Crossing over the Colorado River at Lee's Ferry put the long awaited trip into perspective. At last, after months of planning and waiting, we were going to be paddling on majestic Lake Powell. Our float plan was to arrive in Page about noon, put in at Wahweap Marina about midday, paddle 4-6 miles, and camp on the East end of Antelope Island. From there we would paddle up the main channel to explore 5 canyons: Labyrinth, Face, West, Navajo, and Antelope.
HISTORY: The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area was formed in 1972. Damming of the Colorado River formed a little less than 200 mile long lake with 1,960 miles of shoreline, engulfing 96 canyons, great expansive bays, picturesque coves, side canyons, slot canyons, and Red Navajo Sandstone Formations of every size and description your imagination can create. This, for the next week, was going to be our Paddler's Paradise. Our theater of operation was formed 310 million years ago. In the past 11 million years, the Colorado and San Juan rivers, along with their tributaries, carved out the canyons and mesas. Indians roved and lived here at the end of the ice age followed by the Anasazi, Paiute, Ute and Najavo tribes.
This will be, over the last 12 months, our third trip on the mighty Colorado. Two previous kayak trips sent us through the Black Canyon just under the Hoover Dam - but that's another story.
Day 1- Wed Oct 16, The Put in
Destination: East end of Antelope Island by way of Castle Rock Bay
Paddling Distance: 4-6 miles
Highlight: Campsite - small sandy cove across from the island
on a peninsula on Warm Creek Bay
Thoughts, tips & comments: The current lake level is 70 feet below or at a sea level reading of 3,625 feet: the crossing at Castle rock goes dry at 3,620 feet. Boaters must use a narrowly marked channel at wake less speed. For once the kayakers had free rein to strut their stuff (low draft).
Day 2- Thu Oct 17, Under the drip line, safe haven or ???
Destination: Labyrinth Canyon
Paddling Distance: 8-10 miles
Highlight:Wind bouncing off my tent at 5:15 am was the first omen. The 10 day forecast was for slightly cloudy skies, 10 to 20% at most, chance of rain, and wind at about 5 mph. By the time we had breakfast and broke camp, the wind had subsided; the sun was shining. The longest part of today's paddle was through the main channel in a narrow opening with heavy boat traffic. Also, the steep walls added another hazard of keeping the seas turned up (sloppy ride). By the time we reached the entrance to Labyrinth Canyon, a slight breeze had come up preceding a major front (10 day forecast?). Well inside the canyon we were bucking a 20-25 mph wind and a heavy downpour. Ed was ahead of me. I called out that I was ducking in a cove to put on my anorak but he didn't hear my shouts and continued paddling. After 10 minutes the wind subsided, rain turned to drizzle and I continue paddling.
Rounding a bend, I saw Ed's kayak beached. He was standing 70 feet above the water on a 300 foot long slightly sloping ledge with a 20 foot wide overhang. Climbing up the sand and stone outcropping posed no problem - a safe haven. We set camp, leveling pads for our tents. The fire pit was set under the drip line like the rest of our camp, and all was well as the rain turned from a drizzle to a downpour. We gathered enough firewood to have a small Indian Fire to remove the evening's chill and salute the rising moon.
Late that afternoon the rain stopped. The late sun was casting its deep shadows and we proceeded to explore by kayak the depth of the canyon. That evening's campfire was truly magical, the fire glow lit up the sandstone overhang and the moon beamed a mellow light on the water, adding deep shadows on the canyon walls.
Zipped in my tent, I was ready for a good nights rest after a perfect but slightly challenging day. Being the only two humans in this small canyon, the only sound was our own. Just before dozing off, I heard footsteps passing by my tent. Since my tent was close to the wall, the only passable path was between my tent and the drop off, a mere 5 feet.
Listening more intently, they sounded muffled, like steps made by well placed moccasins. Walking along the edge during the afternoon, I was stepping more cautiously, slipping occasionally, stumbling on debris and generally stepping with my toes to get a foothold; yet these were deliberate, well placed like by someone who was used to being here. I figured it was Ed, getting up for a nature's call but I then heard Ed rustle in his tent. Then it hit me - WAS THIS A SACRED PLACE? - HAVE WE CROSSED THE LINE? - ARE THE ANCIENT ONES DISPLEASED? -Oh hell, I thought, I'm too tired and content to speculate and drifted off to sleep.
