UT - Lake Powell - 2003/10/01 to 2003/10/08 - Week 4 - Escalante River to Page

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From the Escalante River back through pouring rain cascading from high walls, past Navajo mountain and into Padre Bay, I finish my month log paddle on Lake Powell.

Day 21 - 2003/10/01 - 34.4 miles

The next morning the dawn was bright and clear, yet another boring day in paradise! I left camp at 8:30 AM paddling further up the Escalante. There were few canyons branching off the right, northeast, side on the Escalante River, so I quickly reached the area of Explorer Canyon. There a sharp sided butte formed a smaller Rincon. Only this one had water all the way around it. I paddled around the imposing monolith and up into Explorer Canyon. I did not get very far before the canyon ended. There two canoeists were walking up the sandy floor of the canyon. I turned around and headed back to the Escalante.

On the beaches surrounding the monolith were two houseboat encampments. One was still all quiet, asleep, even though it was nearly 10:30 AM. The other group was stirring and fishing in the cloudy water. I new that the sediment in the river here meant that the end of the lake water and the current of the river itself were not far away. I passed a massive rock wall with the morning sun highlighting the dark red rock against the deep blue sky. Around the corner, the lake came to an abrupt end, as the swirling waters of the Escalante River dumped its sediment in a gooey bar across the varnished canyon.

There I turned around and headed back down river exploring the side canyons of Fortymile Canyon, Willow Creek Canyon, Fiftymile Canyon and Davis Gulch. These canyons were magnificent excursions through the high walled red rock, with water caves and side canyons of their own. A guided group of four kayaks set up camp in what once was a water cave but was now high and dry, 50 feet above the current water level. they were not particularly friendly, perhaps because they had just arrived at the site and were afraid that I was interested in the camp site myself. There were relatively few places to camp in the steep sided high walled narrow canyons of the Escalante. Those few beaches available all had houseboat encampments pitched for long term stays. Canyons often ended in huge drop offs with no way to exit the kayak.

In Davis Gulch is a famous arch names La Gorce. It was featured prominently on the front cover of my map. I had been looking at it there every day for three weeks. I was determined to see it for myself. On the map, it shows the authors in their fishing boat with the large arch prominent in the background. However as I approached the position of the arch, I found that the lake ended before I got very close to the arch, and that from the wrong side. I was determined to see however, so I pushed on through the accumulated debris of sticks, logs, trees and mud to reach a point where the water finally stopped on a bank of soft muck. I got out and immediately sank into the ooze.

Determined to continue, I turned the corner and finally gained slightly firmer ground where water flowed down the center of the canyon on a bed of brownish red sand. I followed a set of coyote tracks to finally view the arch from the usual side. It was high and dry. On the map, the boat floated at about the level of the shadow in this picture. It looked much different now. On the way back I climbed the bank to a dry cave overlooking the stream bed.

As I paddled out of Davis Gulch, threatening clouds began to roll over the tops of the high walls. They had appeared suddenly with no warning. The wind picked up to 30 knots and the temperature dropped. The perfect weather had come to an end and it looked as if there might be rain. I paddled down to Clear Creek Canyon and paddled to the end where Cathedral in the Desert, a tight slot in the otherwise unremarkable canyon allows boats to pass into the narrow low ceiling overhanging passageway where the reflected light of the water plays of the dark ceiling of rock. But not this year. The Cathedral was dry except for a rivulet of water coming down the center of the slot. There was a low, but steep and deep ledge at the beginning of the section, and I was unable to get out of the boat.

It was now getting late and the evening was approaching. There were no good camping sites anywhere along the extent of the canyon, and I had not seen any on the way up the river yesterday. I selected a very small ledge that was not big enough to even spread my ground tarp out on. I pulled the kayak up onto the ledge and squeezed my camp into a pitiful little area next to it. I pitched the tarp over the flattest part of the ledge. There was no sand or cracks to anchor the guy ropes, so I piled up rocks onto the ropes. It was the ugliest fly of the tarp I had ever seen. The wind had picked up and some nasty clouds were rolling in. It looked to be a tough night. I fixed dinner under the tarp as it began to rain. It slacked off as evening fell. Then I began to hear the squeaking. The rocks around me were alive with mice. I saw one of the furry little buggars run across the end of the tarp. A long night indeed. What had I said about the boring weather in paradise?

