Honestly, we prefer our lakes created by nature, and our rivers running free. But Lake Powell, straddling the border between Arizona and Utah, happens to be close to some unique places that have long been on our list, including Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Lower Antelope Canyon, and Horseshoe Bend. And so, mid-May found us at Wahweap campground on the shores of Lake Powell, just upstream from Glen Canyon Dam. With our apologies to Edward Abbey and the Sierra Club (both of whom ardently opposed the dam), this is an undeniably beautiful place.
Lake Powell And Glen Canyon Dam (And The Controversy Behind It All)
Once a remote desert canyon, Lake Powell came into existence after the dam was completed in 1963. An ambitious 10-year project that corralled the mighty Colorado River, the dam was built to control the flow of water downstream and generate a cheap supply of electricity. As perhaps a not-so-surprising side note, Lake Powell has become a mecca for water recreation in the arid Southwest.
But damming the river has come at a high price. As the lake filled, it drowned canyons of legendary beauty and hundreds of archeological sites sacred to the native peoples. The environmental issues are equally devastating, from pollutants caused by heavy recreational usage to erosion and loss of native species. Everything and everyone downstream has been affected, including the Grand Canyon, a close neighbor. Obstructing the natural flow of the river also means that the reservoir behind the dam—Lake Powell—is slowly filling up with mud.
More than five decades after the last bucket of concrete was poured, Glen Canyon Dam continues to be plagued by controversy. (It’s obviously a complicated situation, but if you’re interested, the Glen Canyon Institute presents an intelligent discussion of the issues.)
Whatever your point of view, in another 150 years, the dam will likely be obsolete. By then, Lake Powell will have amassed enough silt to significantly impact storage capacity and the dam will be decommissioned. However, proponents of removing the dam advocate acting sooner rather than later to facilitate cleanup and restoration of the canyon. As you can imagine, it’s easier to remove 50 years of silt than 200 years accumulation.
In years to come—probably not in our lifetimes—there will be those fortunate to once again explore the beautiful canyons that currently lie beneath the lake.
Hiking Adventures Near Lake Powell
We thoroughly enjoyed short hikes to nearby Horseshoe Bend and Hanging Garden, both within the National Recreation Area, as well as a guided trip into Lower Antelope Canyon. These are not places one can commune with nature in solitude—especially the famed photography destinations of Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. But they’re renowned for good reason and well worth a visit.
Click on any photo for a larger image
Visiting Beautiful Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon lies just outside of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on Navajo Nation Land. An extraordinarily beautiful slot canyon famous for a just-right combination of sculpted sandstone walls, color, and ambient light, it’s the most visited and photographed slot canyon in the Southwest. If you go, expect to be in a herd. Despite the crowds, we thought it was worth the $26 entrance fee. The tours are well run, and our guide was enthusiastic and interesting.
We’ve visited both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons, and prefer the lower canyon—it’s much less crowded, and in our opinion, more interesting. The half-mile walk through the canyon involves steep stairways and tight passages. If you’re claustrophobic, this tour isn’t for you. Some photographers favor the upper canyon because the light shafts at certain times of day are especially striking, but we think both canyons are equally beautiful. If you go, choose a sunny day—that’s when you’ll see the best colors in the canyon.
Kayaking Lake Powell
We also experienced—I can’t say enjoyed—kayaking on Lake Powell. We put in at Antelope Point Marina, intending to explore some of the side canyons. Too many speedboats and too many people not paying attention to the “No Wake” signs made it more stressful than fun. In talking later with a kayak guide, he recommended putting in before 7:30 in the morning or after 3:30 in the afternoon—and never on a weekend.
Last but certainly not least, we enjoyed meeting up with fellow full-time RV’ers Mike and Kathie (Life Rebooted). We had fun sharing happy hour and stories of the traveling life on a scorching afternoon at our site. But it was so hot that I couldn’t motivate myself to get out of my chair to get my camera. We hope to catch up with them in Florida this winter—and we’ll be sure to get a photo next time around.
Where We Stayed
Wahweap RV Park and campground is within the National Recreation Area but run by a concessionaire. The park is well kept and the views are amazing—depending on your site. The older section (loops A, B, C) is tiered, with spacious pull-through and back-in sites, asphalt or concrete pads, and full-hookups. (We stayed in loop C in a back-in site and loved it.) The newer section (D and F) is laid out in typical RV-park rows. Nice bathrooms, coin-operated showers and laundry, and decent Verizon coverage. It’s an expensive option for a National Recreation Area ($44 per night with AAA discount!) but it was a relaxing stay with a gorgeous view.
Amazing photos! Thanks for taking those photos down below. I am claustrophobic and won’t be going down into the earth. I would assume there is a time of year when the herds have thinned?
Brenda, I’m not sure the herds ever thin out in Antelope Canyon or at Horseshoe Bend. But they’re still worth a visit. You probably wouldn’t enjoy Lower Antelope Canyon—we tried to reassure a woman in front of us, but she panicked and ended up turning around and exiting the canyon. You could try Upper Antelope. :-)
Sounds like a plan.
Nice capture of the condor! And orchids at Hanging Gardens…sweet!
Thanks, Lisa. We were thrilled to see the condor! And delighted by the orchids on the Hanging Garden trail.
We’ve spent a lot of time in and around Page and can attest to all that there is to do. Very nice photos!
Thanks, you guys! It’s a wonderfully photogenic place, as you well know.
Having been there, I’d say it is one of the most picturesque places we had been. Wow, you even capture a Condor!
I agree with you even if I had not been to the Upper Antelope, I think the Lower Canyon has more interesting waves.
Great captures of the herd and the surrounding beauty we can’t avoid unfortunately.
