Page, Arizona and Lake Powell: April 8-13, 2012

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

Here we go again. Another new route.

Page, AZ was a planned destination. It was our intent, however, to go to the Grand Canyon first. But here we were, right in town at a fab campground, not sure how long it would take to fix the landing gear. Fortunately, there was plenty to do.

Like Monument Valley, this is Navaho country. Members are very involved in two enterprises: tourism and power generation. We’ll begin with the first. Like the bulk of this section of our country, the Page/Lake Powell area is a scenic masterpiece. Within the triangle of Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon, and less than 100 “crow-flight” miles from each of them, it boasts its own spectacular view. There are three key features: Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Rainbow Bridge, all of them sacred to the Natives.

Antelope Canyon hosts two photo ops, the Upper and Lower venues. The Upper is by far the more popular – too popular, in fact. In our wave at 10 a.m., our company had four filled tour vehicles; at the same time, other tour companies were dispatching their own groups. One of the reasons for this stampede was the fact that the famous Antelope Slot Canyon awaited us at the peak of its light show. We traveled the highway to the entrance and bounced safari-like across five miles of undefined road to the entrance. Led by our Navaho guide, we challenged the narrow slot, deftly stepping aside when an earlier tour approached from the opposite direction. She did her best to let us know where to position our cameras, and she shooed people out of the way when she could. Regardless, the adventure was awe-inspiring. It was a bit less so on the way back when her truck, a modified pickup with a hay wagon-like back seating twelve of us, busted a spring. The other vehicles in the caravan packed us in, and we all made it back. without much delay!

I have a significant problem. I took more than 70 pictures in Slot Canyon and want you to see every one. It was tough picking the twelve that follow. They are bracked by the entry and the opposite end, where we turned around for the return.

From here on, our views were peripheral. The Lower Canyon features spiral arches, but it is navigable only by the use of steep stairways and ladders, both of which don’t fit in with our current handicaps. It is mostly the mecca of (more agile) serious photographers. We next went to Horseshoe Bend, a spot in the landscape where the Colorado River literally makes a U-turn. We drove as close as possible and then climbed the steep hill up to the viewpoint. But like the bear who saw another mountain, there was a long, steep half-mile downhill on the other side to actually view the water. No thanks; we could have made down but back up was another thing! Pictures from afar are below.

Access to the Rainbow Bridge also involved a serious hike. There was a cruise boat that ran from the Page area to its neighborhood, but it was a two hour cruise each way with a hike of more than a mile to the Bridge at the other end. We again chose to enjoy beautiful pictures of it.

But we did spend plenty of time at the Glen Canyon Dam that created Lake Powell. On both Canyon and Dam, we were kind of viewing the warm-up act before the more famous installation further to the south. But no one at Glen Canyon Dam has an inferiority complex!

We started getting our history lesson on the attempts and requirements to tame the mighty Colorado River. Those of us from the East think more of our Midwestern cousins, the mighty Miss and Mo and their tributaries. But The Colorado weighs equally on our history. Losing almost two miles in elevation during its 1450 mile run from a point just northwest of Denver to the Gulf of California, it runs southwest until it reaches the extreme southern corner of Nevada, whence it heads pretty much due south to Baja. Attempts to pacify it have been ongoing for centuries, stimulated by social and agricultural requirements: save the neighborhoods from disastrous floods, and irrigate their crops during the long months of drought.

The Glen Canyon Dam is one of six major Colorado River control projects, although there are more than 20 successful and less successful to harness its flow. It was completed in 1964, about thirty years later than its taller (10 feet!) more famous downstream brother. Built here because of the narrowness of the canyon, it required the insertion of hundreds of deadheads – reinforcing rods driven as much as 100 feet into the cliffs — because the sandstone, while petrified, is not as hard as true rock. The dam itself was built over a four year period. The first step was to bridge the canyon; a span was built in San Francisco, shipped to both sides of the gap, and assembled at the site, half reaching out from each cliff until they joined in the middle. A monstrous day/night concrete pouring effort followed, after two coffer dams and two diversion tunnels were built to stem the flow into the foundation site. One of those tunnels carried most of the flow, but the second saved the site during a major spring deluge. The dam is 710 feet tall, 1560 feet at its crest, 300 feet thick at its bedrock base. Nominal water use is 15,000 cubic feet per second to drive the eight turbines generating over a million kilowatts. The spillways will release up to 208,000 cubic feet per second as necessary. Its reservoir, Lake Powell, is a mecca for boaters and others enjoying water and shoreline. At the Carl Hayden Visitor’s Center, managed by the NPS, we enjoyed exhibits, viewpoints and a tour of the inner workings. Pictures below are evidence. The first, a Pterodactyl near the entrance surrounded by gulls, is accompanied by casts of dinosaur footprints; they introduce the fossilic (fossilistic?) history of the region that’s inside. Views of the bridge, dam and lake follow. The bottom row is taken from our tour: an original concrete carrier, a turbine, “deadheads” holding the cliffs in place, and the generator room

The Dam is one of two major power sources, each visible from the other. The Navajo Generating Station is about 6 miles southwest of the Dam. It generates 2250 megawatts of power with coal; its output is distributed to Arizona, Nevada and California and it also supplies the power to draw water from the Colorado River for the Central Arizona Project. The right picture below shows the Lake with the power plant in the distance.

And it was the Powell Museum that rounded out our experience. It was a storehouse of history of River exploration and exploitation of John Wesley Powell and those who followed him. Born in New York in 1834, hPowell was a Civil War hero who lost most of his right arm at Shiloh. This never compromised his interest and involvement in exploration. After serving as a professor in Illinois universities, he eschewed education for exploration, which culminated, in 1869 with the first boat trip through the Grand Canyon. Starting at the Green River in Utah, he passed through the Glen Canyon area (which is primarily in Utah) and proceeded down the Colorado through the “Grand.” Lauded for his discoveries and heroism, he became the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey and the Director of the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution. The intellectual discussions in his home in 1874 led to the formalization of the Cosmos Club, whose 33 members are credited with the founding of National Geographic Magazine.

Powell’s feat led to the escapades of numerous adventurers and eventually to the commercialization of Canyon trips. Norman Davies Nevills made the first successful passenger trip in 1938; two year later, Barry Goldwater was one of his boatmen in Mexican Hat II (shown). Nevills designed his cataracts (rapids boats) after an Alaskan model; they traveled stern first to beat at the waves and allow the crew to see where they were going. A replica of Powell’s lead boat, named after his wife, is displayed outside the Museum; it’s a little larger than the original and was built for a documentary movie. We’ll pay more attention to canyon exploration in our next chapter.

The museum is also a source of area history. Not unexpected, dinosaurs were followed by ice and later by Indians; then Conquistadors explored (left), and manifest destiny led the nouveau Americans there. The city itself came to be as a residence for more than two thousand workers on the Dam. While many expected it to disappear after its completion, it continued to thrive and prosper. Between tourism and the boating community, it is extremely popular. In two marine storage yards on the edge of town, there were more than 60 large houseboats — the kind that have motors and travel. Every one had a circular swim slide on the stern, running from the roof to the water! Many were already in the water at the huge Lake Powell Marina.

The repair of the trailer was relatively painless. A local repairman visited us on Monday and confirmed my diagnosis that the switch had failed. He couldn’t find a replacement anywhere in the neighborhood. So I ordered an OEM replacement from the unit’s frame manufacturer, had it sent quickly, and installed it myself. We were ready to be on the way to The Grand One by Friday.

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