Day 22 - 2003/10/02 - 0 miles

During the night. it rained hard and the thunder rolled and the lightning lit up the walls of my canyon. The wind blew alternately up and down the slot of the canyon. Unfortunately because of the narrowness of the ledge, I was forced to place the tarp parallel to the canyon, so the wind blew into the open ends of the tarp. The poor job I had done in setting up the tarp made it less wind worthy. I was fortunate that the winds did not knock it down. The spare paddle halves which formed the poles to support the tarp were set in a cairn of rocks. Those rocks had to be adjusted and repositioned several times to keep the paddles upright. However, I had had no trouble with the mice. I heard them squeaking and scurrying about, but they did not get into any of my packs or food. I kept that in the water proof bags inside the cockpit with the cockpit cover on. Perhaps they were frustrated by the slippery fiberglass and could not get onto the kayak or perhaps they just weren't interested in my bland food. Maybe the rain discouraged them. In any case, I was happy not to have had problems.

During the night I heard a strange sound, like wind but with a rhythmic pulsing that I could not identify. With the morning light I was able to see what was causing it. There were water falls on both sides of my camp and across the canyon. Rain water plunged off the rim of the 200 foot high canyon wall and hit the lake water in a moving spray of water that swayed with the wind. The water falls would wax and wane with the strength of the rainfall, delayed by 5 to 10 minutes. I was very glad that I had considered my campsite carefully, choosing one that was out on a promontory where not only falling water but falling rock would not be an issue. The choice for slightly less comfort and much more security looked brilliant with the light of the new day.

Not that there was much light this day. The sky was solid overcast and it rained heavily and thunder rolled around in long echoing chains of sound. Sharp cracks of thunder immediately after the bright flash, indicated that the bolt came to ground not far from my camp. I could see but a small slice of the sky and that did not look promising. I had no intention of leaving the safety of the shore and this canyon for the open expanses of the river or lake where I would be the highest object for hundreds of yards.

No, today I would stay put until the lightning stopped. That turned out to be nearly 4:00 PM, by which time it wasn't worth moving. I had managed to get the tarp into a much better shape. I would just stay here another night and assess things in the morning.

Day 23 - 2003/10/03 - 31.8 miles

It rained during most of the night. By morning it was still overcast, but there was no thunder so I prepared to resume my paddle. I left camp 21-22 in a light drizzle at 8:00 AM. I almost forgot to take a picture of this miserable camp, remembering to take a picture of this pile of rocks only as I began to paddle away.

A light wind rippled the surface of the lake at the mouth of the Escalante. The grey skies and spitting rain were in stark contrast to the bright and sunny day when I entered the river. I turned down lake and headed for Hole in the Rock where the Mormons crossed the Colorado River through this steep gorge. They lowered their wagons, horses and cattle down this seemingly impossible grade to cross the river from west to east. There is a signed trail up the gorge to the top of the flat mesa. In the rain it was very muddy and possible dangerous. I decided to keep on paddling.

Past Hole in the Rock, the clouds thickened and I saw a bank of rain progressing up the lake toward me. The rock wall of the far shore turned grey as the heavy rain approached. Soon I was in the middle of a constant downpour. The large rain droplets beat away the tiny ripples on the water surface. The hissing sound of the drops grew louder. I paddled along in the cold rain, marveling at just how different this world was during this rare event. I was lucky to see the desert in a different mood.

The rain slacked off some and I continued to observe a miraculous transformation. The walls of the lake re-emerged from the grey mist. But now they were beaded with waterfalls. Rain falling on the impervious rock mesa tops was cascading off and over rims all along the shore. Necklaces of water were draped over the edges on every side. A bone dry desert had become a water park of gushing and tumbling water everywhere. High clear blue skies and red rock had been replaced with grey and black tones with scudding clouds obscuring the tops of the mesas.

