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2004 Travelogue #34 Glen Canyon Dam of the Colorado River
Wahweap RV & Marina Campgrounds
Arizona: Flagstaff, Page, Glen Canyon Dam of the Colorado River, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Park
9/13 By 11:30 this morning, we were packed and on our way to Flagstaff with a strong tail wind, helping us climb the Mogellon Rim. Arriving in Flagstaff, we found J&H RV Park on US-89; a very clean, nice park with 50 amps, ground lava rock pads, FHU and a good cell-phone connection. After hooking up, I cooked a powerful lunch of pinto beans, Hatch green chilies and Kabasa sausage.
Later that afternoon we took a walk. Finding space limited in the Park, we crossed US-89 into a small housing development. The sidewalk soon became a dirt trail through the property; climbing a gradual slope we found ourselves in a very large prairie dog village. The little critters sounded warning squeals while popping in and out of their holes, as we invaded their town.
9/14 Driving Historic Route 66 this morning, we saw reminders of The Mother Road commissioned in 1926. Route 66 crosses eight states, three time zones and goes through the heart of Flagstaff. What is it about these old, rusted and worn neon and metallic motel signs that attract me? I guess it's the connecting of rural and urban communities, moving west to find a better life and the origin of highway travel, as we know it today.
Parking the car in the downtown historical area, we browsed the specialty shops, reading about the original occupants on plaques posted outside. One shop, a unique fly-fishing store, had an embossed tin ceiling, painted a decorative copper color; the proprietor said it was originally a drugstore, built in1910. These quaint shops reminded us of those housed in the beautiful old buildings on Georgetown, TX's historical square.
Inside one of the storefronts, we found a small eclectic coffee-house/café called Mountain Oasis and stopped for lunch. I had an excellent mixed-green salad with a small grilled tuna steak, served with fresh basil and tomato dressing. Peggy had a unique spinach flour tortilla roll filled with finely chopped chicken fajita, Pepper Jack cheese and salsa. Both were delicious; we were fueled for our journey.
A few blocks later, we found the Visitors Center in the train station in the heart of downtown Flagstaff. Built in 1926, the Tudor-styled building is shared with the Amtrak train station and is the first stop for many visitors from yesteryear until today. Double sets of tracks pass through Flagstaff usually moving freight, but Amtrak does run an eastbound train in the morning and a westbound in the evening. We were in the Amtrak portion around 1 pm and traffic was slow. I had a short conversation with the attendant, as he rolled down his window shade. He said, "Nothing to do here until 4:30", he was going home.
Many of the buildings in the downtown area have been architecturally restored to match those at the turn of the century. In one such building was an Indian craft shop, which had piles of beautiful Navajo-style rugs. Sure enough, we found one we liked for the coach and bought it.
Leaving the historic tourist area, we searched for the IRS office, took a number, had a short visit with the agent, and then decided we were not in the mood for anymore sightseeing. The agent did not give us the news we wanted to hear, so we headed back to the coach to regroup our thoughts and spirits.
I found solace in vacuuming the car and taking it to the car wash. Just working with my hands helps me in times like this. I can remember in days past, when we had a "stick" house and when I was upset, I found solace in my form of meditation, working in the yard and flowerbeds. Just getting my hands in the dirt always helped. So, being on the road, I guess getting my hands on our dirty car was my mediation for the afternoon.
Later that evening, we found a good neighborhood Chinese restaurant in a shopping center with an unusual décor, which really appealed to us; several large aquariums filled with exotic fish. We were seated side-by-side at a table facing 6 or 7 beautiful Goldfish. These fish had long pectoral, dorsal, and tail fins that flowed gracefully as they swam, soothing our moods. A delightful, young, 23-year-old single mother was our waitress. She was so friendly and upbeat; we enjoyed talking to her. Hearing her courageous stories made our problems seem so small; she encouraged us.
9/15 I started the process of resolving our problem with the IRS and Social Security this morning, "action cures fear" and today it was time to "press the pedal to the metal" and start moving.
