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Lake Powell, Utah
   Sept. 27-29, 2009
by John Rich

Lake Powell is the second largest man-made lake in the United States, starting at the Glen Canyon dam in Arizona, and extending upstream on the Colorado River 186 miles. 95% of the water in the lake comes from winter snow melt in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Lake Powell has 1,960 miles of shoreline, and 96 major canyons. The lake is a jewel in middle-of-nowhere desert spanning the Arizona and Utah border.

  Map of Lake Powell
A group of small-boat folks have been getting together annually for what is dubbed the Kokopelli Cruise, on Lake Powell. They arrive with all kinds of boats, from canoes and kayaks, to small sailboats, some of the traditional style, others with outriggers, and many odd home-made varieties. The only thing in common amongst all these unusual craft, is that they were all human or wind powered. And they're all manned by a fun-loving, spirited, intelligent and creative group of people who love the outdoors and the water.

Glen Canyon Dam   
(file photo)  
The Glen Canyon dam which forms the lake is in Arizona at the town of Page. The dashed line on the accompanying map, above, is the border between Arizona and Utah. The south end of the lake is the hub of the water recreation, with a lot of powerboats and house boats. Since this Kokopelli group consists of sailboats and canoes, the group chose to spend their time on the remote north end of the lake, starting at Hite, Utah, to avoid the congestion and high-speed motorboats. Hite sounds like the name of a town, but there is really nothing there except a Park Service boat ramp, which has a small general store, open only four hours per day from 10 to 2.

  North end of Lake Powell
This year a group of Houston Canoe Club members decided to drive for 2½ days to Utah in order to join the the Kokopelli flotilla on their cruise. The HCC participants were Ken Anderson, Joe Coker, Donna Grimes, John Rich, and Chuck, Sandra & Joe Leinweber (husband, wife & son), with guest Michael Storer from Australia. We all met at Hite, Utah, a place that is so out in the middle of nowhere, with a landscape so barren and rugged, that it looks and feels like the end of the earth.

John & boat are packed
and ready to go
On the morning we were to launch onto the lake for the week-long expedition, we discovered that the sailboat folks are much more laid-back and easy-going than the canoe group - they were in no rush to get on the lake, and the disciplined canoeists, accustomed to early morning deadlines, pushed off ahead of the sailboats. We also figured we would need the head start using paddle power, instead of wind power, fully expecting the sailboats to soon come flying past us.

   Three of Chuck's
homemade kayaks
Chuck Leinweber's group of four, from Harper, Texas, were all outfitted with Chuck's homemade kayaks (right). Sandra applies a custom paint job to each one. The catamaran in the background was named "Twinkie", because the pontoons look like the yellow confection cakes by that name, filled with white creme.

As it turned out, there was almost no wind that day, so the canoes had the advantage and made good time across the flat-water lake. The sailboats, on the other hand, were becalmed. Some had oars for rowing power, but that was slow going. One had a very small motor, and another had a homemade bicycle-type paddle mechanism as a backup to wind power.

John paddled his tandem canoe solo, turned around with the back end in front, while sitting on what would normally be the front seat. This puts his center of weight more towards the middle of the canoe. Ken and Donna teamed up to paddle a tandem boat together, and Joe Coker paddled his long touring kayak.

John, Donna & Ken
on Lake Powell
   Joe Coker with 
hoodoo rocks
Photo by Joe Coker    

Joe finds a shady
rest spot
It was hot out on the lake, and shade was a scarce resource. There were no trees on the shorelines for respite from the sun. So when you managed to find a spot of shade somewhere, you pulled over and took advantage of it for a snack or nap break. Or both. Here, an overhanging rock served as good shade, as long as it didn't snap off and crush us.

   "Ripple rock"
Along with the spectacular scenery and beautiful blue water, we discovered something which everyone dubbed "ripple rock". These thick plates of rock seem to be wavy sand from an ancient wave-washed beach, that has hardened into sandstone rock, preserving the long-ago shoreline pattern.

