UT - Lake Powell - 2003/09/18 to 2003/10/23 - Week 2 - San Juan River to Good Hope Bay

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Leaving the San Juan River I resume paddling the Colorado River and Lake Powell. The nature of the lake changes as open bays and big walls provide fantastic draperies on the way to Hite.

Day 8 - 2003/09/18 - 15.2 miles

It was the coldest morning of the trip so far. The sky had cleared but the sun had not risen above the mesa tops as I made up a big pot of cous cous, taking in a hot breakfast instead of my usual cold meal. I must have been dehydrated last night as I was able to go all night without having to get up in the cold wind to relieve myself. I would try to compensate with more liquids this morning. I filled my Dromedary bag with 300 strokes on my Sweetwater water filter. Todays plan called for a shorter mileage day and a hike up Cha Canyon to see the Navajo rock art.

I left camp at 8:30 AM with a strong favorable wind. I made excellent speed down the open bay that I had surfed up just two days ago. Imagine that, fair winds in both directions. I reached my favorite lunch spot at 11:30 and pulled in for another relaxing stop. I dove into the deep clear water just off the shore, swam to the next point and back and then hauled out of the flat warm rock next to my boat. The planes of the sightseeing trips crossed overhead about every 20 minutes. Theirs were the only interruptions in this idyllic spot.

Leaving the canyon, I passed six small white egrets sharing a low point with a great blue heron. I had seen several great blues and a couple ospreys along the lake edge but these were the first egrets I had seen. In fact I had seen very few birds at all other than the ravens that hung around the campsites. I guess the land was a little too stark to support much in the way of wildlife. Certainly, there were many fewer birds here than anywhere on the Chesapeake Bay.

I paddled on to Cha Canyon, past another drowned tree, and beached the boat at the head of the canyon. I walked up the sand and stone wash for a couple of miles into the canyon. At the junction of two washes, I found two scrawny horses and this summer shade hut. A little further on I found some of the rudimentary rock art scratched into the face of a rock. This art is not very old compared to the rock petroglyphs in this and other canyons. I spent some time trying to locate some of the petroglyphs listed on my map, but was unable to find them. To locate these features, it is apparently necessary to know where they are! A better map and description than the large scale map I had with me might have helped. I enjoyed the walk in the dry wash and marveled at the tenacity of those who managed to live in such an environment. The geology of the canyon and the different rock types was amazing. Big chunks of copper laden rock lay on the floor of the wash and seams of coal could be spotted in the canyon walls.

I returned to the mouth of Cha Canyon to set up camp 8 to end a short, pleasant day of relaxed paddling and hiking. The wind had died, the sky cleared and the temperature had risen. Life was good once more.

Day 9 - 2003/09/19 - 32.4 miles

The next morning I began my paddle back out of the San Juan, through the loops of the dark red walls topped by caves on the rim. Once again I passed the toppled Dinosaur Rock, highlighted by the morning sun, clearly showing that it once had an impressive height. On the opposite side, it cast a shadow across the river as the stub stuck up into the blue sky. I bent to my paddle and made miles out of the San Juan in the company of two houseboats and a number of ski boats making use of the calm water in the canyon.

I regained the lake and headed north once more following the old course of the Colorado. I passed the mouth of the Escalante River, the other long arm off the main lake in mid afternoon. I would explore that arm on the way back down lake. Two miles past the mouth, I came across two kayakers coming down from Bullfrog to spend a week in the Escalante. It was the first kayakers I had seem since Antelope Canyon on Day 1. I continued on up the lake with no campsites available in the sheer walls until I reached the area near the Rincon. It was 6:00 PM by the time I found a poor spot on a small beach on the south bank just before the Rincon. It was Friday and the area was heavily populated with fishermen, motorboats and houseboats coming out of Bullfrog for the weekend. Bullfrog is the easy location to get to from the outdoorsy population of Utah and western Colorado and is a very popular starting place for a weekend on the lake. I hoped the wind would not come up during the night as the sand here was sure to blow around. The down lake direction was protected by a large rock, but I was open to the up lake northeast direction. At least I was several feet above the lake level and would not have to worry about getting wet.

