last update 3/20/99
Copyright © Lawrence Turner 1999
I spent all week preparing for the trip. I started cooking the week before the trip.
I prepared Mesquite grilled chicken with 5 bean chili, garden fresh vegetables and herb, Marinara sauce with pork sausage and garden fresh vegetables and herb as well as Mesquite broiled pork shoulder pressure cooked and flavored with garden fresh spices and herb. I brought a rib steak dinner for one night and rosemary lime chicken for another night. We had fresh catfish blackened or fried one night which Don caught fishing.
We left Friday night around 8:30. ETD was 7:30 but Bill was late. We arrived Needles around midnight. Don, Patrick, Bill and I shared a room. Marilin, Margie and Andy shared another one. We got up early and drove to Kingman. We lost Don and Bill on the road to Kingman. We stopped at JB's restaurant for breakfast. Don and Bill found us. We ate breakfast and then drove to Flagstaff. Got gas in Flagstaff and drove to Page arriving about 2:00. Went out for early dinner at a Mexican food restaurant. Later we went over to take care of paperwork at the rental agency. We walked around on the dock and were able to see a houseboat similar to the one we were getting. We scoped out the town for Lake Powell information, opening times of local establishments and did some last minute shopping. Retired early so we would be ready to get the boat early.
Patrick and I had an early breakfast at Denny's then went down to the lake. We watched the sun rise over the lake. Patrick and I were at the dock before 7:00, the official opening time. We were the first. Our boat appeared nearly new and was definitely in better condition than some others. We spent over an hour in orientation. Finally we were able to go to the loading dock.
When we arrived at the loading dock there was only two other boats. We spent the next two hours loading up. As we were loading another house boat grazed us. He left before us and hit us leaving as well. By the time we were finished there was thirty boats and three hundred people. Bill and Don went for more ice and we had to wait for them for another half hour. It felt good to finally get out of the marina and on the open water.
The house boat was very different to drive. You had to turn the wheel several times to get full turning. The boat had a Mono hull instead of pontoons. It responded better than pontoon boats because it rode so high out of the water. The wind could catch it easily so you had to keep your hands on the wheel at all times making minor adjustments. The Mono hull also gave our boat greater speed than pontoon boats.
We put the throttles to max. and took off traveling about 10 miles an hour. It was powered by two 115 horsepower motors with individual throttles. The dual throttle made it possible to make tricky maneuvers. We motored up the Lake to a small cove at the mouth of Labyrinth Canyon. There was a rock island in the center of it so I pulled up to it and we tied off the boat. Andy and I went swimming. There was a slide on the back of the houseboat and we tried it out.
Don and I took a short canoe ride around the island and a short way up the canyon. Don kept trying to steer from the front and just about upset the canoe a couple of times.
We continued on up the lake toward the Rock Creek fingers. We were going to camp in Dry Rock Creek Canyon but there was already quite a few other people there so we went up the Middle fork instead. At the end of the fork there was an alluvial fan that came down to the water so we beached it there.
Andy and I went for a hike to the top of the hill were we could see the end of the lake backing up the canyon. The terrain was spectacular with a balancing rock, a narrow canyon winding through sandstone monoliths, and a huge cliff ringing the whole area. I wanted to explore further but it was getting late so we returned to the boat.
Later in the evening Bill and I were sitting on the hillside above the beach. The sky was full of stars. The Milky Way burned a path across the sky. There air was as crisp and clear as the air on the top of the mountains. As I looked up into the sky the largest and brightest meteor fall I have ever seen occurred. The "shooting star" crossed the sky arching about two thirds of the way across the sky. At first I thought it was going to burn out but it continued to grow in brightness until it lite up the whole sky and the surrounding terrain as bright as the moon would. It was awe inspiring.
The next morning we got up early and started out. We motored up to Dangling Rope Marina and topped off the gas and oil. Bringing the houseboat into the dock was nerve racking but by the end of the trip I was a professional. I actually brought the boat in better than most people. While we were on the dock one houseboat rammed the dock and just about knocked us off our feet.
We headed out toward Rainbow bridge after refilling. As we got further up the lake the cliffs started rising on either side. We finally made it to the entrance to Forbidding Canyon and started up it. The cliffs here were over a hundred feet tall and the canyon was so narrow at some places that two houseboats couldn't go through at the same time. When we got to the end of the canyon we saw that their was only one place to dock the houseboat. After some tricky maneuvering I brought it in perfectly. We all hiked up toward Rainbow Bridge and took some photos of it. We ate lunch and then started out again hoping to get to a good camp site.
