Only in America! …Snow one day and a drive through the middle of the desert the next. We regretfully left Kanab and the surrounding national parks to make our way to Page in Arizona for our 2-day stay at Lake Powell Resorts. British actor, writer and comedian Stephen Fry’s TV series ‘Stephen Fry in America’ was the catalyst for our Southwest USA road trip and check out the lesser known attractions of Lake Powell. But instead of taking the shorter route from Kanab to Lake Powell via highway 89, we drove further down past Fredonia and took highway Alt 89, a scenic and pleasant drive through the desert.
Going the longer way (Alt 89 is 117 miles and about 3 hours from Kanab) there were no vehicles on the road for miles and miles. My husband wanted to play with his rented ‘Caddy’ and tested it at 100mph (but only for a few miles, just in case the highway patrol was actually lurking behind the buttes and cliffs, waiting to catch some reckless driver). This route also gave us a chance to stop and have a closer look at the Vermillion Cliffs, Marble Canyon and the Navajo bridge. We stopped only for a few minutes because time was actually a factor. We wanted to be at Horseshoe Bend Overlook before it was too hot. (Horseshoe Bend is in the east side of the ‘Grand Canyon complex’ and just 7 miles before the beginning of the Grand Canyon). We were also ‘thirsty’. A week of no bar or pub in Utah can be a very long time! Arizona was a very attractive proposition.
Even though the trip took an hour longer , we didn’t regret taking this route because we saw so much of the rugged and arid beauty of the immense desert area of the Colorado Plateau. The scenery still took our breath away even after a week of being indulged with a range of exquisite landforms and fantastically carved canyons. Entertained by our satellite radio* I was more content with the landscape of the desert than the ‘sound of music’. We stopped to take images of the different shades of red in the dirt and rock, from rust to vermillion to a sandy pink; the scrub brush that wasn’t quite green and the wild desert plants. Red-hued mesas and sheer rock walls rose up steeply, some of it were lime and silvery, a striking contrast against the monochromatic tones of the earth. The desert sounds had also been different. The eerily quiet was interrupted only by bees and other insects humming.
*(to keep the peace between my husband and me, we rotated our favourite stations and genres of music every hour. Not just Elvis and Frank for him but the Motown sound, Bossa Nova, Earth Wind and Fire and One Republic for me)
Just off highway 89, on the turnoff is a parking area that leads to one of the most photographed sights in southwest USA, Horseshoe Bend. It’s only a ¾ mile hike to get there from the car park area but on a day when the sun is blazing hot, this short distance will seem a lot longer than what it actually is. So our tip for those who want to experience Horseshoe Bend is to go there early in the day. Also take water, wear a hat and slop on some sunscreen. If you can choose the time of year, maybe make your trip in spring or autumn and not during the height of summer.
Following a few eager stragglers, we finally reached the top of the hill to the Horseshoe Bend Overlook (where the Colorado River curves around by 270 degrees, shaped like a horseshoe hence the name) and what a sight to behold! Drawing in a quick breath at the sudden unexpected and spectacular view, we were somewhat perturbed by the adventurous youngsters as they scrambled up and took photos right on the edge of the ledge where the Colorado River on the background was better seen. Made my heart stop! They obviously couldn’t see the danger. Despite signs everywhere no one paid attention. Thankfully, nothing dramatic happened.
Being at Horseshoe Bend Overlook was one moment when I wished I had a pro- camera, complete with tripod and wide-angle lenses. It was an unbelievable sight and once again thanked my lucky stars we made it to this part of the Grand Canyon. Irrespective of our wariness of heights, (the Colorado River is a drop of 1,000 ft. from the rim of the cliffs) we looked down and took some images of this marvellous scene. We could actually spot a tiny speck on the water, a speedboat cruising on the river. As the day warmed, the reptiles began to stir.
We saw a brown lizard dart into a crevice as we approached and headed back to our ‘caddy’ eager to discover the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell Resort. Prior to this road trip, we knew little of Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell so we were really thrilled!
The Glen Canyon is part of the natural canyons complex carved by the Colorado River but the necessity to provide water and power to the southwest (California, Arizona, Nevada, and parts of Mexico) meant it was inevitable to dam the Colorado River. The environmentalists were not too happy about this but the project went through nevertheless and Glen Canyon Dam was built and then completed in 1963. The result was the creation of almost 2000 miles of shorelines that is now the Lake Powell Reservoir with most of the Glen Canyon complex (about 96 of canyons) submerged in water. Stretching 186 miles across the crimson desert, rocks, buttes and canyons from Page, Arizona all the way to Hite, Utah, the reservoir has a storage capacity of 27,000,000 acre feet. This makes it one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the USA, second only to Lake Mead, formed by Hoover Dam near Las Vegas in the states of Nevada and Arizona.
Finally, it was time to go to Lake Powell Resorts where we booked accommodation for 2 nights. In episode 5 of the BBC series of ‘Stephen Fry in America’ Lake Powell was shown in its most scenic. But being there, seeing the impressive views was even better than TV. Miles and miles of water interrupted by red rocks and sandstone was the backdrop of our resort. The view was stunning!