I paddled down to Reflection Canyon just past the junction with the San Juan River. In the first alcove inside the canyon, a 300 foot waterfall of spectacular size roared. Two guys in a Ranger bass boat said that it had just started about 15 minutes ago. I paddled to the small water cave to the right of the fall. The water in the fall pulsed in and out from the wall with different volumes of water plunging down from the lip high overhead. The fall swayed to the left and right in the wind along the rock face. The falling water generated it own wind as it plunged earthward, sending spray shooting out from the base of the fall where it fell on to the rock at the bottom of the wall. From almost under the fall I could hear and feel the power of the water. I thought about how much damage even a small rock carried by the rushing water and shooting off the rim high above would do to my fiberglass kayak. I decided to stay respectfully away from the power of this awesome sight.

I continued up the canyon to see falls at almost every minor canyon. The heavy rain of 15 to 30 minutes ago was cascading off of every pour in the canyon. The formations I had observed over the last three weeks were now displaying how they had been shaped. At one of the smaller falls, I pushed the nose of the kayak up under the spray. The water beat upon the kayak shell like a drum. The power of even this small amount of water was impressive.

Turn after turn saw more falls, some arcing far from the walls that launched them as they fell to the canyon floor, like some natural Gulliver quenching the fire. Slowly the volume of the falls diminished and after 30 minutes of no rain, most of the falls ceased. I paddled out to rejoin the lake and headed southwest once more.

I was looking for a campsite that would be safe from developing any of the waterfalls that I had seen in Reflection Canyon should the rain return. There had been no lightning all day, so I was less concerned about being high than having my camp washed out by a waterfall that would appear from overhead. I found a ridge along the side of the channel where I set up my tarp on the rock strewn peak. Camp 23 might be windy, but at least it would be dry. As night approached, the clouds diminished and the sun made a fitful appearance before yielding to the night.

Day 24 - 2003/10/04 - 36.0 miles

In the morning there were still low clouds obscuring the majority of the sky, but the cloud cover was not complete and the rising sun shone between the gaps and lit the red rock on the opposite shore with patches of orange light. With most of my gear packed in the dry bags last night in case of continuing rain, I got an early 7:30 AM start down lake. I turned into Twighlight Canyon, a narrow canyon into the rounded sandstone. The walls were half white and half a rosy cream color. This canyon was much more impressive in the low water condition with tight twists and turns compared to the more open structure now 100 feet above me.

Across the lake was Navajo Mountain. Its high top created a cloud that streamed off down wind. Well below the peak were smaller convective clouds racing past the rounded shape of the great mountain. The light played upon the clouds lending depth to the scene often missing in the harsh bright light usually found here. The clouds made the scene moody and interesting.

In the head of the next canyon, Cascade Canyon, I found myself deep in the foam that had been brought down the small stream after the heavy rains of the past 48 hours. I had seen this foam actively created on the much increased flows off of the surrounding rock in the prior day's downpours. Here it had accumulated at the end of the canyon, caught between the downstream flow of the water and the upstream pressure of the wind. It was like paddling through a giant latte. On the returned trip I saw this large arch that looked almost exactly like La Gorce arch in Davis Creek Canyon on the Escalante. High overhead the ends of the reef of dark red rock contrasted with the smooth cream sandstone comprising the canyon.

In the next canyon, Driftwood Canyon, I paddled under some overhanging cliff walls that left me a deep shade while the recently returned sun filled the upper portions with a bright white light. The passage was just wide enough to get a paddle blade past the hull on each side. The sandstone walls glowed with a subtle pink with layers of copper green sandwiched in drifts frozen in time. It was a magical place.

When I returned to the open main lake from the confines of the narrow canyon, I could see that the sky had substantially cleared. The landscape was bright and harsh once more. Gone were the subtle soft edges, greys and whites of the previous several days. The strong sharp colors had come once again.

