The blue-green waters of Lake Powell and the red sandstone cliffs of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area meet along almost 2,000 mi of contorted shoreline. Backed up behind Glen Canyon Dam, the lake is actually a wide spot on the Colorado River and fills what was once Glen Canyon. It looks otherworldly and intense, with a riot of geology— swirling, cross-bedded rock and petrified sand-dune domes—almost pulsing with color beneath the most brilliant of blue desert skies.
Fluctuating water levels and bare stone prevent plants from rooting along the shore, so there is no foliage to soften the austere line where lake and desert collide. The soft, easily eroded sandstone twists into inlets and coves off the lake. Sinuous and smooth, the walls of these watery canyons often narrow quickly to 60-foot-deep, shoulder-width slots. By spending a few days on a houseboat, you can find complete seclusion here. There is no better way to witness the many moods of the lake.
Sprawling across the northern border of Arizona, through the desert into Utah, the second-largest artificial lake in the country is a fantastic place to explore by boat. With a houseboat rented from Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas near the town of Page, you can be your own captain, setting your own course to explore. The lake is immense—185 mi from end to end—with branches reaching in all directions, so it is easy to leave behind the crowds that congregate here in warm weather. The farther you go toward the middle stretch of the lake, the less populated the waters.
Summer is the busiest season for Lake Powell water sports, but the slightly cooler spring and fall months are better for hiking. Boat rentals are discounted from November through March, and even though it’s too cold to swim, the lighter traffic makes the off-season a great time to visit.
Tow a powerboat, fishing boat, or kayak with you to explore the narrower sections of the many-fingered side canyons. Fish for largemouth and striped bass, crappie, and walleye, most abundant from March to November. A hike through the canyon lands surrounding the lake may take you past prehistoric cliff dwellings (inhabited by Ancestral Puebloan Basketmakers from 1050 to 1250) and petroglyphs left behind by nomadic Indians. In the Utah portion of the Navajo Indian Reservation, Rainbow Bridge is the world’s largest natural bridge, a sandstone formation 275 feet long and 290 feet high. Steer your boat to Rainbow Bridge National Monument Marina, 50 mi up-lake from Wahweap, to visit this site, which is sacred to the Navajo.
Your houseboating excursion starts at Wahweap, the major marina at the south end of Lake Powell. Here you can choose from five classes of houseboats, all of which have a blue-green-mauve interior palette and equipment such as a CD/tape player, grill, ice chests, and kitchen with utensils and tableware. Your boat comes with biodegradable cleaning supplies, soap, shampoo, and paper products. The Commander, the smallest boat, sleeps six to eight. The largest of the houseboats, the Admiral, sleeps 10 to 12 and has extra creature comforts such as air-conditioning and a waterslide from the upper deck to the lake’s cool aquamarine water. The Admiral is also the only houseboat that comes with linen; for others, you need to bring your own sheets and towels or rent them from the marina. All houseboats come equipped with a marine radio for use in case of emergency. You supply all your food and drink.
Before you set out to explore the lake, marina personnel will instruct you on the operation of the houseboat and will provide an orientation to the lake. Then off you chug, at a top speed of 12 mph. When you weigh anchor for the night, you’re in for the treat of a lifetime: a sunset that ignites the crimson rocks of this surreal place in the desert.