Lake Powell Resorts view
The hidden secrets of Lake Powell were made accessible by boat. Before we departed for this trip, we booked the Antelope boat cruise online for late that afternoon, a very good move because it was quite a busy weekend at the resort. We wanted to uncover the reasons why Lake Powell Reservoir is now considered a destination for avid kayakers, bass anglers, photographers and a vacation paradise for those who like houseboats. The cruise took us to see the 10 mile stretch of Antelope Canyon, known for its slot canyon. Unfortunately for this excursion it wasn’t possible to get to the slot canyon, as it is actually located in the upper Antelope canyon. To experience the much photographed slot canyon, a Navajo guide is required and can be organised in Page Arizona, near Lake Powell, (Address: 55 S. Lake Powell Blvd. Page, Arizona 86040, phone number + 1- 928-645-5594)
What we saw close up on our boat however was miles and miles of solid rock and stones and the high walled Navajo sandstone. On the way to this stretch of geological wonder was also a closer view of the Glen Canyon Dam.
There is something seductive about the water and the boat cruise was a reminder of this. We happily ended our long day of driving through the desert with a cruise on the calm waters of Lake Powell, followed by a stop at the Driftwood Lounge of Lake Powell Resorts for a delicious cocktail (our favourite classic Margarita). The good news was, Lake Powell Reservoir is both in Arizona and Utah but our hotel was in the Arizona side so restrictive Utah law towards alcohol consumption didn’t apply.
Dinner at the Rainbow Room at the resort didn’t disappoint either. Cheers…
The next day, to satisfy my husband’s interest in boats, we explored the resort’s surrounds and Wahweap Marina. Lake Powell Resorts manages 5 marinas where recreational boats and houseboats and other marina services are provided. We were driven down to the marina by one of Lake Powell Resort’s buggy cart. The driver was a fountain of information and for his efforts, earned a nice gratuity from my husband. (Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas, is managed by Aramark,
an authorized concessioner of the National Park Service, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.)
Soon it was time for another excursion, once again by boat to the isolated canyons below the Navajo Mountain where the Rainbow Bridge is located. Known to be the world’s largest natural bridge, this geological wonder carved by water over millions of years is managed by the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Utah, USA. It is sacred to the Native Americans who live in the area.
One can only get to Rainbow Bridge by boat or if interested in hiking, a permit must be obtained from the Navajo Nation.
We took the easy and scenic way to get to Rainbow Bridge, which is about 50 miles from Wahweap Marina at Lake Powell Resorts. We also booked this cruise online , ahead of our departure to the USA as it is a very popular cruise. The entire excursion would take about 4 hours round trip. As far as I was concerned, time was not an issue as getting to our destination was relaxing and so interesting. Passing through Warm Creek Bay we saw sandy beaches and coves. The day was glorious and not a cloud in the sky; clear blue waters of the lake and the surrounding red rocks, sandstone and canyons made for a fascinating setting. The guide told us that some scenes from the 1968 film ‘Planet of the Apes’ starring Charlton Heston were filmed here. The isolation and barren landscape does make one think of another planet and I could see why they chose this location for the movie.
The boat cruise provided a supply of bottled water and refreshments, but prior to arrival at the dock for our trek to Rainbow Bridge, we were urged to use the facilities, as there are no toilets at the site. To get to Rainbow Bridge, we had to hike for about 1.5 miles from the dock, across a trail of red dirt. It wasn’t really an easy stroll down the park so our advice is to wear a hat, sunglasses, take bottled water and ease your way slowly to the destination.
As we slogged along, coming closer to the site, we could see the arch of the bridge. It stands 290 feet (88 m) high and has a span of 275′ across. Made of sandstone, wind and water sculpted this magnificent structure over millions of years towards the end of the Triassic and Jurassic periods. It is so tall that the Statue of Liberty would be able to fit under its arch. The Puebloans (an ancient Native American culture) and other indigenous people occupied this area long ago and in more recent times, people of the Navajo, Southern Paiute, San Juan, Ute, Kaibab Paiute, White Mesa Ute, and Hopi tribes use the surrounding land. They named the bridge Nonnezoshe or “rainbow turned to stone.”
By the time we neared the bridge, the sun was blazing hot and despite the occasional cool breeze, the trek was difficult for most of us.
However, the magical scenery took our minds of our discomfort and being at an isolated, ‘sacred’ and unique geological site was a privilege.
The ultimate reward of seeing the bridge as well as the dinosaur tracks nearby was well worth the effort.
After a short exploration along the Rainbow Bridge National Monument, we made our way back to the boat and looked forward to a stop at Dangling Rope Marina, a mid-lake marina only accessible by boat.
The end of our short stay at Lake Powell was celebrated with a delicious and delightful meal once again at the Rainbow Room restaurant with views of the lake. We were fortunate to have been looked after by a gentleman who loved being a waiter. All his adult life he lived on a Winnebago and followed the availability of hospitality jobs on a seasonal basis; Aspen in winter, Lake Powell and other resorts for the rest of the year. Other than the Europeans who regard a job as ‘servers’ or waiters as an important career, it was refreshing to meet an American who took pride in his vocation. Needless to say, service was tops!
From Lake Powell, our next destination moving on was Monument Valley on the Arizona- Utah border.