Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon, and a sandstorm

We pitched our tent on a sandy beach of Lake Powell, just over the Utah state line on Thursday, May 11, and slowed our pace of travel. We had decided to blast across the country quickly in order to arrive in Utah by mid-May, ahead of the really hot weather. Sweating as we set up camp for three days on the treeless beach campground of Lone Rock, named for the towering monument poking almost 400 feet out of Lake Powell just in front of us, I wondered if we were already too late. Fortunately, our screen tent that we learned to set up in the rain at Canyon de Chelly, provided some shade and shelter for our camp chairs, stove, and cooler. That afternoon, we inflated our new kayaks and paddled across our finger of the lake to explore the fabulous sandstone shoreline with its many small bays, alcoves, and our first slot canyon.

In 1922, seven western states agreed to share the water of the Colorado River. Lake Powell is one result of that agreement, although it took until the mid-1960s to complete the Glen Canyon dam and fill the lake. Since the flow of water the Colorado River from its many tributaries is highly variable from year to year, storing water in a massive reservoir and releasing greater volumes in dry years was a way to ensure that downriver states and Mexico would receive their share each year. The siting of the dam was controversial, as it flooded an extensive system of beautiful canyons, as well as great geological, biological, and cultural interest.

Friends Michael, Stu and Robin had recommended a visit to Antelope Canyon, an extraordinarily beautiful slot canyon on the Navajo Reservation just south of Lake Powell. Since 1997, all visits to Antelope Canyon must be part of a guided tour, and I must admit that I was reluctant to participate in a crowded tour. But we decided to do it on Saturday, our last day at Lake Powell before leaving on Sunday for Zion National Park, and I am very glad we did. The colors and patterns are amazing! We have posted a few pictures on our website, which of course don’t capture the beauty. Microsoft’s professional photographers did a better job, and a photograph taken at Antelope Canyon is one of Windows’s stock screensavers.

Canyons’ contours are shaped by the action of water and wind scoring solid rock. By late afternoon on Saturday when we returned to our campsite, the wind had picked up to give us a demonstration. As we parked the truck, we found two sides of our screen tent unmoored. Flapping in the wind, it had toppled our camp chairs, cook stove, pots and pans. Fine drifting sand filled our kayaks and our charcoal grill, and it was rapidly finding our ears and nostrils. It took us hours to clean up as best we could and load the truck, as we intended to leave early Sunday morning to try for a day-of-arrival campsite in Zion. As we labored in the sheets of blowing sand, we congratulated ourselves on the sturdiness of our Sierra Design tent that shuddered in the wind but held fast to the ground. Yes the tent was upright, but later, when we finally got in to go to sleep, we discovered that the sandstorm had driven fine sand under the fly sheet of the tent and through the screening, so that we were lying on a gritty bed of sand…. Today, almost a week later, we are still cleaning sand out of our clothes, our bedding, and our cooking equipment.


2 thoughts on “Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon, and a sandstorm”

  1. I loved your photos of Antelope Canyon! And speaking of the byzantine world of Western water laws and sharing arrangements, I read that Mexico may fight the Trump border wall on the grounds that it will impede water flow from US to Mexico guaranteed by treaty. Viva Mexico!

    1. Overlooking Antelope Canyon is the Navajo Generating Station, a coal powered plant that is scheduled for closure in 2019 because of the high cost of coal compared to natural gas. Our Navajo guide told us that many people have already lost their jobs at the plant and are now employed in part-time poorly paying jobs as tour guides (including at Antelope Canyon). NPR reported a couple of months ago that about 800 jobs would be lost, including at the associated coal mine nearby, and that the Navajo Nation is asking the Trump administration to subsidize operation of the plant to keep it open through 2044.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *