CRUIS­ING THE DESERT

A HOUSE­BOAT PLUS A TOW-SPORTS BOAT EQUALS A PASS­PORT TO AD­VEN­TURE ON LAKE POW­ELL.

Boating - - FRONT PAGE - BY HEATHER STEINBERGER PHO­TOS BY RICHARD STEINBERGER

It’s a strange feel­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence ver­tigo on the water. Not just your av­er­age run-of-the-mill ver­tigo, but the in­tense about-to-plungeinto-an-abyss va­ri­ety. Re­flec­tions from above blended with the shim­mer­ing im­ages be­low, and I couldn’t tell what was stone and what was a play of water and light. Sheer sand­stone cliffs soared above my head and plunged into the crys­talline depths be­low my board. I might as well have been glid­ing through the air. I at­tempted to bal­ance the de­sire to stare in ev­ery di­rec­tion with the need to calm my trem­bling legs. And the si­lence was ab­so­lute.

That is, un­til I rounded the last bend on my stand-up pad­dle­board and spot­ted our MasterCraft X10 gen­tly rest­ing with its bow tucked at the slot canyon’s en­trance. I climbed back aboard and, faced with the prospect of ex­it­ing the canyon in re­verse, helped the rest of our crew turn the boat 180 de­grees by hand. Not too dif­fi­cult when the rub rails are within inches of both walls.

The sun slipped deeper in the west, throw­ing the lit­tle slot into twi­light. It was time to go. We roared past Face Canyon’s quiet coves and tow­er­ing cliffs into the broad ex­panse of Lake Pow­ell’s Padre Bay, bound for the moth­er­ship, a house­boat that was, tem­po­rar­ily, our home.

This was a type of boating I had never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore, run­ning the house­boat to a des­ti­na­tion with the MasterCraft in tow, then tak­ing the X10 on sor­ties into some of the most breath­tak­ing land­scapes imag­in­able.

A MAN-MADE OA­SIS

When United States Army Ma­jor John Wes­ley Pow­ell and his team em­barked on an ex­plo­ration of the Green and Colorado rivers in 1869, they were tak­ing their boats into the last empty space on the maps of the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. The Pow­ell Geo­graphic Ex­pe­di­tion would lose men, boats and sup­plies dur­ing the har­row­ing three-month, 930-mile jour­ney from Wy­oming to Ne­vada. Yet it also was a tri­umph as the one-armed Civil War vet­eran and his men ran the length of the Grand Canyon and ex­plored its lit­tle, gen­tler sis­ter, a hid­den oa­sis strad­dling what is now the Utah-Ari­zona bor­der.

To­day, much of Glen Canyon Na­tional Recre­ation Area re­mains as Pow­ell saw it nearly 150 years ago, and boats are still the best way to tra­verse this re­mote canyon coun­try. But you won’t have to tackle a wild river to do it. The con­tro­ver­sial 1963 con­struc­tion of the 710-foot Glen Canyon Dam tamed the mighty Colorado. Though it drowned the canyon, the dam also cre­ated Lake Pow­ell, a truly mag­nif­i­cent body of water. At full pool, the lake is 186 miles long with 1,960 miles of shore­line; last year, that trans­lated to roughly 170 miles of nav­i­ga­ble Colorado River chan­nel and 1,800 miles of shore­line. That makes Lake Pow­ell the pri­mary gate­way to a star­tling desert wilder­ness. Within the arms of its nearly 100 ma­jor side canyons are an­cient cliff dwellings and pet­ro­glyphs, Me­so­zoic fos­sils, di­nosaur foot­prints, lush hang­ing gar­dens, hid­den slots, Seussian rock for­ma­tions, and sa­cred Na­tive Amer­i­can sites like Rain­bow Bridge.

BE­HOLD, THE MOTH­ER­SHIP

Boaters un­fa­mil­iar with Glen Canyon and Grand Stair­case-Es­calante Na­tional Mon­u­ment might be sur­prised to learn that ac­cess to the lake is lim­ited. You can launch your boat at Wah­weap Ma­rina or State­line Launch Ramp at the lake’s south­ern end in Page, Ari­zona, and at Utah’s Bull­frog Ma­rina or Halls Cross­ing Ma­rina, both at its north­ern end. That’s it.

To truly ex­plore Lake Pow­ell, then, you’re go­ing to need to load your trail­er­a­ble boat with camp­ing gear, food, water, ex­tra fuel, a por­ta­ble toi­let and other pro­vi­sions. Or you can take your own per­sonal cruise ship.

We rented a 59-foot Wan­derer house­boat from Lake Pow­ell Re­sorts & Mari­nas at Wah­weap. With two decks, four state­rooms, two heads, a large sa­lon and full gal­ley, we had more than enough room to bring our long­time friends, Mike and Kelly Massey, my hus­band, Richard, and our 8-year-old daugh­ter, Jo­hanna. Plus, we car­ried two stand-up pad­dle­boards and two kayaks.

In ad­di­tion, we elected to bring the MasterCraft X10 as our aux­il­iary wa­ter­craft. Not only could we use it for tub­ing and board­ing, but also one of us could run ahead to choose a good an­chor­ing spot. Then we’d only need to beach the moth­er­ship once, an ap­peal­ing prospect in nar­row quar­ters and with some­times tricky con­di­tions.

“You def­i­nitely want a sec­ond boat,” says Capt. Rick Ben­nett, a ma­rina pi­lot who as­sists boaters with leav­ing and re­turn­ing to Wah­weap. “A house­boat is slow. Take

her straight to your camp­site and get her se­cured on the beach. Then use the lit­tle boat for day trips.”