Reflection Canyon was our destination and we arrived there after 3:00. We decided to try the left fork first. We motored up to nearly the end were we could see a forest of cottonwoods which had been flooded by the lake and killed. There appeared to be a gap in the trees and we decided to try to negotiate it. Unfortunately I hit a submerged tree. The boat was listing badly to one side as the tree pushed up on the other side. Marilin, Margie and Bill panicked but the levelheaded captain did not. I tried to back off but was stuck tight. Then I tried rocking the boat from side to side to back off. No luck still stuck tight. So I had everybody go stand on the opposite corner of the place the hull was stuck and spun the boat around. Luckily this dislodged us.
Feeling a little intimidated we motored back out of the left arm and decided to try the right arm. We motored to the end but all available sites were taken so we had to turn around again. I didn't want to spend much more time looking for a spot so I decided to put in under a giant southwest facing overhanging arch-watercave. There was rockfall on the sloped slab of sandstone under the arch so we tied off there. There was really nowhere to walk so we all took a swim except Bill who had slid down the sloped sandstone into the water when tying off. We all swam across the circular pool under the arch which was about a hundred feet across and over a hundred feet above our heads. I swam toward the back of the arch-watercave bathing in the last sunbeams of the day. The lip of the arch must have hung out over the water at least sixty feet. There were two hanging gardens on either side each about thirty feet up at a joint of weaker stone between the two slabs of sandstone which comprised the canyon wall. The arch-watercave was formed as the softer sandstone beneath washed away leaving no support for the sandstone above. Without support the sandstone fractured leaving a compressed sandstone arch above.
The next morning we arose early and started up the lake heading for the Escalante River. The Escalante River was the last major river drainage basin to be discovered in the continental United States. The Escalante drains the Kaiparowits Plateau. The Kaiparowits Plateau is the area that President Clinton just declared a national monument. Some of the most inaccessible and most beautiful terrain on earth surrounds the Escalante. The area is laced with a fantastic labyrinth of deep sandstone canyons. Willows and cottonwoods grow in the bottom of the canyons. On the rim and on the plateau junipers and pinion pine predominate.
We arrived at the mouth of the Escalante with the morning still early and started up the canyon. At the mouth the sandstone cliffs were only eighty feet tall but as we wound our way through the canyon the cliffs rose to a height of two hundred feet. The Escalante River arm of Lake Powell is over twenty three miles long. Our destination was Willow Creek which was about ten miles up the Escalante arm. The river canyon twisted and turned so much that many times we could not tell whether we were still in the main arm or up a tributary. Finally after a couple hours of cruising we sighted the mouth of Willow Creek.
We had to motor very slowly up Willow Creek Canyon as it was very narrow. We were lucky in that we didn't meet any other houseboats as there were several places that two houseboats would have had a hard time passing each other. There were three major water caves along the canyon. One of them we hit at the perfect time of day as the sunlight reflecting on the water created waving diamond patterns on the roof of the cave in a spectacular light show. As we neared the end of the canyon we found all the beaches had already been taken so we put in on a sandstone shelf that jutted into the lake. I pecked a hole in the sandstone with a claw hammer to set the anchor in on one side. The other side Bill and Don piled chunks of sandstone onto the anchor. The end of the lake was another mile or so up the canyon. About a hundred yards back was Forty Mile Creek Canyon. Forty Mile Creek canyon was named thus because if you started walking out it was forty miles to the town of Escalante, the nearest human habitation.
It was still early in the day so Patrick and I paddled the canoe to the end of the lake up the canyon. We beached the canoe at a horseshoe in the river were the sandstone cliff hung out over our heads creating another water cave. We followed a bench a short distance and then had to descend to the floor of the canyon. At this point we found thick mud covering the canyon floor. The water mark on the surrounding canyon walls told us that this part of the canyon floor was covered with 12 feet of water when the lake was full. We waded through the mud and started along Willow Creek which was flowing with clear cold water.
We walked a hundred yards and entered a huge amphitheater the top of which hung so far out it looked as though full sunlight never penetrated the floor. In a crevice on the wall above a very scraggly pinion pine grew. After a couple of hundred more yards we came to the place past the highest level of lake water. Immediately willows and cottonwoods surrounded us. Along the stream bank I counted 5 species of plants in flower and three types of fern. After being surrounded by the bleak rock and water for the past 2 days the lush vegetation enthralled us. Bill and Andy were following us in Bill's raft so we turned around and started back. We found them on the shelf above the river just past the amphitheater. We all started back down and met at the beach head. As it was still early I wanted to give Marilin a chance to see the vegetation up the canyon. We returned to the boat.