Shortly after bed as I was lying there looking at the stars and watching the last of the light fade when I was startled as a large shape swooped silently over the top my campsite. Coming in low and soundlessly, a great owl glided in just feet over my sleeping bag, flared out in a perfect stall and perched on the large rock at the foot of my camp. It sat there for a moment, rotating its great head in a half circle as it looked over the rock pile up against the wall at the top of the beach. Suddenly, it jumped up and floated on air, again without a sound, to pounce on something in the rocks. Apparently unsuccessful, it returned to the rock, where it sat for several minutes, looking and listening, only to fly off to better hunting grounds.

Day 10 - 2003/09/20 - 21.1 miles

The next morning I awoke at the usual 30 minutes before sunrise. Bass were rising to bait all over the surface of the water. But no fishermen were up at this hour. What an opportunity they were all missing. I was starting my morning slowly too. I had a strain in my right shoulder from the long hard paddle of the previous day. I stretched carefully and slowly. I hoped that the short paddling day planned for today would let the aching shoulder muscle recover. After the sun had cleared the rim, fishermen began to troll up and down the lake, but it seemed to me that most of the feeding fish had disappeared. Someone started water skiing at 8:30, breaking the quiet of the beautiful morning. I left camp and headed over to the floating rest-room moored near the Rincon and successfully deployed my rope scheme. I dumped out the three days of use in my portable toilet.

I wanted to see if I could find the petrified trees that were shown on my map at the back end of the Rincon. The map showed that the lake extended well back into the Rincon, but with the low lake level, the water actually ended even with the beginning of the center of the great horseshoe shaped butte. I pulled up on the beach at the end of the small inlet. The shore was full of sapling tamarisk and other early colonizers taking advantage of the newly emerged land. I followed a four wheel drive road back into the interior. At a point where the road began to climb and switch back up the wall out of the canyon, I left the road to follow a faint trail marked by rock cairns. The trail hugged the inside wall of the canyon and probably followed the butte wall all the way around to join with the lake once more. I saw many skinks and lizards, one with a bright yellow back and rows of black dots down its exceptionally long tail. I saw a raptor, a falcon I think. The map showed the petrified tree location to be in the back quarter of the horseshoe and I followed the trail until I was sure I was at least that far. But I never did see the petrified logs. I guess you have to know where these are in order to find them too!

I had forgotten to take a bottle of water with me, so I did not want to spend much more time searching for the petrified logs The sun had come up strong and the warm temperatures and soft wind had dried me out quickly on the hardscrabble of the open wash. I decided to return to the kayak and continue on up the lake to Iceberg Canyon, the next major canyon up the lake.

Iceberg is a wonderful canyon. The walls are huge in the numerous side canyons and they end with tremendous overhangs with seeps and 800 foot pouroffs. Large drowned trees are found at the ends of most of them. A lavender light colors the undercut walls. You can get out and walk for miles up the canyon. There are ruins high on the walls of this canyon and water falls and streams in green oasis further up the canyon. Every beach in the canyon had a camp on it, most with multiple houseboats and motorboats. The jet ski traffic in the canyon was constant. The Rincon area is very popular and Iceberg Canyon is the most popular portion of it. Still I spent several hours paddling and hiking in the canyon and enjoyed the magnificent scenery.

When I emerged from the canyon it was about four in the afternoon, so I paddled across the lake to a small site for Camp 10. There was a water cave across the lake from me. I would check it out the next day. I washed my clothes and spread them out on the rocks to dry. Polypro, a breeze, sun and the low humidity worked incredibly quickly to dry them out completely in just 20 minutes.

For the night, the usual camp routine was broken by an opportunity to climb the rocks behind the campsite and look over the lake as it continued northeast toward Hall's Crossing, the next objective. Up on top of the rocks, in an area above the full pool line, I found some dead wood of old tamarisk trees. I collected an armful for a small fire down at camp by the lake. The cheerful flames were matched by another campfire just up the shore from mine. Both fires died at about the same time. The other party went to bed long before their oversized fire went out, leaving the sparking flames unattended as they retired to their tents. With the moronic fire management I see everywhere I camp, it is a wonder that we don't experience even more fires in the forests than we do. Around Lake Powell there is very little to burn, so this poor style made no difference.