Ben­nett has been boating here since the 1970s. He ex­pertly coached us through ex­it­ing the crowded ma­rina. We were grate­ful for his help. For the unini­ti­ated, ma­neu­ver­ing a house­boat feels like skip­per­ing a foot­ball field that dou­bles as a sail. Or maybe an air­craft car­rier.

With the rest of the crew man­ning the Wan­derer as we started a two-hour cruise up­river, I joined Ben­nett on his boat. We would search for the best camp­site and help bring the big house­boat into the beach.

“I love this lake,” Ben­nett re­flected. “You can’t ex­plore all of it in your life­time. There are still places I haven’t been. I don’t know if I should be ec­static for you that you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it for the first time, or bro­ken­hearted for you that you only have two days.”

ONE PAR­TIC­U­LAR HAR­BOR

We ar­rived in Padre Bay, Lake Pow­ell’s largest ex­panse of open water, well be­fore the Wan­derer and had plenty

of time to scout its side canyons. We found a siz­able sandy beach tucked in a lit­tle cove along the south side of Padre Canyon. It would only re­ceive di­rect sun for a few hours each day, but it of­fered ex­cel­lent pro­tec­tion from wind and waves. A worth­while trade-off, I hoped, after Ben­nett re­galed me with sto­ries of hur­ri­cane-force mi­crobursts and 6- to 8-foot seas in the main chan­nel.

Sure enough, as the Wan­derer came in, a gust of wind tore through the cove. Mike jumped out to help Ben­nett dig the 3-foot-deep an­chor holes, while Richard stayed at the helm and kept the twin 115 hp Mer­cury out­boards in gear to hold the house­boat’s nose in po­si­tion.

We buried four an­chors deep in the sand — one each from the Wan­derer’s four cor­ners — and cut the en­gines. Ben­nett hopped back into his util­ity boat for the run back to Wah­weap, and we were on our own.

Jo­hanna splashed cheer­fully in the brisk water. De­spite the fresh­en­ing breeze, I de­cided she had the right idea and slid one of the pad­dle­boards off the stern. Around the cove, im­pen­e­tra­ble sand­stone walls reared hun­dreds of feet sky­ward. The water cast golden re­flec­tions along the stone.

Back at the moth­er­ship, I could see the gang­way had left an an­gry cres­cent-shaped scar in the sand. The house­boat was mov­ing too much as the wind strength­ened. We re­trieved one of the an­chors and re­set it far­ther out, which solved the prob­lem. Sat­is­fied, we cooked a steak din­ner and re­tired to the top deck for the moon­rise.

WATER, SPORTS

At sun­rise, all I could hear was a bird’s cry, the splash of a fish, and the purl­ing of water along the hull. The wind had died, leav­ing a glassy cove. It was a per­fect morn­ing to take the MasterCraft out for ad­ven­ture.

We opted to play with the water toys, and then ex­plore a slot canyon in the af­ter­noon. We reached nearby Kane Creek Canyon, and Kelly and I pad­dled the SUPs around sev­eral dome-shaped is­lands be­fore cross­ing a stretch of open water to meet the boat at a penin­su­lar white-sand beach. Jo­hanna tried tub­ing for the first time, and when our com­pan­ions hiked to the dis­tant base of the cliffs, she joined me on my pad­dle­board.

There were no other boats, no other campers. Miles sep­a­rated us from the near­est road. We might as well have been the only peo­ple on Earth.

After a quick lunch of sand­wiches back at the moth­er­ship, we raced across Padre Bay and rounded a butte-capped point into Face Canyon. The walls nar­rowed, and con­ver­sa­tion dwin­dled un­til we were as

silent as the pet­ri­fied sand dunes all around us.

“This is what it would look like if you could go boating on Mars,” Mike re­marked. Tak­ing in the blue-an­do­r­ange pal­ette around us, we had to agree.

CATHE­DRAL OF STONE AND LIGHT

On our last night, we gath­ered on the top deck to watch the dy­ing sun il­lu­mi­nate the walls on the other side of Padre Canyon. The sculpted sand­stone seemed to glow from within, fad­ing slowly in the twi­light. We roasted s’mores around our fire pit at the lake’s edge. Sto­ries and laugh­ter echoed in the dark­ness, and the nearly full moon made the sugar sand look like snow.

Morn­ing brought the fi­nal to-do list, from pack­ing our gear and re­triev­ing our an­chors, to pre­par­ing the MasterCraft’s tow harness and tak­ing a few fi­nal squeal­ing trips down the wa­ter­slide. I’d grown fond of the Wan­derer. It might not be fast, it might not turn on a dime, but it had al­lowed us to be­come more in­ti­mately ac­quainted with this lit­tle cor­ner of Lake Pow­ell. Plus, when com­bined with the X10, it gave us the chance to make this cathe­dral of stone and light our own.

Though the dam flooded the Glen Canyon Recre­ation Area to cre­ate the lake, much of the sur­round­ing ar­eas are as un­touched as they were when Ma­jor John Wes­ley Pow­ell led an ex­pe­di­tion there in 1869.

With the MasterCraft X10 in tow, we could treat the 59-foot Wan­derer as a moth­er­ship and go wan­der­ing into dif­fer­ent canyons and ex­plor­ing dis­tant parts of the lake. And we could take the pad­dle­boards along or let our daugh­ter try tub­ing.

The house­boat had its own spe­cial ap­peal, from en­joy­ing a great view from the helm to twist­ing down the wa­ter­slide.

With four an­chors se­cur­ing the Wan­derer to the beach, we had a moth­er­ship to re­turn home to at the end of ev­ery day. We could sit on the top deck and watch the moon­rise.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.