In September 2019, I crossed off something from my bucket list, a four-day visit to Lake Powell Let me start with the basics. Lake Powell is American's second largest artificial lake, or reservoir, behind Lake Mead. At times, it beats Lake Mead, depending on the water level of both. It was created after the completion of the Glen Canyon dam in Arizona in 1963. Afterward, Colorado River water backed up, creating the reservoir , over many years.
Geographically, Lake Powell straddles Arizona and Utah, the majority in Utah. From a map, the lake looks more like a river with scattered wide open spots. The surface area is about 250 square miles, which is about 25% that of Rhode Island. However, the shore length is 1,900 miles. Most of it fills a canyon that resembles a small Grand Canyon. It is much more attractive than Lake Mead, which mostly sits in a boring desert.
More people would probably visit Lake Powell if were more accessible. It is located in a remote part of Arizona and Utah that is hours away from the closest major cities like Las Vegas, Salt Lake, and Phoenix. Most people enjoy it by boat but some hike in. There are also three marinas one can drive to.
Last Monday, Mrs. Wizard, two friends, and I boarded a rental houseboat in Bullfrog Utah to start our four-day adventure. None of us had been to the lake before nor had much boating experience. However, I had just driven an RV from Las Vegas to Reno, which gave me confidence to operate the houseboat, which I did most of the time.
On our first day we headed off about 1:00 PM and headed south. We were told we had enough fuel to boat about six hours a day maximum. The boating was easy at first in the wide open part of the Lake. We had long discussions about where to go and where to camp. In the end we decided to find any side canyon and look for a beach to anchor.
By 5:00 we were looking through a side canyon called Slick Rock for a camping spot but what few nice beaches we found were all taken. Even lousy rocky spots were taken too. The sun was sinking and panic was starting to set in. Other rocky spots started be identified as "emergency options." After exploring every nook and cranny (Thomas English muffin anyone?), we went onto Iceberg Canyon a little further south.
As we slowly explored every side canyon of this side canyon we continued to find every beach occupied and many other house boats parked against piles of large rocks and boulders. The skies continued to get darker. The level of panic ranged in the group increased by the minute. I'd like to think I was the most calm. Some wanted to turn around and grab whatever "emergency spot" we could find. However, I was determined to reach the end of Iceberg Canyon before giving up.
At the end of a winding prong of the fork of canyons at the end of Iceberg we found a perfect spot. Very quiet, isolated, with a large soft beach. If I were a religious person, I would have said it was a gift from the Man in the Sky.
As the picture above shows, taken upon leaving, there was a nice level beach at the end of the inlet.
The spot was so nice and we arrived so late that we decided to stay there two nights. The next day was full of activity. We fished, kayaked, stand up paddleboarded, hiked, and swam. I hadn't fished in 30 years and didn't really know what to do. Despite my inexperience and that of the rest of the group, we caught fish right and left. It took only seconds for fish to gather once bait was cast into the water. Many fish escaped, some were released for being too small, but after an hour it got later in the morning and the fish seemed to have gone to sleep.
Later in the day a Burmese couple came along in a smaller boat and parked nearby by. They and their dog jumped out with fishing polls in hand and headed up the rocks behind our beach. I asked where they were going and they said there was a lake just over the ridge. A little small talk ensued and off they climbed. While I was napping they returned and gave us five fish as a gift, saying they already had plenty. Combined with the fish we already caught, I was feeling like the Jesus' apostles must have felt in the story of the miraculous catch of fish (trivia -- How many fish did the apostles catch?). Later that afternoon most of us hiked to the hidden lake ourselves.
Here I am with my first fish caught since the 1990's. I'm still not sure what kind of fish it is.
As we entered our third day the group was divided whether to stay at our perfect Iceberg Canyon spot or explore more. I voted to explore. The rest of the group was rather passive, so my vote was pretty much the only one, so we bid farewell to Iceberg Canyon and headed further south, to Escalante Canyon.
Just getting there was an adventure. First we got lost, shortly after I passed the steering wheel to another member of the group, and we somehow ended up back at the entrance to Iceberg Canyon. Then, after getting us past the point where we got lost, I passed the wheel to another member of the group in an easy wide-open part of the main section of Lake Powell.
After all that drama I grabbed a can of beer and went to the top deck to relax by myself. It was wonderful, just me, a beer, and a 360-degree view of the canyon. In the middle of a state of blissful relaxation I saw the boat was headed straight for some rocks barely peaking out of the water. I think being on the top of the boat helped me to see them better than the rest of the group below. We were about 30 seconds away from smashing right into them. Reminiscent of the iceberg sighting scene from Titanic, I raced down the stairs, fumbled with the sliding back door, and screamed "rocks straight ahead!!!" to everyone down below. The driver still didn't see them, but another member of the group did, and screamed "slow down and turn right!!!" Fortunately, she did, not knowing why, and we escaped disaster by a matter of several feet. This probably explains why they don't recommend boating at night.
Note: After reading the above account, said boat driver wishes to add, "I would like to point out that the driver of the houseboat, when you informed her of the rocks up ahead, quickly turned both keys to “off” and turned the wheel sharply to the right in order to avoid those rocks."
That was the most dramatic event of the trip and a good note to stop on. I'll continue with my Lake Powell adventure next week.
