Lake Powell Adventure #2
You may recall I wrote about my first Lake Powell adventure in 2019:
I enjoyed that first trip so much that we almost immediately started discussing a second trip when it was over. Such a trip was booked and planned for late March of 2020. About a week before that trip was to start, we were notified the marina was closed due to Covid and all houseboat trips were cancelled indefinitely.
Later, we booked essentially the same trip for May 31 to June 4, 2021, leaving out of the Wahweap Marina near Page, Arizona. Joining me on the adventure would be Mrs. Wizard, my two daughters, and mother. You may recall the first trip was out of Bullfrog, Utah, so this time would see an entirely different part of the lake.
The night before, we were to embark on the houseboat, we stayed at a hotel in Page. There we walked about the Glen Canyon Dam and scrambled about some nearby rocks. Other things to do in that area are the Hanging Gardens, Horseshoe Bend, and Antelope Canyon, but we didn’t have time.
Caption: Selfie upstream of the Glen Canyon dam. Note the white bathtub ring along the side of the canyon, which marks how low the water level has fallen.
Caption: That is me standing on top. This fun scramble is easily accessed near a dam overlook on an unmarked dirt road just east of the dam. I would learn the sandstone is very brittle and crumbly, something I found find to be the case all over southern Lake Powell. By comparison, the sandstone around Las Vegas is hard and reliable.
The next morning, we went to the Wahweap Marina to begin our adventure. The boarding process was efficient. They have porters with golf carts that tow luggage carts to help people get their stuff from the parking lot to the boat. Don’t forget to tip the porters.
Everybody warned me the lake water level was extremely low. The young man who went over how to operate the boat with me got out a lake map and marked all over it with a sharpie sections that I was forbidden to go to. This included the north passage around Antelope Island and many side canyons. I was never given any such restrictions the previous trip.
The trip got off to a bumpy start, literally. The map below shows the Wahweap marina in the upper left. It has hundreds of boats. The houseboat rentals are at the north end, on the Utah side. I wanted to travel that passage on the north side of Antelope Island, but as mentioned before, it was closed due to low water levels. So, I had to take a narrow and crowded passage on the south side of Antelope Island to get to anywhere interesting. The part of that passage south of Antelope Marina was very choppy. I don’t know if it’s always like this, but both ways it seemed to be a wind tunnel.
Along that passage is a side canyon called Antelope Canyon. This is a famous part of Lake Powell that is accessible only to kayaks and maybe small boats. The south part of that canyon can be reached on foot, but I hear it is difficult to get a permit. Unfortunately for us, there was nowhere to beach the houseboat as the canyon walls were too high. I had to pass by it as I enviously watched hundreds of kayaks happily make their way there from the Antelope Point Marina. Consider that activity moved up on my long bucket list.
The decision before us at this point was where to look to anchor the houseboat for at least the first night. The main channel is, frankly, kind of boring, at least the southern part of Lake Powell. The scenic spots are inside the side canyons. The first available side canyon that could fit a houseboat was Navajo Canyon. That is a long windy one that looked fun to explore. There would not be a similar opportunity for a while if I didn’t take it.
Before going further, let me explain the way houseboating works. The boats come with four anchors. What you are supposed to do is find a sandy beach, bury each anchor in at least two feet of sand, and affix the anchors to the boat with long ropes. This can be a challenge in Lake Powell because there are not many sandy beaches. My previous trip, I must confess, I parked twice at spots with no sand, so covered the anchors in rocks. This worked fine because it never became windy, so the rocks held the boat in place.
This trip, I went about half-way down Navajo Canyon without finding a good spot to park the boat. Then after one of numerous turns we came upon a beautiful huge sandy beach. The problem was it was Memorial Day and there wasn’t room for another houseboat. An experienced driver and hard-working crew to set the anchors probably could have done it. However, in our case, Mrs. Wizard couldn’t keep the boat from drifting while I set the anchors in place, so we gave up and continued down the canyon.
About another mile down Navajo Canyon, we came to a rocky beach. We parked in worse spots the previous trip, so I decided to settle for it. There was hardly any sand, so I buried the anchors in piles of rocks, as I did the first trip. There was barely a hint of wind, so I wasn’t very worried.
Caption: Mrs. Wizard helping to anchor the boat on the rocky beach.
Later, at about 10pm, the wind suddenly became extremely strong. I could feel it pushing the houseboat back and forth. Then I heard the gangplank, which I forget to push back into the boat at night, banging against rocks. Fearing that might get damaged, I jumped out of the boat, flashlight in hand, to push it back in.
