A Grand Canyon Filled with Water
Imagine the best of the West-its gnarled buttes, red-rock walls, surreal spires, and otherworldly, erosion-sculpted landscapes-then add water.
That’s Lake Powell: a l86-mile-long artificial lake, created by construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, which was proposed in the 1920s, begun in the 1950s, and completed in the 1960s, though it wasn’t until 1980 that enough of the Colorado River’s glassy bluegreen water was trapped to fill the lake to capacity.
It’s the nation’s second largest artificial lake after Lake Mead, in Nevada’s Mojave Desert. Named for Major John Wesley Powell, who first charted the area in 1869, the lake sprawls in a southwest-to-northeast crescent across the Arizona/Utah borderland, encompassing more than ninety offshoot canyons (some up to 10 miles wide) that together create a shoreline of almost 2,000 miles-longer than the entire Pacific coast of the United States.
It’s road-free along its zigzagging rim, so exploration by boat is not only the most rewarding and enjoyable, but also the only real way to experience the lake’s wealth, which includes countless isolated sandy coves where boaters can picnic or camp.
Boat tours and canyon cruises leave from three of the lake’s five marinas, and houseboats are rented easily – this is America’s houseboat heaven, with some 400 available, sleeping eight to twelve.
Much was submerged by the (still) controversial creation of the lake, but fortunately Glen Canyon’s most visited sight survived: Rainbow Bridge, called by the Navajo “The Rainbow Turned to Stone,” a massive but delicate stone arch 290 feet high and 275 feet wide, 50 lake miles from Wahweap Marina.
Now a national monument, it is the world’s tallest known natural stone bridge, and is but one of the lake’s myriad confirmations that nature creates the earth’s most sublime art.
What: site, experience.
Where: Lake Powell is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, a 5-hour drive north of Phoenix; commuter flights connect Phoenix with Page, the area’s largest town. Wahweap Marina (7 miles north of Page) is the best equipped of the lake’s settlements. For houseboat rentals and other info, contact Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas, tel 888-486-4665; www.lakepowell.com. Cost: 3-day rental, 6-person houseboats from $1,244 (low season), from $1,658 (high season). Larger boats and longer rental available.
Where To Stay: Lake Powell Resort, tel 888-486-4665 or 928-645-2433, fax 928-645-1031.
Cost: lake-view doubles from $96 (Iow season) from $160 (high season).
Best Times: Jun-Oct for water sports; Apr, Jun, and Oct-Nov for fishing. Hottest and busiest in Jul, Aug.