|Day 21 - 2003/10/01 - 34.4 miles
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Day 25 - 2003/10/05 - 23.7 miles
Day 26 - 2003/10/06 - 34.7 miles
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.
Day 28 - 2003/10/08 - 21.2 miles
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.
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.
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........