Another interesting feature of the lake was plentiful amounts of driftwood along the high water line. There was absolutely no shortage of campfire material, even though there are almost no trees to be found anywhere. The wood debris must all wash down the Colorado River into Lake Powell from way upstream somewhere. There were many pieces of driftwood in unusual shapes, which Joe couldn't seem to collect enough of. I was beginning to think that his kayak might sink under the weight of the driftwood he had stacked on top.

Ken & John
set up camp
We traveled only three miles the first day, due to the late start of much of the group, and the convenience of a good camp site. The steep shoreline in most places makes finding a suitable camp site a real prize. We stopped on an island at an intersection of a large side canyon, with a large cove. The group spread out their campsites around the cove overlooking the water.

   Texan's group dinner
The food plan was for small bands of people to take turns cooking dinner for the whole group. So the first night the HCC Texans fixed a large meal of beef & chicken fajitas, with all the fixin's. We had planned on using large cooking pots from the sailboats for preparation, due to our limited canoe space. However, since some of the sailboats were becalmed, the pots never arrived in time, and we made do with our own small personal cooking utensils.

The stragglers were finally towed in by the boat with a motor, just as the sun was setting, and just in time for dinner.

The evenings were cool, in the 50's, which are just perfect for comfort in a sleeping bag.

On day two, the sailboats headed further downstream for a place called Good Hope Bay, where the next camp site would be located. John, Ken, Donna & Joe decided to first explore a large side canyon called White Canyon.
   Battleship rock
They paddled all the way to the end until they ran out of water, which was a distance of about 5 miles. Along the way were many unusual rock formations, the most striking of which was this one (right), which looks like a battleship steaming to intercept your path, as you come around a bend in the canyon.

Ken: It was THIS big!   
After a rest break at the upper end of the canyon, we headed back to where we started from. This made White Canyon a 10-mile side trip, which is a good bit of exercise on flat water.

   Approaching the
campsite for Day 2

And then on top of that, we added another 7 miles to get to the next campsite and catch up with the remainder of the group. So it was an exhausting 17-mile day of paddling. Ugh!

Kokopelli dinner   
After that long day, we were glad that someone else was cooking dinner, and all we had to do was pull up a chair and enjoy a delicious meal of salad, couscous and BBQ pulled chicken. Following dinner, a campfire was started, and we whiled-away the evening with conversation, while watching the flickering tongues of fire.

Despite finding a rattlesnake hiding inside the piles of driftwood, some brave and hardy campers decided to go ahead and sleep out in the open anyway. As for me, I couldn't get my tent set up fast enough!

This is where the trip planning took an unexpected turn. A few of the sailboat folks had FM weather radios, and the forecast was that a cold front was going to roll in the next day, bringing 20-degree low temperatures and high wind. And the wind would be blowing from a direction that would make it impossible for the sailboats to escape from the canyon. So the choice was to continue down the canyon as originally planned and suffer freezing weather for two or three days, or to make a quick escape the next morning before the cold weather front arrived. The decision was unanimous, with everyone deciding to get off the lake and avoid the freezing weather.

So, regrettably, on the morning of day three, we cut short our plans and headed back the 10 miles to the boat ramp at Hite, Utah. But while that may have been the end of the water adventure, John, Ken, Joe and Donna continued on vacation for several more weeks, sometimes together, and sometimes going our own ways, to see many more amazing sites in Utah and Arizona while camping and hiking. These included Leprechaun Canyon, Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch, Antelope Canyon, "The Wave", Natural Bridges, Paria, The Toadstools, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Canyon de Chelly and the Petrified Forest. Wow!

Joe, Donna & John
in Zion National Park
     John & Donna 
in "The Wave" 

It was an epic trip, with many fantastic sights and adventures, and the companionship of good friends was, as always, the icing on the cake.

~~~ The End ~~~