The next morning while sipping our coffee, Ed asked the usual morning topic, Did you hear any critters last night? Only a lizard, I replied, How about you? He said, heard nothing, except some footstep-like sounds just before I passed out. We had fun with that subject for the balance of the day.
Thoughts, tips & comments: I prefer October for my kayak camping trips. That way you avoid heat, crowds and severe weather. Also, I choose the time centered around a full moon. It adds another dimension to the sights. In addition, the nights campsite remains natural, saving your flashlight for searching deep in your dry bags for those where the heck did I put them necessities.
Day 3 Fri Oct18, Heading east to go down West
Destination: West Canyon
Paddling Distance: 9+miles
Highlights: We were on the water by 9 am and after paddling, exploring and stopping, we arrived well within West canyon; a little later than expected due to the low level of the lake. We were required to paddle around Gregory Butte, which normally is well out in the main channel. At this point, we were starting to tire and were having trouble finding a campsite.
Dead ahead lay a possibility, but too far ahead to adequately decide. From afar it appeared to be too steep, with a massive schlepping: task involved. Upon approaching the spot, we glanced to the left and noticed a tucked away slot canyon, enterable by boat. We were on our way in, forgoing the campsite decision. We paddled as far as we could, being stopped by debris at the mouth.
Continuing, our sites were set for the night's camp, when we glanced to the left and saw another slot canyon. At that time we thought it best to find refuge and investigate in the morning. The site was very steep and rather inadequate but it appeared that a paddle around the bend might just be more forgiving, we were right. Great landing, lots of flat space, and what turned out to be an incredible campfire site. Ed built our night's fire out on a rock formation, looking across the canyon with the moon rising on our left. First thing in the morning we would explore the slot situated right next to us.
Thoughts, tips & comments: Looking for your campsite early in the afternoon is a must. Sometimes you are required to paddle for miles before even a simple site is available. The first thing to look for is a sandy, flat space accessible to a flat landing; room to pull up your craft.
Next, check how far you must carry your gear. Are you protected from the sun, wind and rain? Is there any firewood? And of course the last, but not a priority, since sleeping on your kayak is out of the question, is the esthetics. At this time of the year sunset occurs about 6:30, but deep in a high walled canyon your light starts to diminish long before that so waiting to find refuge reduces your chances, increases your paddle time, and causes backtracking.
Day 4 Sat Oct 19, Up the river
Destination: Deeper into West Canyon
Paddle Distance: 5+ miles - a short day
Highlights: We were ready for a day of easy paddling, a chance to meander into the depths, to slip through the glassy calm waters hidden from the world, to explore the nooks and crannies. We also planned to paddle till we found the ideal campsite, as we were to spend another night in West Canyon. It was a sunny, clear, blue sky day, void of even the slightest breeze. A few cumulous clouds added to the scene.
At about mid day we ended up at the very end of the canyon, facing West Canyon Creek. The mouth resembled more of a river than a mere creek. Right beside and a little to the left rose a tremendous sand and rock outcropping with a kevlar landing. We could camp here, have our jerky/energy bar lunch and could hike over the outcropping for a walk up the river bed. We were told that this hike is the best in all of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
They were right - it had everything. Great sandstone formations along the way, small groves of cottonwood trees, patches of greenery on ledges, wild flowers in bloom, mossy rocks, and a shallow meandering creek of cool clear water.
About half way up was a pool of water resembling the old swimming hole, and close to the end, an abandoned Navajo Hogan. After our morning's paddle amongst steep walls, slipping into side canyons, discovering slots and crossing coves and bays, plus a mid day hike, it was time to kick back and watch nature unfold; i.e. take a nap.
Thoughts, tips & comments: This part of the west seems to attract numerous fast moving fronts coming from the west and south. At times we experienced two fronts from different directions crossing right in front of us. It appears that most fronts are preceded by a wind, sometimes a breeze; other times a mighty blow and always the chance of a sudden and short downpour. It doesn't take long for the water to get churning and provide sloppy conditions. As a rule, ducking in, landing or finding cover will only be temporary because as they come, so do they depart.
