Road Trip 2019 Blog 6: Exploring Utah – Lake Powell and Lower Antelope Canyon

I know – neither of these places are in Utah; they are actually in Arizona but I have used bloggers’ licence here and grouped it under Utah as it was part of our Utah trip, after all. These states are neighbours and the National Parks that we have visited sometimes stretch beyond state boundaries, sometimes spanning multiple states, like Yellowstone. So whilst I am sorry for the inaccuracy, I am not sorry for its inclusion.

Whilst Arizona may be a neighbouring state, it is still a good few hours’ drive to Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon area from where we were staying in Cedar City. We decided on an early start so that the truck didn’t bake us alive and we could enjoy what this man made lake or reservoir had to offer.

I was first introduced to Lake Powell by Stephen Fry. Unfortunately, this was not over an aperitif in some fancy place eating posh nosh while we regaled each other with humorous but interesting travel tales but indeed from a TV programme where he went around America in a black cab, a vehicle previously only seen on the streets of London.

Stephen Fry on Lake Powell in America

The footage of Lake Powell looked remarkable: white stone cliffs; bright blue water; scorchingly hot weather. It was a must on our to-do list.

On the way, we stopped at Big Water Visitor Centre for a bathroom break and to stretch our legs. Imagine our surprise when we discovered some information about dinosaurs including some remains that were on display and some metal statues that had been erected outside the Visitor Centre. My youngest loves dinosaurs so we had a look around and did some posing for photos. There was also a view of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in the distance which gave a taster of what it is – a huge expanse of ridged rock that extends for miles and miles.

Grand Staircase Escalante in the distance
Metal dinosaur figures and a small boy, posing

Having fully refreshed ourselves and eager to get to the main event and the promise of an ice-cream before hitting the beach, we climbed back into the truck and headed toward Lake Powell. As previously, the heat in this part of the States is formidable; barely do you get out of the car than the need to climb back in to its artificially climate controlled coolness is upon you.

It is HOT.

But we soon got to Lake Powell and explored the resort that was on the lakeside, marvelling at the yachts moored at the pontoon and feeling slightly envious that a day on the water was not on the cards but a day in the water was beckoning. Ice-cream in hand, we found a sheltered spot by a tree and a lot of ants and gazed at the scene before us.

Finding a spot to purchase ice-cream

I have never seen a lake like it.

Having lived in Canada now for almost 7 years, my idea of a lake is one which is surrounded by trees, maybe with some mountains in the background but always with some sort of vegetation to soften its edges. They are lush or if they’re not tree enclosed, then there is a colour to them especially the lakes in Alberta with their glacial minerals making them vivid, almost artificial in their brightness, like someone has added food colouring to the water in enormous quantities.

Don’t get me wrong. There was a blueness to Lake Powell which was inviting but there was a starkness, created by the way that the water has flooded into a basin that was once a landscape filled with white rocks with differing shapes, carved by the weather into looming cliffs of various sizes and shapes, peaks and towers. If someone had told me that a watery episode of Star Trek had been filmed here, I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised.

The rocky outcrops that surround Lake Powell make it a surreal landscape

It was quite obviously a place for humans to enjoy at their leisure as well as being a reservoir but it also felt slightly surreal, like we were in a habitat alien to us. I have felt this previously when visiting natural wonders like The Pinnacles in Western Australia where you are faced with a vast stark landscape, usually rocky and sandy where you look around and feel something almost primal from being in an environment which Nature has sculpted and which feels so different to the places where you feel most comfortable.

Yachts, none of them ours.

That being said, Lake Powell is man made to a degree, so maybe it’s the fact that you know it shouldn’t really be here like this; it should be drier with a river meandering somewhere so perhaps there’d be more ground and sand, dustier and hotter rather than this. I don’t know. Whatever it was, Lake Powell moved me in a way that made me privileged to be there. It was extraordinary in its being unlike anything I have ever seen before and I had visited Salt Lake only days before.

It was time to dip our toes into the water and so we headed to Wahweap Overlook where you were able to park and walk down to a beach which was really sandy dirt, chocolate in colour when mixed with water, but it was bloody hot and that water was inviting, even if the sand wasn’t.