We arrived just as the wind pulled the anchor out from under the pile of rocks. We were attempting to secure the boat when Bill and Andy got back. Bill blew a gasket. After a few minutes when everybody calmed down I issued orders that were followed. We re-anchored the houseboat to the sandstone shelf.
Later that day Marilin and I took the canoe and Margie and Bill took the raft and we returned to the site of vegetation so Marilin, Margie and Bill could see it. We explored the immediately surrounding area including what may have been the remains of an Anaszi sight high on the cliff above our landing. Don fished nearly all night and had caught a nice string of catfish for dinner.
Andy and I got up at dawn and paddled up Forty Mile Creek on a voyage of exploration. The creek ran back about a mile. When we could go no further we beached the canoe. We could hear water running so we pushed through the dense undergrowth searching for the source. A little way up the canyon we found a small waterfall falling into a pool. As the brush was thick we decided to turn around. As we approached the canoe we noticed an overhang with the remains of Anasazi ruins in it. Andy and I scrambled up to what remained of the crumbling walls. After looking around we returned to the canoe and started back down the canyon. As we paddled silently along we noticed an object swimming ahead of us in the water. As we got closer the object started swimming away. As I watched it I realized that we were watching a beaver.
The people who had been moored at a beach 100 yards up the canyon moved on so we beached it there. I climbed a small cliff so we could return to our canoe at the old landing and tied a rope off. Andy and I had to climb the rope to get to the canoe.
We decided to see if we could locate Broken Bow Arch which was a few kilometers up the canyon. Patrick, Don, Andy, Bill and I put together day packs and headed out. We landed at the same beach and hiked up on the bench above as a guidebook suggested that we might find petroglyphs on the rock above. After a 45 minute search we discovered the petroglyphs. The best one was a carving of a bighorn sheep.
At a place were the rock came together over our heads in a gateway type formation we met a group of people who had hiked to Broken Bow Arch. They told us what to expect so we continued with renewed vigor. The canyon forked and we stuck to the left. About a hundred yards past the fork we came to a narrows. The stream bed was only six to eight feet wide with water lapping the bases of the solid sandstone walls rising on either side. I was wearing shorts and water sandals so I strode into the water. We had been told the water was not deep and I made it through without getting my crouch wet.
The stream flowed over solid rock for the next couple of hundred yards the last eighty of which went through a curved tunnel type gouge. There was one pool in this stretch of rock that looas though it always had water in it. After this stretch of rock we came upon a place with several trees. Hidden behind the trees was a beautiful fern filled grotto. The ferns were growing larger than any native ferns I have ever seen in the desert or for that matter in the mountains of the western United States.
We came to an area were passage became difficult and we soon saw why. Beaver dams had been built every hundred yards for the next kilometer. We then entered a gigantic amphitheater which was comprised of a giant overhanging cliff like a bowl stuck in the sand some three hundred feet tall and six hundred feet long. Being at the bottom I felt very tiny in comparison.
Finally we reached an area of prolific growth with large oaks, cottonwoods, poplars and willows. A shelf had been cleared and looked as though it might have been used extensively at one time by Anaszi. A water fall fell at the end of the shelf bringing it's sweet sound to my ears. A small rock cairn marked this as the end of the rock rainbow. We started up a mountain of sand. Broken Bow arch rose above our heads. Broken Bow arch which is one hundred feet tall and nearly one hundred feet wide was massive in comparison to the slender arch of Rainbow Bridge. Broken Bow is the second largest arch off Lake Powell and was named thus by the geologist that discovered it in 1919 because he found a broken bow beneath it.
As we started back a storm came up and it began to rain. Upon returning to the boat we discovered one anchor had dragged lose as the wind and rain buffeted the houseboat. We secured the houseboat and hunkered down for a stormy night.
In the morning the rain continued and we decided to leave Willow Creek and visit some rebuilt Anasazi ruins called Three Ruins. As we motored down Willow Creek the rain increased and soon there were waterfalls pouring over the edges of the cliffs into the lake. Although it was cold and wet it was a magical time being surrounded by waterfalls. Some were merely trickles but others were full fledged cataracts with hundreds of gallons a minute.
Upon reaching the Escalante we turned northward penetrating the Escalante River upper reaches. We spotted the ruins under a huge overhanging arch-cave after a couple of miles. I ran the houseboat up on a sandstone ledge at the base of the arch. We anchored off and then we ran through the rain to the base of the cliff. At the base of the cliff we were out of the rain as the arch-cave was overhead. We had to climb straight up the cliff using foot and handholds gouged out of the sandstone. It was a bit precarious but everyone made it with out any close calls.