Day 5 Sun Oct 20, Face is da place- Bays, Coves, Sides and Slots
Destination: Face Canyon
Paddle Distance: 12 - 15 miles
Highlights: Realizing that today's paddle was going to first entail the long haul out of West Canyon, then the added trek around Gregory Butte, plus the 4+ miles on the main channel, we got an early start and were refreshed from the previous chilloutday. Six hours later, we pulled into the wide open bay of Face Canyon. Again we had pristine atmospheric conditions so we decided to continue paddling, staying on the East side, til we were well inside this 5 mile long canyon. We planned to go on until we found a campsite, and then tomorrow, finish paddling into and around the Western shoreline and then out.
Face Canyon had so many neat bays, coves, sides and slots that our time was quickly consumed and again it was late in the afternoon before we searched for our night's lodging. Rounding a bend, we spotted a unique slot canyon tucked into a cove, plus a perfect campsite. So good was our find, we couldn't decide which had the priority, hike the slot or set camp. As the sun started to set, from up on our campsite we could see the pool of stagnant water at the opening of the slot. The last rays of sun were shining on the pool and you could see the hatch rise. For the first time on the trip we were slightly bothered by bugs - this time a couple of mosquitoes. No sooner then one or two swats were administed, a lone bat swooped down and delivered our abatement program.
Thoughts, tips & comments: My camping/paddling partner, Ed, performs the nightly campfire ritual with pure genius. I have knighted him with the title, Keeper of the Flame-Master of the Glowing Ember. First of all, he chooses a picturesque site, always entailing a background such as a panoramic view, or out on a point, or against a massive canyon wall. Secondly, he constructs a unique stone fire pit, not merely a round ring. Thirdly, the tinder, kindle and fuel are so arranged that it only takes one match and instant atmosphere! Then comes the best part for this dozing partner - Ed feeds the fire, tending to each piece as though he was the master of delivering its final act to nature as a gesture of appreciation, reducing same to a glowing ember, all the while speaking to each piece in a low monotone, coaxing it to release its remaining energy. While I drift off to never-never land, Ed tends to his task till all have been reduced to char and his symphony ends.
Day 6 Mon Oct 21, 50/2 - 2/50 Theory
Destination: Navajo Canyon
Paddling Distance: 17+ miles into a 16 mile long canyon
Highlights: It took considerably more time that anticipated to finish viewing the other side of Face Canyon, plus cross its huge bay. We were, however, rewarded with incredible displays of nature and were forced to alter our day's float plan. At mid day, we decided to make it to the entrance of Labyrinth and pick an overnight spot there. Then in the morning, enter Navajo Canyon.
After another 7 hour paddling day, we found a small but comfortable site just inside the bay - nothing spectacular but certainly deserving of two weary bodies. At campfire that evening; Ed expressed his 50/2-2/50 theory, a philosophy that has helped to guide his life's discipline. Man is expected to work long, hard hours for 50 weeks and take the 2 week vacation reward: well, not good enough. Work the 2 and take the 50, says Ed.
Thoughts, tips & comments: Flash floods are a true and real problem in the slot canyons of Lake Powell. Hiking back within its bowels, there is incredible evidence of its existence both of recent times and past. The surrounding land, ever so thirsty for moisture, cannot absorb a downpour and must release it to run its course- and run it does. The carving, blocking and eroding make the slots a truly interesting site. Take caution and be sure you are aware of the weather condition. Even a downpour miles away can have an adverse effect.
Day 7 Mon Oct 22, Bungeed to a Wall
Destination: Navajo Canyon 16+ miles in length
Paddling Distance: 10 - 12 miles
Highlights: Today's long haul forced us once again to navigate the main channel, plus expose us to The Narrows, a walled narrow part of the main channel and a straight course for the Mega-horse set to let it rip. We stayed close to the massive walls where possible, cut across as fit but generally proceeded with caution to reduce the sloppy, long ride.
Entering Navajo Canyon, the weather started to change; again the typical forerunning wind then followed by rain. We kept on paddling but soon realized this very long canyon was almost void of landings, never mind campsites. The rain at this point was heavy and we could see up on the walls and ledges, the rain water was starting to run forming small waterfalls and streams.
We fortunately found a wide and deep overhang, protection from the rain and out of the drip line, but it was difficult to keep our craft up close to the wall. We grabbed a bungee cord, found a fissure, hooked one end to the wall, slid Ed's kayak against the wall, stretched the bungee, and hooked it to my kayak. The rain and wind continued for half an hour. Then came the break we were waiting for. At this point, due to lack of landings, length of this canyon, weather conditions and time of day, we bailed and headed for the main channel to seek out refuge.