After finishing business, we inspected more of the city. Driving down US 66, we saw many old businesses; some were still going-concerns but others were boarded up. We drove into residential areas, up the canyon toward the Snowbird ski area; found a few parks with hiking trails but decided to go home and walk the country roads around our place.
9/16 We were ready to leave Flagstaff by 10am, but needed to stop for diesel before driving the160-miles to Page. A Conoco truck stop was a few miles down the highway and we thought it should be easy access, but wouldn't you know, my pump wouldn't work. The attendant said it was giving them problems. So, I cranked up, got back on the highway, and circled around to another pump to get 60 gallons of diesel for $123, such a deal.
We arrived in Page around 1 pm. When driving across the Glen Canyon Dam on US-89, the traffic slowed to 25 mph. It was thrilling to look to the left and see the Colorado River; while on the right were Lake Powell and the beautiful sandstone buttes and mesas. It was 550-feet straight down to the bottom of the canyon, which always makes Peggy a little squeamish.
Not much happened in this part of the country until the1950s. The Navajo, who occupied the area, felt the place was bewitched, referring to it as "the place where the trees died of fear." That all changed in 1957, when the Bureau of Reclamation chose the 700-foot-high sandstone walls below the barren mesa as the construction site for the Glen Canyon Dam of the Colorado River.
The 7-year construction project began when John C. Page was the Bureau's Commissioner; the workers hauled in their trailers and Quonset huts, set up camp and called it "Camp Page". After a while, the "Camp" was dropped and that's how the town of Page came to be on the banks of Lake Powell. Page was also where we'd start "The Grand Circle", an extraordinary group of scenic treasures like the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Zion and Bryce.
One of the benefits of being 62-years-old is the Golden Age Pass that costs $10 from the Park Service, giving us free access into the Glen Canyon National Park (includes all national parks) and free entrance to the Wahweap RV & Marina Campgrounds (800-528-6154). We checked-in and moved into our assigned site, but after numerous tries, using our hydraulic jacks, we just couldn't get the coach leveled. It's not a safe situation when the rear tires are off the ground.
Back to the office we went, requested a new site and this second one leveled out just fine. We set up camp then took the car exploring, making the Marina our first stop. Here the boat ramp is the largest I have ever seen, must be 300-feet-wide and a quarter-mile-long or longer. This is the place for houseboats and some of them are huge. Lake Powell is one of America's favorite house-boating destinations.
Parked at the top of the ramp was a tractor-trailer rig towing the largest houseboat I've ever seen. The rig had a lead scout car with yellow flashing lights and a Wide Load sign. The trailer itself must have had 28 tires and the houseboat looked as big as a Mississippi paddle wheeler. Not only was it a big load, it was wide and tall. I thought driving a motorhome and towing a car had its anxious moments, but driving this rig through these canyons has got to be the ultimate anxiety.
Next stop was the Carl Hayden Visitors Center and the Glen Canyon Dam. Security is very tight at the entrance, which is understandable these days, but what a shame to have to empty our pockets. I needed to take my pocketknife back to the car, and Peggy had to leave her purse in the car.
We toured some of the exhibits in the Center. Walking out on the observation deck, we looked down into the channel as it narrowed coming into the dam. The lake is down 130-feet from its normal level; leaving the canyon walls looking somewhat strange, since the former water level marks are very visible.
Up and down the Colorado River, chains of dams and lakes were not prepared for the heavy rains in April and May of 1993. Here at Glen Canyon, they had to build steel extensions onto the dam overflow outlets to hold back the additional 8-feet of water from 186-miles of lake. Can you imagine the pressure on that steel? We walked onto the pedestrian walkway of the bridge crossing the Canyon, on one side is the dam and on the other, far below, are the outlets for the spillway with the generating turbines at the bottom, some 500-feet below. It is hard to imagine this lake holding back this historical level of water at this narrow opening.