At the top of our climb we explored the rebuilt ruins. They consisted of a pen for livestock, a storage room, and a lodge. Three wasn't enough room on the ledge for the buildings to have been built for more than one family. The storage room was probably about six feet by six feet with walls on two sides, the cliff on one side and evenly spaced sticks on the other. The storage room was nearly the same size but was walled on three sides with the cliff on the other. The lodge was slightly larger with a single entrance with a wall standing behind it to reduce wind infiltration. You could pass around either end of the lodge to enter the lodge proper. There was two sleeping shelves on either side and a smoke hole in the roof. It, as well, had three walls with the fourth wall being the cliff.
After exploring the ruins we started back down the Escalante. After winding our way back down the canyon we once again entered the main cannel. We had decided to attempt to find a spot to anchor in Cottonwood Canyon. Cottonwood Canyon is significant because of it's historical value.
One of the most difficult and daring journeys of the pioneer days of the American Frontier was undertaken in this area. The San Juan Mission party consisted of 230 Mormons with 83 wagons and 1000 head of livestock. They began the journey on October 22, 1887. Originally expecting to spend 6 weeks traveling they ended up spending 6 months. The most difficult part was the Hole-In-The-Rock portion which was across the lake from Cottonwood Canyon. (Of course there was no lake at that time.)
They had to dynamite a road over a kilometer long with a drop of over 300 meters. At one point the slope was over 45%. They had to lower the wagons with ropes. They built a ferry to take them across the river. Then they started up the other side which is Cottonwood Canyon.
We reached Register Rocks around noon. Register Rocks are two monolithic rocks which rear up like giant tombstones with about fifty feet between them. They were named thus because everyone in the journey's name was carved into them. When the lake is full you can motor between them but a sand bar confronted us so we had to go around to the mouth of the canyon. The rain began again in earnest as we motored up the canyon. As we approached the end of the canyon I saw a place to moor the houseboat so we put in. All around us the rain came down harder. A dozen waterfalls sprung from the surrounding cliffs. As we watched a stream began to form five feet from the front of the houseboat. Within minutes there was a major amount of water pouring over the rocks. The water was red with sandstone and soon clouded the water. I was soaked from piloting the boat in the driving rain so I changed clothes and ate a warm lunch.
As quickly as the rain had come it disappeared. Within a half hour the clouds were gone and the sun was shining brightly. We were ready for another hike so Marilin, Don, Patrick, Andy and I set out in search of the old wagon trail that ran up to the rim of the canyon. The ground was soft under our feet as the wet sand gave to our weight. Several small streams ran down from the canyon rim converging in Cottenwood Canyon Creek. We made our way along the creek crossing the streams and skirting swampy areas that had been filed by the recent rain. At one point we were forced to cross the creek. Don dropped an old log into a swampy grassy area and we all crossed. Finally we found the beginning of the old wagon road.
It started up a sandy hill. You could tell it was the old wagon trail because rocks had been brought and stacked and an area leveled. We toiled up the sandy hill finally reaching the top. The vista began to open up around us as we reached the top of the hill. In the distance we could see the lake. The other direction more sandstones cliffs rose up. We scanned the cliffs as our guidebook mentioned triple arch. We spied it and caught our breath taking in the glorious views.
We continued up the trial cresting another hill. At this point Marilin was tuckered out. We could see the trail ahead leading steeply up the side of a cliff. Marilin decided to wait for us while we continued on. The trail up the cliff had been cut and rocks had been stacked in declivities to create the wagon trial. At a couple of points you could still see the marks that the ropes had cut in the sandstone as they hauled the wagons up. We worked our way up until we finally reached the top of the wagon trail were it met a still in use 4 wheel drive trail. From this vantage point you could see back down toward the Lake, the Hole-In-The-Rock and above the Karoparowits Plateau. In the other direction you could see the canyons of the San Juan branch.
We returned to the houseboat making it back just about dark. The next day we headed back down river refueling again at Dangling Rope. Late in the afternoon we made it to Padre Bay crossing it's five miles and finding a spot to anchor in Gunsight Canyon. The next morning we arose early and returned the houseboat to the rental agency at Wahweap Marina.
By noon we were on the road. We drove back a different direction going through Zion. In the canyon bottom we stopped at a picnic area and had a picnic. We were supposed to stay in Las Vegas that night as Marilin was flying to New Orleans the next day. As we were coming into town the traffic was heavy and Marilin lost us. Bill and I spent a couple hours trying to find them and failing that started back to Glendora. We arrived in Glendora about 1:00 am.
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Copyright © Lawrence Turner 1999