Winter in the Desert - 2013 travel blog

under the arch

pillar of light

Colorado River oxbow

pillar of light

huge slot canyon








Lake Powell

Lake Powell bridge

After the great Lower Antelope Canyon tour we took yesterday, we weren’t sure how many more slot canyons we needed to see or how different they are from each other. We drove to the “office” of Wilma Bigthumb under a blue tarp in the middle of the desert and made arrangements with her for two more. Wilma was like the Queen Bee, organizing tourists and guides, making good matches between her customers and what she thought they wanted. She did a great job for us.

Our tour group of two was guided by Nate, a Navajo who seemed to enjoy photography as much as we do. The kind of photo equipment you bring, seems to make a difference in how the guides treat you. Both yesterday and today, as soon as they saw we had tripods and large SLR’s, we were given respect and the time we needed to try to capture these amazing canyons.

Until 1997 tourists could visit the slot canyons on their own after paying the reservation admission fee. But after a group of tourists did not pay attention to the signs Mother Nature was sending and drowned in flash flood in a canyon, it was decided that locals should always accompany visitors. Today the fact that Nate was with us, made our canyon visits much more pleasant and productive. He brought his own camera along, even though he must have taken millions of pictures before and he showed us where to stand and made suggestions as to camera settings. The first canyon had some steep ladders and tight spots, and I appreciated his assistance with my equipment.

Upper Antelope Canyon is the one everyone visits, so I was surprised we did not visit it first before all the tour buses arrived. But the highlight of this amazing slot canyon is the highlights of sunshine that break peak through the cracks above your head at around noon. Because this canyon is visited by so many people, Nate kept checking his watch and parking us in the perfect spot before the beams of light began to appear. Then he would toss sand up in the air and it would gleam in the sun beams, which were otherwise invisible. Some of the other guides had large groups and we jostled for position, but Nate always had us in the right place and alerted folks that were in our way to move on. We are also lucky to be here in the low season, because in summer the slots are chock full even more people.

Upper Antelope is a much deeper canyon than the others we've seen. It lies at the end of a wide wash so when it rains lots of water drains through it. The water can be 120 feet deep and rushes through at 70mph. It's easy to imagine how people could die here, because the sun could be out here, but water from a distant rain could funnel through. Once you could see it, it would be too late to get out.

Hundreds of photos later, we headed to Glen Canyon Dam which was built in the late 1950’s to control the flow of the Colorado River. The idea was to create a big lake which would hold the water in rainy years and release water to those downstream during dry years. The fact that it also produces hydroelectric energy was frosting on the cake. Lake Powell took 17 years to fill behind the dam and in 2005 when we here last was 150 feet low. This year it was come up fifty feet, but you can still see the white “bath tub ring” of minerals on the rocks marking the high water level.

With the electricity being generated by the dam, we were surprised to see a coal fired electric plant belching smoke a few miles away. The coal is mined on the reservation and brought here by electric train. This plant generates more power than the dam and is a major profit maker for the tribe. Those smokestacks don't do much for the scenery or the environment, however.

There are a number of marinas and place to stay around Lake Powell whose coastline is as long as the entire US Pacific coast. The huge parking lots and most of the berths were empty today, but it must be crazy here in the summer. The third benefit of the Glen Canyon Dam was recreation. There should be a lot of that soon.

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