We drove through Page, which appears to be a small tourist town catering to the people coming into the Park. We picked up a few groceries, and then hurried back to the coach. After dinner, Peggy and I went for a walk. The stars out here are magical. Not many times have we been able to see the Milky Way so clearly, stretching from one end of the horizon, to the other.
9/17 Peggy stayed in the coach editing this morning while I went for a walk. It's interesting that I can walk about 50-yards down the road, exit Arizona and be in Utah. The trail meandered through mesquite trees and soap bushes down toward the lake. Lake Powell is so huge and we camped in just a small part, Wahweap Bay. Stopping at the Registration Desk and Store, I purchased tickets for the Navajo Tapestry Boat Tour. Our tour, a three-hour ride, would leave at 1 pm today.
Needing to be at the Marina 30-minutes early to pick up our boarding passes, we had time to enjoy the large patio, which overlooks the moored houseboats a quarter-mile below and the boat traffic moving in and out of the Marina. Our tour was announced and we were ushered, as a group, down a long concrete walkway to the boardwalk leading to the boat. I thought to myself as we made our way down this steep quarter-mile incline that it was going to really be fun coming back up. We will definitely raise our heart and pulse rate on our return.
The boat was a large touring vessel commonly used in harbor cruises. The main level was enclosed with cushioned seats and a snack bar while the upper level was open, behind the wheelhouse, with plastic benches on both sides of a center aisle. We enjoyed sitting outside.
Wahweap is an Indian word meaning "bitter waters". I guess they didn't like the taste of the Colorado River water! Today, with the Glen Canyon Dam, this is the 2nd largest manmade lake in the United States, 186-miles in length and over 500-feet deep. There are 96 inlets wandering off the main channel and 5 major rivers that feed the upper watershed.
Our Captain said our boat cruised at 21-knots but, since we put out a pretty good wake, we needed to slow down when approaching a houseboat. He said, "Our waves could go over the side into the boat and out the other side and that didn't make for good PR." It was very warm this afternoon; we had no canopy so the 21-knot breeze felt very good.
We entered two canyons, the first being Antelope and the second, Navajo Canyon; two of the 96 off the main Colorado River channel. Lake Powell has a wide fluctuation in its water flow, and has easy-to-see high-water marks on the walls of its canyons. The water has a high alkaline content, leaving a white discoloration on the red sandstone; the locals call it their "bathtub ring". The water is crystal clear but the green algae give it an emerald color.
The ride was very relaxing and beautiful, seeing the varied colors of these sandstone cliffs. Our first destination, Antelope Canyon, is a wondrous creation of nature, a slot canyon, carved from the red sandstone by rain and wind. This deep canyon, off the main body of water, has steep red sandstone walls, typical of the many slot canyons off the main body of water. We followed the canyon as it narrowed, amidst sloping angles of sandstone rock coupled with shafts of light beaming from the rim above. We went as far as we could, then very slowly and meticulously, turned around and retreated.
The second canyon, Navajo, was a dramatic navigational experience. We made our way into the narrowing canyon next to the 250-feet canyon walls, with maybe a 5-foot clearance on either side. The Captain eased the boat into the straights of Navajo Canyon so we could have a close-up view of the dark desert varnish, which appears like a tapestry on the towering rock walls. The varnish color results from thousands of years of water trickling down the walls. The markings are so large, wide and long, it really looks like a tapestry and the colors are like a Navajo weaving; it was named very well.
Returning to the Marina after 4 pm, we tackled the steep hill to the car. There was a shuttle bus giving passengers a lift, but by the time it loaded and started its climb, we were already at the top. It was a heart "pumper" for sure!
We hustled into Page before the Post Office closed to pick up our mail, made
a quick stop at Safeway for supplies and returned to the coach. I made a "toddy"
and fired up the grill, out came the mesquite chips to put on the fire and put
the steaks on
the ending to a perfect day.
Bob & Peggy Woodall