My boys, annoying each other joyfully and cooling off

There were lots of other people enjoying the beach and the resort looked like it was densely populated by holiday goers. The water has to be an attraction for many in these states as you’re a long way from the sea.

My boys had a great time in the water. There were no waves, of course; no lapping on the shore or white frothy peaks. Just water, its coolness and the screams of people enjoying themselves in the sun with lots of humanly generated splashing.

We could have stayed there all day, dipping into the water and marvelling at the view but we had another excursion planned for the afternoon near neighbouring Page, Arizona on the land of the Navajo Nation. Lower Antelope Canyon was waiting to be explored.

I had first seen pictures of the canyon on that wonderful travelogue Facebook, where algorithms provide you with things in which they think you may be interested, that other people have posted. To be fair, they got this right as, as soon as I saw a photo, I pointed it out to my dear husband and with his interest piqued, he then set about getting us there so that we could see it with our own fair eyes.

Ken was able to take us there via his tour company inspiredly called Ken’s Tours. We had a time that we had to be there so having consumed our sweaty cheese sandwiches and copious amounts of water, we headed to what was going to be one of the highlights of the trip in a holiday that was brimming with them.

Still feeling the dehydrating effects of the sun’s exposure on the shores of the lake, we treated ourself to a snow cone, a mildly refreshing coloured ice slush which simultaneously soothed you with its coolness whilst setting the nerves in your sensitive teeth alight with its ice burn.

We had to gather at a certain point to be escorted into the canyon and at the allotted time, teeth reverberating from its icy shock and only our cameras as baggage, we stood excitedly anticipating our descent into the earth.

We were soon ushered into our group and our guide, Darian (and not, rather disappointingly, Ken who must have been having a well-deserved day off) took us off in a downward direction to the entrance to the canyon. This was an unassuming gap in the rock where a set of metal stairs had been constructed which was narrow, steep and thankfully, one way only.

And then the tour began. Darian was an excellent guide, pointing out features in the rock and formations caused by the erosion of the rock that would otherwise have passed me by: a lion, a heart, a seahorse.

The layers of the rock meant that there were little ridges everywhere in the sides of the canyon. It was bright red in places, graduating to pink in other lights, and beiges. There were sharp edges but overwhelmingly, there were the sinuous curves created by water erosion, causing softened shapes and waves.

We followed the path of the canyon, Nature’s narrow passageway in the rock with its sandy floor and its towering walls. It wasn’t just us: Facebook must have been generous in its suggestions of this place as a travel idea to others that use its social media and must have especially targeted couples as there were a lot of young men and women having their photos taken in little nooks and openings in the rock that Darian pointed out. Either that or Ken’s been advertising.

I’m not against romance – I love a good love story – but honeymooning French couples in a narrow canyon wanting to take frequent pictures is a pain especially when they are ahead of you and do not have the same “Take a snap! Move on!” mentality as I do. Multiple poses and perusal of the photos taken can be bloody irritating. Luckily, we were able to bypass them before the canyon ran out to enjoy the results of Nature’s run off in our own time.

The view down the canyon

There was something quite intimidating about looking up between those narrow rock walls to the bluest of skies above that made me feel quite insignificant and conscious of how glad I was that those skies were not grey and heavy with rain.

It was soon over. It was time to head up and out into the blistering sun once more. It had been an amazing experience to follow this pathway through the rock and marvel at the power of water and its ability to shape the environment.

The stairs out

It had not been a disappointment. All that remained for us to do now was to see the dam that had been responsible for the origin of Lake Powell, a feat of engineering and fill up the fuel tank on the truck to head back.

We had decided to go back via Zion to go through the tunnel and bypass the canyon again, catching a glimpse once more of its majesty and this time, its mountain sheep or maybe goats who rather courteously showed up at the side of the road.

Mountain sheep or goats – one of the two

And so another day had passed where Mother Nature had shown off and we had applauded wildly with appreciation at her power and beauty. There couldn’t be much more for Utah to show us that could beat what we had already seen, could there?

Tomorrow, Bryce Canyon.

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