Off the Grid (and Land) on Lake Powell
"I bet Charlton Heston came here," I firmly stated as I got out of the car upon arriving at Lake Powell. "Or rather, George Taylor, I should say, since it looks so starkly similar to the scenery from the original Planet of the Apes." My barely-working GPS may have registered our bearings as Arizona, but I knew that I couldn't be the only person who had stepped foot on the landscape surrounding Lake Powell without questioning whether it was Mars or American soil (or rock). From the plateaus on the horizon, to the dramatic rugged shoreline, to the restaurant being towed down the lake (for real, for real), to the uniquely shaped canyons (like Ice Cream Canyon), Lake Powell was nothing short of otherworldly.
Though visiting Lake Powell on behalf of Travel Mindset, it was a destination I had long wanted to visit, ever since my father told me when I was 17 that we would take a 3 week, 25 state, 6,000-mile road trip that involved the Grand Tetons, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, and the Grand Canyon, but not Lake Powell, even though it was just a couple hours from the Grand Canyon. Nonetheless, here I was, over a decade later, standing perched above Lake Powell atop Glen Canyon Dam, looking into the abyss of the otherworldy, snapping a photo to post on Instagram, but quickly realizing that to tweet, Instagram, or Snapchat is to miss the entire reason for being on Lake Powell. And to experience that reason, I'd have to get off land and get onto a boat.
"Hi, my name is Spencer, and I've piloted the USS Missouri, a paddleboat, as well as kayaks, canoes, a few dinghies, a couple different powerboats, and a pontoon boat." Our class went around the room, as if it were a rehab meeting, explaining our boating experience. This was Houseboating 101 and class was in session with Captain Maggie. I was feeling pretty fly, having listed off something of a list of experiences, as compared to the last class (surf camp) I took, in which I responded to the question about experience with, "I've touched a surfboard." Something told me, however, that I better pay attention and take a little bit more responsibility, since I could only assume that breaking a houseboat carried with it more consequences than breaking a surfboard. And so began our houseboating class, the first of its kind in the U.S., which gives guests all of the required information and hands-on practice so that they can pilot a houseboat on their own.
"Now, turn the ignition on," Captain Maggie repeated each time as we went down the line cranking the boat. It's actually a little harder to turn on than you might think, since there were two ignitions and a button that also had to be pushed. From here we covered everything from reversing, to pulling out of the dock, to parking, to beaching, to anchoring, and more (all for $299 including two nights accommodations). We even got to get behind the wheel of a powerboat, since many people who rent houseboats also rent a powerboat. A houseboat can only go so fast, and on a lake that has more shoreline than the entire west coast of the U.S., you'll need something that can cover some ground. At the end of the day, we each practiced the different elements of the houseboating experience, even role-playing situations and problems that may come up. While I've piloted boats before, it was not only a good refresher, but gave me practicals for a more specific type of boating. It's one thing to pilot a boat, but it's an entire different thing to pilot a 75-foot houseboat.
Houseboating on Lake Powell is a unique type of trip for a certain type of traveler. There's no nightlife, no restaurants, no shopping. It's you, the lake, hundreds of miles of shoreline, and nearly 100 canyons. As such, it's not exactly a solo or couples getaway. To get the best bang for buck, you'll want to have 8 to 10 people to cover expenses, which includes the cost of the rental, as well as the cost of gas. Think of it like a rental car, where you get a full tank, but you pay for what you use. I'd also recommend renting a speed boat for part of your trip, if not the entire thing. While there's plenty of beauty and shoreline to see around the Wahweap Marina area, the best of Lake Powell requires some speed. Some of these attractions include Antelope Canyon, one of the most visited and photographed slot canyons in the U.S., as well as Rainbow Bridge, the largest known natural bridge in the world.
As I crossed Glen Canyon Dam and said good-bye to Lake Powell, I thought of America's national parks, and what a gift it is to both its citizens and world travelers. In a time period where its become increasingly tougher to discover new frontiers, there remains parts of the world that are still relatively unknown, yet teeming with beauty, such as Alaska's Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, which got just 19 visitors last year. And then I thought of Charlton Heston, having just swam ashore and saying, "We have been away from earth for 2,000 years." Well as it turns out, that scene from Planet of the Apes was filmed on Lake Powell.
What are your favorite national/state park or wilderness experiences around the world?