi Canyon (also called Mystery Canyon) on one of our kayak explorations. Being the off season, there were only a few times when personal water craft (Jet skis) intruded on our quiet and calm, but when they did, we experienced noise and waves bouncing off the narrow canyon walls and were glad when they departed. The colors of the walls changed as the light angle changed, presenting a kaleidoscope of colors throughout the day, and our six days of ideal weather added to the perfection of the trip.

This is our houseboats' parking area as we unload the kayaks for a paddle up Labyrinth Canyon.

Seven kayakers here are just beginning a paddle up Labyrinth Canyon. We carried 17 kayaks on our three houseboats, 14 singles and three tandems, and used them every day as we explored bays and side canyons. The scenery around each bend seemed even more beautiful than that before, and when the water ended up a canyon, we would get out and hike farther up the canyon, realizing no one had hiked here for over 40 years because where we were hiking had been under water until recently.

After kayaking as far up Labyrinth as the water allowed, we began hiking/exploring the upper section of Labyrinth Canyon as it narrowed into a slot canyon, realizing that for 40 years this had all been under water. It made me a bit nostalgic, wishing I had been able to hike Glen Canyon and discover the glory of its ecosystem before the dam flooded the canyon and put all this marvelous rock under water. What an amazing it place it must have been!

One of our three guides/captains, Carol Sue (far right) led us on our kayaking/hiking jaunts. After viewing some petroglyphs, several of us in this group then continued quite a way up the canyon as it constricted more...

... and when a ten foot high boulder clog blocked the way, Carol Sue and I chimney-climbed over it and proceeded farther up the canyon until time forced us to return to the kayaks and paddle back to the houseboats. 

Cruising the majestic scenery, heading to our next locale.

Yes, I love to kayak, but this was fun, too!

Remember, this land we are walking in this photo has been under water for decades.  Jeff, captain and head guide and geologist showed us dinosaur tracks fossilized in rocks, and the third guide and captain, Mike, instructed on us on the history of the region.

The entire group: 
Kneeling: Smitty and Suzanne
Row 1: Gary, Kay, Dean, Karen, Lynda, Chuck, Andi, Denise, Joan, Sandee, 
Sandy, Jean, Mary Alice, and Buzz
Back row: Joanne, Ken, and Tom

The houseboats were well equipped and comfortable for traveling and lounging during the day, but made for very crowded sleeping quarters at night, so I carried my bed mattress onto the shore each night as seen in the photo below. I was the only one to sleep off the houseboat and I did so all five nights, enjoying sunset views like this. My final morning, I awoke to fresh coyote tracks surrounding my mattress. I had obviously been a curiosity item for the local coyotes we had all heard the night before. I wish I had awakened so I could have gotten a selfie with them!

I so enjoyed house boating and kayaking here that I returned in 2012 with Adventures in Florida when we paddled and cruised the eastern half of Lake Powell, and here's that trip report with more glorious photos.

Despite all my backpacking and camping, I am seldom in a locale where a dearth of rain and bugs inspires sleeping under the stars, yet where but outdoors can you enjoy not five-star but million-star accommodations above your head as far as you can see? Each morning as I awoke to sunrise, thoughts of the previous day's activities leapt to mind -- and from there to paper -- and the resulting poem, which basically wrote itself, follows the photo.

Lake Powell Reveries ­ 2003
by Chuck Morlock

(Early morning thoughts after five nights of sleeping under the stars .)

Atop the hillside, red sand my bed,
blazing stars enshroud my head,
houseboat below on lapping sand, 
Gregory Butte commanding the land.

Eyes weary, I fight sleep off
for awesome firmament engenders thought
of places distant, of adventures near,
of family and friends, of love, of fear,

of earth's great circle spinning here
amongst this starry cosmic sphere,
until thoughts cease and sleep takes hold 
in wafting breeze and pleasant cold,

and dreams supplant what eyes today gazed 
as kayak and houseboat toppled waves,
of Glen Canyon's glory, long concealed,
by multi-year drought, now newly revealed,

its soaring, timeless, sheer-wall cliffs, 
canvas for ageless petroglyphs,
its sandstone flats where dinosaurs trod, 
its slot canyons choked with boulder clog,

till sunlight rises and full moon sinks 
below azure waters etched with pink
and dazzling sunshine casts its sheen
painting red rock aglow and white rock agleam,
bathing Navaho Mountain in morn's new gold, 
reminding of tales the ancients told,
flaunting coyote tracks ringing my bed, 
testament that wildness is not dead.

My rousing mind celebrates all it sees, 
till swarming gnats end my reveries,
and back to the houseboat I retreat
to forever relish Lake Powell memories.

Copyright Chuck Morlock (2003)

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