Lake Powell Day Paddles

This is a great diversion while waiting to win the BLM lottery to get into the wave. You’re free about 9:30 and can be at the shoreline by 10:00 If you’re got a National Parks seniors pass, you get in free and non-mortorized boats are also free. Parking overnight, whether you’re in you vehicle or not, is $10 or $5 for those with the pass. So one-day paddles are free! You youngsters have to pay the $15 vehicle entry fee (good for all passengers and kayaks). The topo map below appears to be based on a full lake, which is much different than the satellite photos I show later, which appear to have been taken at near the low level several years ago.

Safety Note: Once out on the water I suddenly realized I was a very small target out there with cigarette boats going 50+ mph. Everyone seeme to see me (brown kayak, gray shirt) and give me appropriate wide berth or slowed to comply with the “no wake within 150′ of others” rule, but I will definitely wear bright yellow next time. Most of your time will be next to shore or in the small canyons, but when crossing open water this is definitely something to think about.

Quagga mussels: You must have a green quagga mussel inspection card in your vehicle if you want to launch at these locations. The inspection station is behind the gas station in the Wahweap marina. If you’re paid the entrance fee at the other locations you will get a pass to go over to Wahweap and enter free for the inspection. The inspection itself is free. There are locations where self-inspection is permitted and it is acknowledged that kayaks are low risk (the risk is mainly from power boat bilge and cooling system water). However, you still have to have an inspection if you’ve been in the water in the last 30 days. The fine is a biggee. I repeat, biggee, so just do it.

Lake Powell, Wahweap area.

There are three accessible launch points near Page. Lone Rock (#1 above) camping and boat launch is nearest the BLM contact station at Paria, so that’s where I went first. It’s a primitive beach with lots of campers, but back towards the gate there is a free RV dump station and water. It was a very convenient place to rinse the kayak after landing on the sandy beach. If there aren’t too many campers, you can park right where you launch.

Wahweap marina (#2) s a very developed area, with gas station, full hookup RV sites, marina store, concrete launch ramp, hotel and restaurants. Parking is a short hike from the launch ramp, maybe 400 yards (depending on lake level, of course). Camping is only in developed aareas, so if you’re in the parking lot I assume the parking overnight is free (limit 14 days).

I didn’t use the Antelope Point marina (#3), but it appears that this is a launch and parking area only, but there is a picnic area nearby. There’s also a maintenance facility for power boats. This is my next day paddle objective on the Lake, since it’s best suited for access to both Antelope and Navajo Canyons. You can paddle right up to the exit of Lower Antelope Canyon, but if you go in I believe you’re still liable for the Navajo entrance fee.

Lone Rock paddle:

Lone Rock paddle, 5 miles.

First, three things about this map. (1) the water level is lower in the photo than when I paddled, maybe as much as 80′. Lake level on paddle day was about 3,634′ and full lake is 3700′.  You can see that the launch and landing point, which was right on the water, is depicted way up on the rocks. (2) This data comes from the 10-minute reports from the Spot tracking message and at least one report, near waypoint #53, is missing due to the failure of GPS in the slot canyon. The straight lines from the Oziexplorer mapping program don’t reflect the actual paddle along the shoreline. (3) Spot tracker point numbers are backwards, with the most recent point labeled with the lowest number.

Lone Rock and the sandy beach.

The Lone Rock area is quite sandy, but packed well enough for a heavy truck to get right down to the water’s edge. It’s less than a mile across to the north shore and there are many landing areas that are sandy and friendly to your kayak’s bottom. There’s also a lot of inviting landing spots that are hard sandstone that I wouldn’t land on, partly to avoid scrapes but also because most of these had steeply sloping bottoms and would have been a difficult take out. However, the sandy take outs are always in amongst the rocks, providing great photo opportunities and an excuse to take small hikes or a swim.

Up on the rocks for a photo.

One of the nice surprises of this easy paddle was finding a slot canyon. I wouldn’t have noticed it, but I heard a jet ski coming out and took a closer look at what at a casual glace to be a small pool behind the formation at the rear of the photo above. To get into the pool I paddled across a “threshold” that only had about 18″ of water over it. To my surprise, once in the pool I could see that around a corner it opened up into a long alley of stone. I couldn’t resist following it until it was too narrow for even a 23″ wide Tern. A lot of the distance up to this stopping point was hand-over-hand against the walls because it was too narrow to paddle.

A V-shaped alley (left) leads to a slot too narrow for even a kayak.