Day 11 - 2003/09/21 - 26.3 miles

The next morning I awoke late, 7:10 AM, and walked to the top of the rocks over camp. The sun had not risen high enough to clear the rim on the opposite side of the lake where I was standing, but it was shining on the high wall to the west of camp. Prop scars and the long straight marks of the skegs of outboards cut across the top of the rock high above the lake. It was still hard to get used to the idea that all the spots I was camping on were normally almost 100 feet under the water. But the prop scars were dramatic proof that even here, standing so far above my camp, I would still be treading water at normal lake levels.

I paddled across to the water cave which looked small from the other side of the lake but was in fact quite large. It was shallow so I was not able to get the entire cave into the picture.

The next canyon was Slick Rock Canyon, which as its name implies was another canyon carved deep into the red rock. Not quite as sharp or abrupt as Iceberg, it was still a magnificent canyon. Several ruin sites and petroglyh sites were listed on my map. I went to the end of the canyon and walked up the stream coming down the center of the canyon. The banks were filled with reeds, willows and wild flowers. Beaver sign were all over the place, foot prints, tail drags and branches stripped of their bark. I hiked a mile up into the canyon, then scrambled up to a high cave overlooking the canyon with a spectacular view back toward my beached kayak.

On the way back I kept an eye out for the restored ruin that was listed for this canyon. I didn't see it. In a conversation with a camper at the beach next to my kayak, he said it was there - with a chain link fence around it. I really couldn't understand how I missed it. He went on to talk about how he had found an arrowhead and a pottery shard in sifting through the sand at the beach. Removing such items are illegal, so he quickly said he left both items. Maybe.

By 11:30 I had returned to the high walled narrow main channel with huge draperies of desert varnish arrayed on the vertical wall. The next canyon was Lake Canyon. It was much different than Iceberg and Slick Rock. Less than the 90 feet tall, the rounded shapes of the soft sandstone formed white walls within the lake "bath tub" ring. Small side canyons ended abruptly with small waterfalls or pouroffs. This canyon is the site of the Moqui steps, steps cut into the side of the canyon to provide access to the canyon floor. I didn't find these either. It was a frustrating day for archaeological sitings.

Exiting Lake Canyon, I continued up the lake to a point where I could see Hall's Crossing. There was a lot of boat activity in and about the large floating marina. I decided to back track about a half mile to a good camp site and deal with it all tomorrow. I had made 13 miles up lake this day and done another 13 in the canyons. I was feeling sore and ready for bed. I climbed to the top of the rocks east of camp and watched as darkness fell over the two communities of Hall\s Crossing and Bullfrog. Boats were cris crossing the lake in all directions. From my high advantage I watched as two wave trains from boat wakes crossed each other, formed a lensed shape interference pattern and then reformed their straight parallel wavefronts as they continued on. The lights of the two enclaves seemed an obscene incongruity in the otherwise dark and silent stone landscape. I returned to camp to another night of magnificent stars. The moon was nearly dark. In another three days it would be completely dark and the trip would be half over.

Day 12 - 2003/09/22 - 31.9 miles

I didn't expect that the store at the marina would open all that early, so I was not in a hurry to get underway this morning. I arrived at Hall's Crossing just as the ferry pulled out for a run over to Bullfrog with all of three passengers. There was a floating dump station with no ladder and the same issues with getting out to use the facility. This one was tethered to the shore with a gang plank to the bank, so I thought I could beach the kayak and walk to the facility. But when I tried to do so, I discovered that there is a keep out sign on the gang plank with a locked gate and protective fencing to keep anyone other than authorized personnel from accessing the facility from shore. I could have walked to the top of the launch ramp to use the facility there. I decided to skip it as I did not have much of a need for it.

