On a Houseboat in Utah's Grand Canyons

January 2011 News Cathryn M. Delude - www.boston.com
With two free plane tickets after being bumped from a flight, I thought about San Francisco, Santa Fe, or New Orleans. My husband suggested taking a houseboat on Utah's Lake Powell to explore the side canyons of the Colorado River.

I knew about the serpentine slot canyons lacing the Colorado River system from Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness,'' in which he laments the flooding of the lost jewel of the West, the gorgeous Glen Canyon, all to create a reservoir for the surrounding arid states. Since 1963, the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona has backed up the river 186 miles into countless gorges, valleys, and tributaries to create Lake Powell, itself a thing of beauty.

My husband's idea was to take the houseboat from the lake up the remote Escalante River and then kayak deeper into the canyons. Then we could hike farther up the winding gulches through steep, arching red sandstone cliffs into places only the most rugged individuals can reach from the high plateau above after backpacking across barren deserts and down sheer cliffs.

So I said yes, and we flew into Salt Lake City and drove south through Capitol Reef National Park to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. As we approached, we could see the vivid blue of Lake Powell offset by terra cotta islands - erstwhile peaks and mesas of Navajo sandstone - and looming cliffs of the same saturated color. An array of white dots marked the houseboats docked at Bullfrog Bay, one of the lake's five marinas, 97 miles upstream from the dam. Because the marina is so remote, we arrived the afternoon before and spent the night at the Defiance House Lodge, the only lodging for over a hundred miles other than campgrounds. There are also no grocery stores, so we had bought food way back in Torrey, west of Capitol Reef, and kept the fresh vegetables and frozen meat in a cooler.

At the lodge, we learned that because of recent dry years, the lake was 70 feet below the high-water mark. That meant we might be able to see certain waterfalls, Indian cliff dwellings, and petroglyphs that we might otherwise float past.

To our dismay, we discovered that the 46-foot Expedition houseboat we had rented for four days and three nights had only a single engine and would take us nine hours to reach the Escalante. So we upgraded to a faster two-engine boat.


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