We were delighted to see the condor sailing above us, MonaLiza. I think we were the only people looking up while everyone else was looking down at Horseshoe Bend. :-)
Sure hope there is somewhere outside the Recreation area to stay. I won’t do anything Glen Canyon ever. I’m with Ed and a free Colorado all the way. That said, I would like to see the Horseshoe Bend. I wonder if there is ever a time when there are at least fewer people? Winter? HA! Your pictures of the bend are just spectacular. You must have been there at the perfect time for wonderful light. Well done!! I am amazed that with the obviously large number of people at Antelope you were able to get such stunning pictures with no one in them. Sure would love to go there. Did you make reservations early?
Sherry, I think your only other option for a place to stay would be in Page. We made reservations the day before for Lower Antelope Canyon. It’s a very well-managed tour, despite the crowds. Horseshoe Bend is tricky—the sun is often in a difficult position for capturing the light. We only went once, and it wasn’t ideal—but it was certainly beautiful.
Once again you have blown me out of the water with your captured beauty of places you visit. I never knew Condors had markings under their wings and the colors of the rock and water…. Wow.
So glad you enjoyed the photos, Sue. I appreciate your wonderful comment. :-) It really is a stunningly beautiful area. You’re right, the condors do have interesting markings!
We just love Lake Powell and have our favorite site in Loop C. We will probably return next spring for our third visit:) Such a relaxing place with amazing views. Besides, I need to hike Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch:) We got to see the adorable little orchids during our first visit (last year we were too early). The Hanging Garden seemed so out of place in the arid climate. It is sad when you realize how much beauty is under the water. We still haven’t done Antelope Canyon and probably never will. I don’t think I can do the crowd. But who knows:)
We really enjoyed loop C too, Pam. The views were amazing! I would love to see the canyons that lie beneath the lake—many people say that it’s so beautiful, it could have been a National Park. You will love Buckskin Gulch! And honestly, you would be fine with Lower Antelope Canyon. We don’t like crowds, either, but it was worth it and we didn’t feel rushed or squashed.
We captured Evening Grosbeak and Kirtland’s Warblers in Grayling Michigan.
Just missed a whooper in S.Michigan…. :(
Off to near north Ontario 1st of Sept. with Canada airstreamers we met at Dauphin Island!
Take care and Be Well
You guys are having great birding adventures! As you can imagine, we were thrilled to see the condors (we actually saw two). I can count on Eric to always look up. :-)
Thank you for the comments…..”I agree” we visit the area every year since 1972! My memory card in my cameras had to be expanded! So many unique & different areas to explore! PS. If you like… I have made DVD movies for CA & AZ parks. Each is about 1 hr 15 min. For friends & family they are “FREE”. Must be sent by regular mail.
Wow, since 1972! I’ll bet you’ve seen a lot of changes in that time!
Wowie…condors and orchids plus one of the most beautiful places on the planet…Antelope Canyon. Miss you and so appreciate your sharing of your adventures in stunning photos and wonderful words.
Diana, we need to do a road trip together one of these days! Miss you, too.
I never got to Horseshoe Bend, the perils of not driving but if we ever go back to Page I will make sure I do. I was lucky enough to get a spot because of a cancelation on the Upper Canyon’s Photography tour. It’s expensive but so worth it, they move people out of the way for you! We stayed at Wahweap too, nice campground, but as we were in our Dodge Van then, it wasn’t as expensive. I guess that’s what happens when you let in private enterprise.
Jane, despite the crowds (and there are always crowds) Horseshoe Bend is uniquely beautiful. We would return—and try for more interesting light/clouds/sunset. We’re not thrilled with the privatization of our public facilities, either—but it seems to be more and more the way things are going.
Your pics of the Bend and Canyon are amazing – love the sand and light! I kept hoping the crowd would thin out at Horseshoe but should have just gone one of the mornings we were there :-( Page is one of those places we definitely didn’t stay long enough. Can’t believe you captured the Condor – wonderful!!
Thanks, Jodee. :-) We really enjoyed our week at Lake Powell—mid-May was a good time to be there. Evidently summer is much more crowded. We’ll likely return because there’s so much to do in the area, and the campground is so beautiful.
It has been so many years since we have visited the area, since our days living in AZ. Given all the lovely photos I have seen recently (yours included), we definitely need to get back there.
LuAnn, it’s definitely your turn for a visit to Page! We should all meet up at Wahweap. That would be fun! :-)
Wow! A condor, how lucky were you!
We love the Lake Powell area and can only imagine what beauty is beneath the “lake”!
Sue, I wish we could see what lies beneath the lake! The photos I’ve seen and tales by those who saw it before the dam was built make it sound truly magical. Maybe someday….until then, we’ll enjoy the beauty that is still there.
This area is on our Bucket List, but I can’t say we’d do it in the late spring or summer. Too hot! Your photos are beautiful and I’m jealous of the condor sighting!
Thanks, Linda—you guys will really enjoy the photo opportunities in this area. Knowing your luck with wildlife, you’ll see condors! We had some pretty hot days in mid-May, so I’d say a bit earlier might be better. Except then there might be high winds….
It’s interesting, I read an article recently about the advantages of opening up the Lake Powell dam and joining all the water at Hoover Dam. There’s a lot of advantages to that, but obviously would cause some economic upheaval for the Page area.
I love the photos of Lake Powell you took. You really captured the majesty of the area! Mike and I both grinned at the Antelope Canyon photos, since I think we have similar shots in the same spots.
Kathie, I read a similar article (maybe the same one!) and it seems like a viable option to just fill Lake Mead, especially since neither lake has enough water at this point. So funny about Antelope Canyon—I’m not surprised we have duplicate photos. :-)