Around the corner from the ferry were the floating docks and sheds housing obscenely large houseboats. These 100 plus foot long, three story behemoths seemed to spend most of their time here. Most oversized yachts spend most of their time at the dock while their owners work in order to be able to afford them. In back of these floating hotels were the ranger station, tightly locked with no indication of when they would be open, the houseboat rental dock and office and the small marina store. The store was really small. It had a few fresh items, some canned goods and a snack bar, which was not open. I purchased a few items, including some chocolate chip cookies, which I had developed a craving for. The prices were quite high of course. I spent about a half hour at the marina, emptied my toilet in the standard flushing rest-room and then continued on up the lake to Moki Canyon.

Moki Canyon began with low sandstone walls like Lake Canyon, but soon transitioned to walls more like Slick Rock Canyon, just not as high. Each arm ended in a steep walled cathedral with 250 foot drops. I returned to the main channel at 4:30 PM and paddled until 5:45 PM before finding any place to camp. The camp I finally pulled up to was the poorest I had been on so far, just a little ledge big enough for my kayak and ground cloth. I fell on the wet steep algae covered rounded bank going down to get water for dinner and wound up in the lake. So I took my swim then. Later I spilled my dinner off the stove and lost a large fraction of it. I was having a rough time at this camp. I fell into a listless sleep and tossed around most of the night. It was cold and I did not sleep well.

Day 13 - 2003/09/23 - 31.8 miles

I awoke at 6:45 peeking out of my bivvy sack on a cold morning. I didn't get out of the bag until 7:20. Local sunrise was not until 7:45 when the sun finally reached my camp. I started back down the lake to Forgotten Canyon which I had "forgotten" yesterday as I sought a campsite. It was about a mile of backtracking to the deep narrow channels through the low sandstone. The walls were twice as high as when the lake was at normal levels, about 250 feet in total. I was unable to find a place to get out and see the Defiance ruins. I spent about two hours in the canyon before returning to start up lake once more. Once again, the sky was cloudless, temperature of 80 degrees and the winds calm to 5 mph from the southwest. Only a few boats up here compared to the number in the Rincon area. I saw my first (and only) Canada goose flying overhead.

I skipped Cedar Canyon as it looked to be much like the last two canyons, mostly low rounded sandstone and continued up the high walled lake. There were no campsites along this section, but I did find a nice small place for lunch, a swim and a relaxing 1 1/2 hour rest in the warm sun. After the cold night and restless sleep, the short break was very rewarding.

I reached Good Hope Bay where the lake widens considerably into a long bay with extensive beaches on the eastern side. A number of houseboats were pulled up onto the sand but the place was so big there was plenty of privacy just because of the distance between them. There seemed to be more private houseboats here than rentals.

The open views afforded by the bay were a pleasant change from the restricted skyline of the past several days. To the northwest were the high Mount Ellsworth at 8235 feet and Mount Holmes at 7930 feet. The reefs on the edges of the bay were huge and heavily stratified with different textures and colors. The geology here was very interesting. I investigated Red Canyon which the map showed to be more than a mile long, but the low water level left it as a wash with only a couple hundred yards navigable. I found a camp near Castle Butte on a spit of land among a large area of rounded stones clearly part of the original river bank. The map showed this place as being well out in the middle of the lake.

There were all different kinds of rocks and stones in the immediate area of the campsite. I soon found lava bombs, agates, coal pieces, quartz, feldspar, olivine and a fishing lure. Then I started to see pieces of petrified wood. The place was full of it. Every ten feet or so I would come across a chunk. There was no indication of any petrified trees or logs on the map. I wondered how they came to be at this place. I also found the cause of the little piles of clam shells that I had been seeing for the last week to 10 days. I had thought they were too concentrated to be piled up by natural processes, but I had not seen anything that would explain them. Today I saw the reason - oyster catchers. I saw 6 of the orange billed birds in a little flock on the shore.

The sun lit up the reef to the east of my camp with a warm red glow. As the sun disappeared behind the reef to the west, a few clouds that had drifted in were set aglow over the silhouetted rim of the lake.

Continue to week three.......




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