I crossed the lake and went into Cathedral Canyon, a canyon I had passed by on the way up. Undercut amber walls greeted me in this high walled canyon similar to the other canyons on this side of the lake that I had visited two weeks ago. The high buttes set back miles from the shore were thousands of feet higher than the lake surface. Their massive forms dwarfed the low sandstone shapes that dwarfed my little kayak. Feeling small is a common emotion here.

I paddled on down the lake along with precession of rental houseboats headed for Dangling Rope Marina. Once again I bypassed the facility as I had no need for any of its services. About 3 miles south of the marina I pulled into a nice camp site. My fingers were getting sore from the days long paddle and it was nice to sit in the warm sun and watch the display of the clouds and colors over the fantastically varied land forms. The clouds had nearly disappeared and it looked as if I would be treated to an especially wonderful sunset. The moon rose up from behind the bluff in back of camp. It was nearly full once more. I had spent almost a month on the lake - a full lunar cycle. My time here was growing short.

A spectacular sunset lit the wall behind me. As the glow from the wall faded it was replaced by one reflected off the underside of the few clouds in the west. It all spoke of another beautiful night. After the full moon set in the early hours of the morning, a riot of stars appeared in a silky sheet across the black sky.

Day 25 - 2003/10/05 - 23.7 miles

The day started clear with almost no wind. I started paddling due west from Camp 24 to Rock Creek Bay and the floating restroom there. Once again, the facility was unvisited in the 30 minutes before my arrival only to be boarded just minutes before I got there. Unlike the other facilities, this one was full, dirty and unusable. I returned to my kayak and paddled up the canyon keeping a lookout for the arches on the reef to the northeast marked on my map. Once again I did not see them. But the canyon was pleasant and the paddling was easy. I stopped at a nice little site for lunch, a swim and a short rest. Then I was back in the kayak and over to the next canyon. I paddled to the end of the canyon in a beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds and a gentle west wind. I ended the day at the end of the canyon on a recently exposed rock bar with several motorboat campers. I drifted to sleep to the strains of Cream (Ina Godda Da Vida, long version) and Jethro Tull.

Day 26 - 2003/10/06 - 34.7 miles

Another bright clear morning greeted me the next day with near calm winds. I paddled out of Rock Creek Bay to pass the massive Gregory Butte. The channel just under the huge rock was constricted to about a 100 meters by the low water level. The narrow passage was marked by advisory buoys and channel markers. The one shown made for an amusing contrast in apparently stating the obvious. I continued on up the winding channel that was depicted as a large open area of Padre Bay on my map. The actual shoreline looked nothing like what was on the map. I passed another water quality monitoring buoy in the back region of Padre Bay. It was a long paddle to the back of the bay where several smalller bays stretched to the north off the main body of water. The first couple of places I checked out were occupied by houseboat camps pulled up on the wide and long beaches. I continued on until I found a place to pull up just under the back side of Cookie Jar Butte.

From the main channel and from the shore at Wahweap or Page, this butte does indeed look like a cookie jar with a large handle on the top. But from the west and just under it, it doesn't look much like its name sake. My camp was on a small rounded sandstone penninsula. On the very top of this little mound was a small bubbling seep. From the fingernail size hole, bubbles appear several times a minute and a slight trickle of water flowed out and over the side of the rock. The cause of this feature was unclear. Coming out at the top of the mound, it clearly wasn't gravity driven. Since there are no thermal features in the area, as far as I know, it wasn't hot water driven. I thought maybe it was driven by the diurnal cycle, but after it continued all night and the next morning, I had to abandon that theory. The only thing I could think of was dropping atmospheric pressure forcing air back out of the coarse sandstone. In any case, a nearly full moon rose up beside the Cookie Jar to end a simple and enjoyable day on the lake.