Enjoying a delicious dinner of fresh fish on our first full day.
Before I get to finishing my Lake Powell story, I have to pause for a quick word from our sponsor. Cyber Spins is have blackjack tournaments (link to https://www.cyberspins.com/promotions/blackjack-tourney-oct2019.html ) on October 18 and 20 with $1,000 in prize money in each. Personally, I love blackjack tournaments. Remember, in tournaments the object isn't to beat the dealer but to beat the other players. You will probably have to make at least one big move to win. Think of your chips as ammunition not to be wasted in the battle.
That said, in last week's newsletter I began the story of my four-day trip to Lake Powell last month. Where I left off was the middle of the second full day when we almost crashed the houseboat into some rocks barely peaking out of the water.
Our goal that day was Escalante Canyon, a long narrow and windy side canyon of the Colorado River, formed by the Escalante River. The couple that kindly gave us fish the previous day recommended a side canyon to the side canyon called Davis Gulch. After getting a bit lost in the windy Escalante, we found it. However, it was clear our houseboat wouldn't get very deep into that canyon. We then went up Fifty Mile Canyon, the next one up Escalante, but it was the same story, it quickly became too narrow for the house boat.
By this time it was about 4:00 and we were getting worried about finding a camping spot. Escalante didn't seem to have many beaches. However, as panic started to set in, a pretty good small spot appeared directly in front of us after a turn. It wasn't very wide and bordered on all sides by either the river or canyon walls. But there were very few other people in Escalante so it offered a great deal of privacy. It was kind of like a deserted island.
Caption: Escalante Canyon -- Night 3
After a great parking job by myself *ahem* we enjoyed a quiet evening of eating, drinking, and board games. I also tried to spend time proofreading the final copy of the second edition of Gambling 102, due out mid-October.
The following morning we kayaked and paddle-boarded across the river to some climbable sandstone at the end of the river. When I turned on my phone to take some pictures I was shocked to hear several messages come in. Lake Powell is one of the most isolated parts of the lower 48 states so I had no idea how or why I was getting any reception. Not just any reception, but good reception, three bars.
Water fun in Escalante Canyon
This was our last full day and we wanted to get closer to Bullfrog to be able to return the houseboat by 3:00 the next day. Getting back down the canyon was more enjoyable as we didn't get lost and knew our way around better. When we got back to the Colorado River we had the same problem of finding a good campsite. We tried a few side canyons, but it was the same story of the houseboat being too big and the canyons too narrow.
To make a long story short, we ended up back in Iceberg Canyon in a spot near the one we spent our first two nights. We were apprehensive about taking it because it was close to another campsite already taken. When we got within yelling distance, we asked the couple already nearby if they minded if we took the spot near them. They welcomed us and even helped navigate a difficult parking job.
After anchoring the boat, I went over to greet out neighbors. There I met Perry, a man I'll never forget. At the age of 54, my age now, he quit his job and went about backpacking and kayaking the world. In his late 50's he did many things on my bucket list. If it weren't for my obligations as a husband and father of three, I would probably do exactly what he did. After the first of several chats I returned to my camp, lest Mrs. Wizard get jealous.
Camping spot night 4 -- back in Iceberg Canyon
After a delicious steak dinner we had our only campfire of the trip, made courtesy of firewood left by previous campers. They even set up everything in a pyramid of sticks, ready to go, with a big stack of wood next to it. Perry came over as it was getting dark and regaled me with more stories of his adventures, including his current one. He was on a trip kayaking up and down Lake Powell both ways -- three times! This would be a distance of almost 600 miles. As I recall, he said it would take him two months. He had done if before and planned to do it again in 2020. He invited me to join him on a three-week portion of it next year. Not that I have a choice, but I would love to go.
Campfire night 4 -- Discussing adventures with Perry over beers.
The final day we had a few more hours of water fun in the morning and then had to bid farewell to Perry and his girlfriend, our campsite, and then Iceberg Canyon. We made our way back to Bullfrog as we ate on more fish kindly given to us by Perry, caught fresh that morning. Back at the marina, I got a little lost trying to find the gas station, but managed to return the boat by the 3:00 deadline. In the process I ran over a buoy (I can never remember how to spell that word), but both buoy and boat seemed to have survived the experience unscathed. Still, it was scary listening to it clonk on the bottom of the boat as I passed over it.
It was bittersweet leaving, happy for the experience, but sad to end it. I am very sure I'll be back to Lake Powell again. This is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been and known to so few. I HIGHLY recommend it to anybody with a love of the outdoors.
In closing here is a list of things I recommend bringing, many of which I didn't know to bring.
- Sleeping bags and pads/blankets to enjoy sleeping under the stars.
- Firewood. Enough for a fire every evening.
- Fishing poles and all the fixings. I found the bait that worked best was bread and roast beef. I find bait and lures that fish are supposed to like, they largely ignore. Then again, I have no idea what to pick.
- Small watercraft, especially kayaks and stand-up-paddleboards.
- A good detailed map.
- An extra bathing suit (mine got lost somehow, probably blew off the railing when I was drying it).
- A wide-brimmed hat.
- Blocks of ice. Do not get crushed ice -- it melts much faster. A block of ice in an ice chest should last about a week. I would also not get dry ice, I find it melts about as fast as a block of ice, but much more expensive.