I quickly pushed the gangplank back in and got ready to jump up back into the boat. However, at that very moment, a gale of strong wind came from down the canyon and blew sand in my eyes. When I managed to open them, I could see the houseboat was already free of two anchors on one side and drifting away fast. My pile of rocks on the other two anchors were no match for a 20,000 pound houseboat being pushed down the water by strong winds. The rocks barely slowed it down. It was going too fast for me to even run and jump back in. I could only stand on the shore and watch in horror.
Fortunately, I had my three kayaks on the shore with me. Actually, two, as one kayak was pushed into the water by an anchor pulled by the boat. So, I quickly got into one of them and paddled furiously to catch up to the houseboat. Fortunately, this didn’t take too long. The houseboat pulling four heavy anchors in the water must have slowed it down. I reached the houseboat in the middle of the canyon and managed to get out of the kayak and climb into the houseboat.
What to do at this point? The biggest question at hand was whether or not to turn on the engines to get control of the situation. A big reason not to do so was the boat was dragging four anchors connected to ropes. If a rope got caught in the propeller of the engine, it would render that engine worthless and necessitate a rescue the next morning. Fortunately, the wind died down when the boat was somewhere in the middle of the two shores. It was hard to tell exactly, as the moon was not to rise for another three hours. I only had some sense of our location from a GPS I fortunately took along. Even that was not perfect as it thought the width of the water in the canyon was much greater than it actually was, due to low water levels.
The GPS did track my path and I could see the boat was staying in roughly the same spot. I thought it would be a safe time to try to lift the anchors, but all four were stuck. Some anchors could be lifted a little, but all four reached a point where they were snagged on something. That, I thought was, good news as they would at least hopefully keep us from crashing into anything.
After a few hours of drifting in roughly the same position, I felt it was safe to get some sleep, which I did, on the floor by the steering wheel. My sleep was awakened, around 4AM, by the sound of a thud. A half-moon had recently risen, and I could see the boat had started drifting again and it bumped against the canyon wall. Fortunately, the wind was not strong, and the boat was just gently crashing against the cliff.
One a good note, I was able to pull two of the anchors back into the boat. The other two I could partially pull up only, but they then became snagged. Still fearing the ropes would get tangled in the propeller if I turned on the engine, I again decided the best course of action was to do nothing as long as the crashing against the cliff was not that bad. I did pay extra for insurance, which covered up to $50,000 in damages to the boat, which favored letting nature take its course.
At about 6AM, the sun was out and the boat had drifted back into the middle of the canyon. I tried to pull up the other two anchors, which were still attached to the boat, and was successful this time! With all four anchors back in the boat, we were good to quit drifting aimlessly and turn on the engines, which we did.
My plan at this point was to kill some time and hope some other boats would leave the good beach in the morning. So, we took a pleasure cruise as far down Navajo Canyon as the houseboat would fit and turned around. By about 10AM, we were back at the nice beach. As I hoped, some other houseboats left and there was a nice open spot for us. We then anchored there without incident and could finally catch our breath and relax.
The rest of the trip was typical Lake Powell houseboating fun – kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding, fishing, swimming, cliff-jumping, hiking, drinking, and playing games. After all the drama of getting to that spot on the beach, we decided to remain there the rest of the trip.
When I returned the boat, I was shown one of the propellers was damaged. I can’t say the propellers were damaged before, because they showed me when I left that they were in good condition. They also explained the optional insurance I paid for didn’t cover propeller damage. Despite the boat being banged against cliffs the first night, I think the propeller damage happened shortly before returning the boat. I noted in one spot, which was marked with a buoy, the water was only a few feet deep and I heard what sounded like a griding sound. I thought I drove the boat sufficiently far from the buoy, but apparently not. So, I’m expecting my credit card to be charged about $200 for that.
Following are some miscellaneous pictures during our stay.
Caption: The living room and kitchen
Caption: Me with a striped bass I caught.
Caption: Cliff jumping
Caption: Campfire. Yes, I cheated by using lighter fluid. Those are my kayaks in the background.
Caption: Sleeping under a starry sky on the top deck was wonderful. I could easily see the Milky Way and about one meteor every ten minutes.
Caption: This picture was taken from the opposite shore of our beach. Our houseboat is directly facing me in the middle of the picture.
In conclusion, I am already thinking about Lake Powell Adventure #3. Maybe in the early fall of 2023. Hopefully lake levels will be higher then, which probably won’t happen until we realize we can not sustain the water usage we’re used to in the south-west. However, until the problem reaches a crisis level, I expect nothing to get done.