Day 27 - 2003/10/07 - 25.6 miles

The next day I left Camp 26 and paddled across the northern section of Padre Bay. Gunsight Butte was the prominent feature of this side of the bay. The shallow water prevented me from crossing into the channel to the next bay, Warm Creek Bay and I had to backtrack half way across the bay as marked on the map in order to go around a long exposed bar of rock and newly colonized weeds.

I paddled down the 4 mile channel to the open and low banked Warm Creek Bay. The warm day was producing some specacular cumulus clouds with massive anvils extending into the stratosphere and blowing off to the east with the high level winds. The clouds formed over the higher mesas to the north of the bay, forming as the warm air rose above the sun heated tops of the much higher landforms. I was able to observe the complete cycle of formation, from the start of the first visible cloud through the growth of the huge active cell with rain and lightning on the mesa top, the formation of the massive anvil and the final death of the convective column with the anvil blowing off and dissipating.

At the far end of the bay I found a great camp spot on the end of a low spit jutting into the bay. With clear deep water just off the edge of the camp, I enjoyed a nice swim. The sun set in back of the mesa to the west while a warm glow reflected off the mesa reef to the east.

The sun continued down and the moon rose into the night sky, leaving the camp bathed in its strong light. My shadow was quite visible all night. The lesser stars were drowned out by the moon's dominant reflected light.

Day 28 - 2003/10/08 - 21.2 miles

Today was my last day on the lake. The weather was once again perfect, sunny cloudless with low wind. I paddled from the camp over to the floating rest-room at the end of Warm Creek Bay where I deployed my rope stabilization method to gain the high platform of this facility. I then paddled over to the now dry passage between Antelope Island and Castle Butte. This passage is normally very deep, but now formed a dry saddle about 3/4 mile long. I pulled into the waning lead beside the prominent rock used frequently as a movie location.

I began to shuttle my gear and finally carried my boat across the flat terrain. Channel markers once anchored in deep water lay on their sides in the middle of the path. It took about 90 minutes to bring everything over to the other side. But it cut off the paddle around Antelope Island, a 12 mile three hour short cut. Once on the other side I was just opposite the Wahweap launch ramp. But I extended my trip a few hours by paddling up to the end if Wahweap bay before turning back and landing at the ramp where I had launched 28 days ago.

There I pulled up onto the sand at the busy ramp where a continuous stream of boats were being pulled from the water. Some houseboats were being removed for the end of the season. The giant rectangles of comfort where pulled from the water on tractor trailer beds to be stored on shore for the winter.

As for me, I walked up to my car, which other than being a little dirtier, seemed no different than when I left it. I returned to my boat, emptied the reduced contents back into my van, loaded it up on the roof and headed for the ranger station. There I left a message for the rangers thanking them for their assistance and letting them know that I had safely returned. My trip was over. A feeling of sadness mixed with satisfaction took hold of me as I returned to Page. I checked into the Motel 6 once again and quickly enjoyed my first shower since leaving a month ago. My wash cloth turned red with sunburned skin scrubbed off my long air-dried body.

I went out to dinner and enjoyed the best pinto beans I had ever eaten. I tried to get the recipe but the chef was not there that night. The assistant said the beans where cooked in 50 pound batches and the key was the raw beans which they bought in a big sack. It seemed that the recipe would not do me much good anyway so I consoled myself with the salad bar and a nice big piece of prime rib. I recommend Ken's Old West restaurant. I retired full and happy to my room at the Motel 6.

The next day I decided to stay a day in Page to rest before beginning my drive back east. I wanted to see a few things that I had bypassed in my eagerness to begin my journey. I went to the Powell Museum where I spent the better part of two hours going through the small museum there. I found the displays of the geology the most interesting part. Much of the historical information about the dam and the local area is a replica of that at the dam visitor's center. But the displays of the surrounding geology would serve as a good primer before a trip on the lake and I wished that I had come here before going out on the lake. The museum also contains display of native basket weaving and pottery, both black and painted. The focus of the museum is, as its name implies, the explorations of the Colorado by John Wesley Powell. As a geologist, Powell studied the formations in the Grand Canyon and documented the strata laid out there.

