A Relaxing Day Adrift on Lake Powell

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Crossroads' associate editor Judy Koutsky is on a weeklong tour of national parks, starting at the Grand Canyon and extending through several parks in Utah. She is chronicling her adventures with daily travelogues and photos. Her second installment follows:

KANAB, Utah -- We've done quite a bit of driving the past couple of days. Sunday morning was spent driving from Las Vegas to Kanab (about four hours). After checking into the Nine Gables Inn here we drove another hour-and-a-half to the Grand Canyon North Rim, then back later that night. On Monday, we did the same drive, only it took well over two hours coming home because we drove in pitch darkness (the price we paid for taking one last hike before leaving the park). Driving in the desert in complete blackness isn't difficult; it just requires quick reflexes to avoid making roadkill.

The Grand OdysseySo after spending so many hours in the car, today's all-day boat tour was a welcoming prospect. It took a little over an hour to drive out to Lake Powell (an easy drive on a straight, flat highway), and by 9 a.m. we were boarding our craft. The next seven hours were some of the most relaxing I've ever spent. Our two guides, both young and well versed in geology, started our tour with a warning: Two people this season had to be airlifted to a hospital due to dehydration. Because today's temperature was a nice, round 100 degrees, we were told to drink all the time, even if we weren't thirsty. The boat provided complimentary water, lemonade and coffee. There was a bathroom (clean and sanitary) on board, so we didn't worry about drinking too much. With one more warning regarding sun exposure (the bottom level of the boat provided relief when needed), we were off.

No sooner had we left the dock that we were treated to brilliant orange cliffs juxtaposed against crystal clear blue/green water, the type that commonly is associated with the Caribbean. I guess if you're going to keep people on a boat for seven hours you have to give them something pretty spectacular to look at. I wasn't disappointed. Lake Powell receives more than 1 million visitors a year, and many of them, I was told by an information clerk, take advantage of the full-day boat ride. As we headed down the main canal, we listened to our history lesson while sipping our lemonade and marveling at the sun's reflection against the water and cliffs.

Lake Powell, the second-largest man-made lake in the U.S., is 200 miles long but boasts over 1,960 miles of shoreline, more than the West Coast. There are more than 96 major side canyons, inlets and coves, making it an excellent place for boating excursions, water sports, fishing, photography, hiking or just simple exploration. The lake's pristine water, more than 500 feet deep in spots, is the sum of rivers draining from the upper regions of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.

Rainbow Bridge National MonumentThree hours into the trip we arrived at Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the world's largest natural bridge. Natural bridges like this one are extremely rare, our guide told us. The water must carve out the inside while leaving the shell intact. The geological significance led to its designation as a national monument in 1910. The bridge stands 290 feet tall; the red sandstone arch spans 275 feet with the thickness at the top of 42 feet. Statistics aside, the bridge is an incredible sight. Boats dock, and visitors walk about a quarter of a mile to reach the base of the bridge. In hot temperatures, like today, this walk can definitely build up a sweat. The upside to that is that most visitors don't loiter at the site -- they take their pictures and go back to the boat -- so there aren't large crowds nor are there cigarette butts, film wrappings and other tell-tale signs of a tourist attraction. Officials considered building a road to this natural wonder, but the lava fields proved too rugged to pave. At least for now, this awesome sight remains unspoiled. This bridge is considered a sacred place by the Navajo Indians, and signs asking people to be respectful and not walk under the bridge generally are heeded.

After eating our sack lunch on the boat (sandwich, cookies, apple and granola), we spent the afternoon exploring little caverns and nooks. Our group on the boat was quite diverse. Although two-thirds of the group were from outside the U.S., no one country dominated. There were Germans, French, Dutch and a couple from Iceland. We exchanged stories of the Grand Canyon North Rim (everybody had either gone or was going) and Zion and Bryce (two other favorite destinations around here). The rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying the scenery, talking to our neighbors and basking in the sun and warm breeze.

While I personally enjoyed the daylong boat trip, I can see how some people might find it a bit much, especially those with young children. Another option is to take a half-day boat ride and do one of following:

  • Rent jet skis, kayaks, canoes, water-skis or your own boat.
  • Go on a raft float tour
  • Go hiking, swimming or fishing
  • Take a helicopter tour
  • For more information on any of these activities call: Lake Powell & Marinas, (800) 528-6154

    Cowboy trioWhen the boat docked at the end of the day, we took a quick swim in the pool to cool off before heading back to Kanab. The night was spent at the Frontier Movie Town where we were treated to a Western dinner and good old fashioned cowboy entertainment, courtesty of a trio of cowboys who sang and acted out skits. Visitors interested in the ways of the old West should mosey on down here. For $19.95 (children under $12 are half off) guests can eat an authentic Western meal (served on a tin plate) including beans, coleslaw, biscuits and beef. The dining room was furnished with memorabilia from days gone by: old pots, cowboy hats, lanterns, rifles, pictures of the original pioneers. And when the sun goes down, the cowboys bring out their guitars and fiddles. While the audience sits in covered wagons, the cowboy trio performs in front of a little barn. Kids especially seem to love the performance. Afterward, visitors can walk around the "old town" set, complete with a blacksmith, jail, and saloon done up with authentic heirlooms. For reservations call Frontier Movie Town, (800) 551-1714.

    Part One: The Grand Canyon's North Rim.
    Part Two: Lake Powell
    Part Three: Bryce Canyon/Kodachrome
    Part Four: More Bryce Canyon
    Part Five: Zion National Park/Lake Mead

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