Our cop-out was soon rewarded with a secluded inlet, devoid of any hazards. After setting up camp, we went in search of firewood and again the kayak Gods bestowed upon us massive amounts of fuel. After dinner, I had made two cups of tea and was just settling down in front of the fire, when it started to rain along with thunder and lightning. We ran for our tents, tossing the hot tea aside and were confined to our dripping nylon enclosures for the next 12 hours. It was 6:45 when we bedded down and didn't have any rain relief till 7:00 the next morning. Annual rainfall for this area is 6 inches. Four fronts passed through that night, certainly contributing to their averages and our confinement.
Thoughts, tips & comments: It had been 25 years since my last trip on Lake Powell and it was interesting to view the difference time has made. I have truly changed in that time, but what about this incredible place? Certainly more usage, especially by the fossil fuel group. Small houseboats have been replaced by floating palaces just under 100 feet long, runabouts replaced by high performance speed machines and The Jet Ski, erroneously referred to as personal watercraft. I found even though we were there in off season, a lot more house boaters; but fortunately the open bays and large coves are required area to exercise their horses. Racing full speed, whipping around bends in narrow canyons is a major hazard, but so goes the lament of the paddle group. Litter does not seem to be a problem as of yet. As a general rule, all were well behaved and if man is constantly reminded that, WE HAVE ONLY ONE TO SPEND concept, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area will be a wonderful destination for all to enjoy forever.
Day 8 Tue Oct 23, The Slot
Destination: Antelope Canyon & Wahweap Marina
Paddling Distance: 10 -14 miles
Highlights: The slot in Antelope Canyon is probably the most photographed place after Rainbow Bridge. It can be entered by the highway out of Page by merely paying $5.00 entrance fee to the Navajo Nation. This slot canyon with its soft pink, water sculptured walls is breathtaking but our quest was to enter this canyon from the water side, hike up to and into its majesty. We were only able to go up a few miles. We were blocked as we came to a pool fed by a waterfall with walls sleek and straight up. The other factor that adds to this slot's notoriety is it is one of the deepest - the walls are equally as picturesque. Getting there was a challenge. Once we paddle to the mouth; we first had to maneuver through a quagmire of slimy goop, and then cut a floating path through debris, till we found enough solid ground to step off our kayaks without sinking up to our knees in stinking smelling muck. Accomplishing this, we then proceeded to hike, a relaxed 3 hour roundtrip.
Our decision at this time was to head for Wahweap Marina, grab a much anticipated shower, and go into Page for a cold beer and a big dinner.
Rounding the final bend and looking at the marina, it hit me that this was the last few miles of our kayak adventure. Sadly I stroked, reminiscing of all the wondrous sights during the past week when that burning question entered my mind again. A dilemma through the trip, I have been unable to resolve:
"Should Glen Canyon Dam be destroyed and allow this area to return to its natural state?"
Links to purchase waterproof topo maps detailing the areas in this story:
Related Article: Keeping A "Ship's Log" For Kayakers - Documenting Your Kayak Adventures To Re-Live & Learn
The National Park Service Website with downloads for info and maps:About the Author - Bill Timothy:
"Being raised on Long Island Sound, my love of the water has engulfed my life even while serving Uncle Sam by teaching swimming, diving and water safety. It wasn't till after retirement ( early BTW) that I took up kayaking. From the very first launch into the surf at San Simeon Bay, Ca. I was hooked. The serenity and solitude gliding across the open water is truly a spiritual feeling. Short paddles lead to longer excursion to where the need to consider multi-day journeys became obsessive. There is a massive list of wonderful kayak destinations within my dreams and plans. Right now I am focused on completing the major portions of the Colorado River from it's headwaters high in Western Colorado including the two important tributaries (San Juan and Green) 5 more portions of the Glen Canyon NRA, a portion of the Lake Mead NRA, The Black Canyon under the Hoover Dam and finally through the Cibola and Imperial Wildlife Refuge prior to crossing the Mexican border and ending it's snowflake beginning as a drop of water in the Sea of Cortez. My first kayak was a Cobra Fish-n-Dive, then added a Wilderness System Tarpon and at some point in the future I'll be looking for more speed and handling especially against the wind and in rougher waters."
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