Leaving the museum I walked across the street and signed up for the tourist tour to Antelope Canyon, the narrow slot canyon on the Navajo reservation famous for its color and light. While I waited for the time to depart I went over to the Fiesta Mexicana restaurant in the shopping center down the block for lunch. It was nothing exceptional, just the usual Americanized Mexican standards. I returned to the store with 15 minutes to spare before everyone loaded up into the specially modified trucks that drove up out of Page and onto the reservation. It is not possible to visit the canyon without a guide. The nation collects an entrance fee and licenses the native guides that bring the tourists into the canyon. Although it was late in the season for the best pictures, summer being the best time of year for light to penetrate into the canyon, I was able to get some good pictures. There were many people in the canyon with multiple guided tours going on at the same time. My camera batteries decided to die just as I took the first picture and I spent the rest of the time nursing a few more shots out of the camera, turning it off and back on, until it just died completely. I should have brought my tripod, which would have helped me to take the longer exposures not possible with hand held. The low light capability of the digital cameras are quite impressive. With film and no tripod, I would have gotten nothing.

The tour trucks enter the fee area and drive up a wash over soft sand in the bottom of an open wash. They stop in front of an abrupt wall with a narrow crack that is the downstream end of the upper Antelope Canyon. There the ubiquitous Indian jewelry stands are set up to catch the visitors eye as they enter and exit the canyon. Past the opening you enter a large open room with a smooth sandy floor. Most of the canyon floor is smooth sand because the curators of the canyon wheel it in after it is periodically flushed from the floor of the canyon by flash floods. The sand makes for an easier and safer experience for the visitors and protects the bottom of the canyon from the hundreds of soul's soles tramping through the canyon each day.

As your eyes adjust from the brightness of the full sun to the dimness of this first chamber, the subtle tones of the water carved shapes begin to emerge. The discoloration of the water flowing in from the open top of the slot canyon mark the walls. The erosion of the swirling water as it rushes through the canyon during the brief downpours such as I had witnessed out on the lake left fantastic shapes in the soft rock from the floor all the way up to the top still bathed in the direct sunlight.

Around the first corner the darkness increased dramatically. The light filtered down into the lower canyon through the convoluted and fluted shapes of the stone above. The sky was bright and had to be avoided with the lens if anything else was to be seen. The upper portions of the walls were draped in the yellow orange of the direct sunlight falling on them. These hues contrasted to the airy purples and mauves of the reflecting light cascading to the lower arches of the 10 foot wide crack.

Deeper into the canyon the top of the canyon was not directly visible and the passageway shrunk to the width of a foot. it was quite dark and the guides were ready with flashlights and a helping hand for the less agile tour members. The sculpted walls of the canyon pressed in from each side, like giants in a crowd. It reminded me of the second day of my trip in the upper portion of Labyrinth canyon, except taller, more spectacular and much more crowded. Dark narrow portions of the passage alternated with rose colored open chambers. Some of the chambers let beams of light into their dark interiors, enhanced by dust thrown up into the air by the guides.

Everywhere you turned and everywhere you looked was another fantastic form, texture or color. My dying batteries were coaxed into picture after picture, many of which were out of focus because of the low light and lack of a tripod. I didn't realize this because I could not use the LCD screen with the weak batteries. Still, the essence of the canyon was captured in these photos. After about 45 minutes in the canyon, everyone boarded the truck for the 20 minute ride back to town. The tour was well worth the $15.00 cost. There are more expensive and longer photographic tours of the canyon available from the tour operators and directly at the entrance. The tours at the entrance are not significantly cheaper than the tours coming out of Page. In any case, it was well worth it. I would go again.

Now all that was left was to drive across country and back to my home in Maryland. But the adventure wasn't completely over as I intended to see Canyon de Chelly and Chaco Canyon on the way home.

Continue to Canyon de Chelly and Chaco Canyon........




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