Destination: Lake Powell

Lake Powell Gunsight

Glen Canyon National Recreational Area while providing energy, water and a helping of controversy for residents and visitors alike.Five million years of erosion carved out an amazing collection of canyons. Over time, the Navajo Sandstone walls provided shelter for ancient Anasazi tribes, as Mother Earth continued to mold and sculpt the barren landscape. Treasures such as Cathedral in the Desert, Rainbow Bridge, and Hole-in-the-Rock, stand witness to all that has passed. Centuries elapsed, and in time this sanctuary was rediscovered as settlers moved across the uncharted territory. In 1869, this area became known as Glen Canyon when discovered by Major John Wesley Powell, during the first expedition of the Colorado River. The very finding of this exquisitely designed wilderness may have lead to its watery fate, nearly a century later. Just a hint of irony exists in that Lake Powell was named for this man who adamantly fought for the preservation of the public lands in the West.

In a classic case of man against nature, Glen Canyon was overcome by those who wanted to harness the power of the Colorado River. During the mid-1900’s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation underwent planning to erect dams all across the Colorado Plateau, throughout Colorado, Utah and Arizona. When Echo Park-now called Dinosaur National Monument-fell into the planned path, the Sierra Club, led by David Brower, fought and won the battle to preserve and protect the natural beauty and resources of that area. In negotiating the freedom of Echo Park, Brower agreed to a trade off-Glen Canyon. Having never visited the site, he did not know the vast natural beauty and historic wonder of Glen Canyon and its side canyons, nearly 100 in number, until it was too late. In 1956, construction of Glen Canyon Dam was set in motion by President Eisenhower, and the simple push of a button from inside the Oval Office.

It took over three years and 5,000,000 cubic yards of concrete to complete the dam. In the process, the town of Page, Arizona was erected on Navajo land in 1957 as a camp for the dam workers. Through talks and agreements between the government and the Navajo Nation, rights to the 43,000 acre-feet of river needed for the dam were waived. Some 53,000 acres of land on the south bank of the Colorado were exchanged for a similar amount on McCracken Mesa, in Utah. Today, on land leased from the Navajo with Lake Powell as a backdrop, Page, AZ is a favorite stopping point for 3,000,000 or so visitors that swarm to the area each year. Page provides several recreation-related services, from guided kayaking tours to boat rentals, hotels, shopping, and restaurants for those that get worn out on the water.

Stretching nearly 200 miles in length, with almost 2,000 miles of shoreline-as long as the entire US West Coast, Lake Powell is home to some of the most exquisite scenery and earthen sculptures in the West. Sitting 50 boat miles from Wahweap Marina, the Rainbow Bridge, discovered in 1909, towers majestically at 290 feet tall, with a 275-foot span. Known as “Nonnoshoshi”, Navajo for rainbow turned to stone, this overwhelming feat of nature is considered a symbol of the deities that give life to the desert, in the form of clouds, rain and rainbows. Designated sacred to the Navajo peoples, there is a defined viewing area and activities such as fishing, swimming and pet walking are prohibited. While the bridge looms over the turquoise waters, certain majesty of Cathedral in the Desert, hidden beneath the waterline for decades, awaits in the back of Clear Creek Canyon. With color-brushed sandstone arching high overhead and lush hanging gardens growing from the very walls, this vaulted secret fills with a warming glow as the sun passes overhead. This symbol of celestial beauty, which only emerged during a period of extreme drought, will likely not remain uncovered. As drought subsides, and water levels are replenished, gradually this spiritual haven will again fall into slumber beneath the surface.

Lake Powell, although man-made, gives access to natural wonders while providing the resources of water and power to much of the southwest. The recreational possibilities are endless, with boating, fishing, swimming, and exploring the vast reaches of this enormous oasis in the desert. Ultimately, while controversy flourishes over the very existence of the lake, the overwhelming beauty that awaits each visitor simply cannot be disputed.