Lake Powell: Houseboating in Style
Wahweap, Arizona – Lake Powell bills itself as America’s favorite houseboating destination. That’s not an idle boast. More than 400 feet deep, 150 miles long and with nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline – equal to the entire West Coast – Lake Powell surrounds visitors with spectacular rock canyons and towers and rosy sand beaches.
When I had the opportunity to spend a day with a group of travel writers aboard the top-of-the-line Odyssey houseboat, I jumped at it. And when I boarded the 75-footer that resembled a floating condo, my first reaction was: "Wow!" The Odyssey was like no houseboat I’d ever seen. There were six staterooms (fully stocked with linens), each with a queen-size bed, three bathrooms with showers and two comfortable sleeper sofas. Each stateroom had a flat-screen TV with DVD/VCR. There were two more TVs and satellite radio in the living area.
The Odyssey had air-conditioning and heat and, should there be a chill in the air, a fireplace to provide warmth and a cozy glow. The kitchen/dining area was more spacious and better equipped than those in many big-city apartments, with a double-door refrigerator, ice maker, microwave/convection oven, trash compactor and all the small appliances, utensils and dishes needed for food preparation and service. For good measure, there were two barbecues and a wine cooler. On the upper deck, more surprises: In addition to the expected lounges and chairs, there was a hot tub, a wet bar and a waterslide. And to make life aboard really easy, a washer-dryer would take care of the laundry.
After a picnic-style lunch of sandwiches and drinks, I settled comfortably on an upper-deck lounge and gazed at the passing landscapes that are like no other in the world. Traffic was light along the lake (it’s heaviest in summer, lightest in winter) and occasionally a boat would pass by, skimming the crystal water against a backdrop of clear blue sky and red-gold rock. Every so often the water seemed to change color as it reflected the cliffs, which added to the impression of otherworldliness. As there are 96 canyons – slot canyons and narrow red rock canyons with walls that soared upward hundreds of feet – there were visual treasures around every bend. And once, while my eyes were cast heavenward, a California condor flew overhead. This was better than a documentary by National Geographic!
Lake Powell was named after explorer John Wesley Powell and lies partly in Arizona and mostly in Utah. It was created by the Glen Canyon Dam and is part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, established in 1972. One history of the dam begins like this: "On 15 October 1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower pushed a button at his White House desk, initiating the blast that started construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona, eight miles below the Utah border." Many years elapsed between the push of the button and what we see today. The dam wasn’t completed until 1963, and it took another 14 years to fill in the lake, the second-largest man-made lake in the U.S. Understandably, it has attracted millions of visitors – not to mention legions of photographers – from all over the world.
"The closest part of the world geologically is Australia – but Aussies have said that it blows away Ayers Rock," said ranger Chuck Smith of the National Park Service.
In addition to the incomparable landscape-serpentine canyons, pinnacles, buttes, arches and amphitheaters, the lake offers world-class scuba diving, water-skiing, board-surfing and fishing. The lake’s bounty includes trout, striped bass, large and smallmouth bass, carp, catfish, sunfish, pike and crappie, so for the dedicated angler, Lake Powell would provide the fishing vacation of a lifetime.
As soothing and restful as it can be, a houseboat holiday doesn’t have to be spent entirely on the water. There are large sandy beaches that would be great places to camp. The shoreline is so vast, it’s possible to hike and explore areas that haven’t been seen by humans for decades.
One of the must-see attractions is the Rainbow Bridge National Monument, a natural formation of salmon-pink sandstone that resembles the arc of a rainbow and is the largest natural bridge in the world. The hike from the Rainbow Bridge courtesy docks is about 2.5 miles round-trip, so sturdy shoes and plenty of water are necessary. Because the canyon can be crowded, it’s recommended to take one of the guided tours that leave from the marinas rather than attempting to dock a houseboat here.
To me the bridge was like a geology classroom, though I could scarcely conceptualize the millions of years of history behind it. To the Navajo who live in the region, it is a sacred place where special prayers are offered, so visitors are asked to refrain from passing under the bridge.
It would take months to scratch the surface of the wonders of Lake Powell, and I, alas, had only a day. I regretted that I would not be rocked to sleep in one of the queen beds or see the night sky shimmering with stars. That would have to wait, perhaps until my next family vacation.
Lake Powell Resorts and Marinas are managed by ARAMARK, which rents houseboats ranging from 36 to 75 feet: The Odyssey has room for up to 12 people. Rental prices vary with season and marina, but the Odyssey rents for $12,124 a week. Smaller boats may be rented for shorter periods and start for as little as $1,120 for three days. ARAMARK also offers a number of packages, which may include golf or a stay at the Lake Powell Resort, along with activities on Lake Powell.
For more information about renting a houseboat, as well as other Lake Powell packages, visit www.lakepowell.com.