The ennd of the slot is approximately waypoint #53, above. A water level decrease of only 2′ will close off acces to this canyon (unless, of course, there’s another opening under that threshold). If the depth increases maybe 12′ this part of the slot will be lost, but who knows if more canyon would open up farther in?

This change in water level is the quandry of paddling the Lake Powell shoreline. The water level has increased 16′ since May, then gone down 4′.  This change in water level would dramatically change the paddle reported here. You just have to go and see what the shoreline offers when you’re actually there.

Dead tamarisk, due to recent increase in lake depth.

From this slot canyon I paddled around the shoreline to the west into another bigger side canyon to see how far up the small creek/river I could go. On the way, the dead tamarisk sticking up out of the water was testimony to the increasing depth of the water recently. By the way, once you get out of the “lake” and into the streams feeding it from the side canyons, you don’t go very far. The streams are small, there’s a lot of silt, and the shores are full of tamarisk which makes turning around a long back and forth process.

Lone Rock and ancient toe and hand holds.

To finish the paddle, I wanted to take a close look at Lone Rock. I was a little surprised to see this trail up the face of the rock. I can hardly imagine how they were done, considering that the height of this part of the rock was hundreds of feet above the ground before the lake was created.

Wahweap Paddle:

Wahweap paddle, about 15 miles.

Paddling from this marina means you’re going out with a lot power boats and through the houseboat moorage. One of the nice features of the launch ramp, however, is the sandy path along the side, which provides a nice spot to get a kayak in the water.

The concrete ramp has a sandy side, good for kayaks.

It’s a couple miles across open water to Castle Rock. It’s hard to imagine the vertical geograph from the satellite photo above–for one thing, the colors seem not to match what you see horizotally. It’s also hard to imagine what the shorelines look like at current lake levels. The area to the SE of Castle Rock in the photo is dry, but there was a fairly wide (250 yards) channel there on the day of my paddle. It must not have been very deep, because there were bouys marking the deeper channel for the power boats. The Park Service has been deepening this channel since 2008, since it saves power boaters 12 miles getting to the main body of the lake. If water levels go back down, kayakers with portage carts may have a big advantage in making a short portage…

Castle Rock, directly aross from the marina.

As I said earlier, there is no shortage of landing sites. It’s hard to imagine why this should be–the pre-lake area was mostly deep canyons. The landing spot below was interesting because of the thin sheets of sandstone, some were quite large, which were about 1/4″ thick. This area is approximately #27 on the map.

Sheet sandstone landing.

This wonderful little cove was the most engaging spot on this paddle, approximately point #20. The cliffs in the left photo are along the original course of the Colorado River. I can only imagine that they were once a sheer drop of 500′ , yet when the lake is full, they disappear. The small protected cove is entered through a narrow passage in the face of the cliffs, not more than 12′ or 15′ wide and only about 2′ deep. It’s an unsettling thought [to me] to cruise over this threshold from very deep to very shallow. Going out it gives one momentary heebee geevies to hang out over one of these cliffs if the lake weren’t there. It’s also frustrating to think that this lovely spot will most likely disappear, no matter which way the lake level goes.

Hidden cliffs and cove.

Frozen dunes hide interesting alcoves.

Cross bedding in the dunes.

These sandstone dunes are NW of Castle Rock. The left side has some nooks you can paddle into, not deep, but well protected. The right end of the line of dunes shows repeated patterns of cross bedding. I can’t undersand it–you don’t see the pattern in existing sand dunes, yet the bedding very evident once the dunes are turned to sandstone.

This paddle merely whets the appetite for more Lake Powell. The maximum length of the lake along the original Colorado River bed is 186 miles, but up to Hite Crossing it’s only 135 miles. This could be a very easy 8-10 day paddle if it weren’t for the temptations of the many side canyons, not to mention the very significant San Juan arm of the lake. The round trip from Page to Hite is about 500 miles. For a shorter paddle, you could put in at Bullfrog, but the round trip deom Page to Bullfrog is actually longer, about 600 miles. Putting in at Mexican Hat along the San Juan might work, but you’d have to do it when the river flow was right for a Sea Kayak.

Launching from Piute Farms provides access to the upper end of the San Juan arm of the Lake, but below lake level 3678 power boats can’t launch. It appears from the satellite photos of the area (this one is definitely from low water days) that you might be able to walk a kayak into the river, make it to the lake and be able to paddle the full San Juan arm down to Page. I do see one hazard, something that appears to be a dyke or falls at the red triangle. Directions: While traveling US 163 to Monument Valley turn towards Gouldings Trading Post near the UT/AZ state line. Turn right on the first paved road after the airport and proceed 8 miles. Turn right on the dirt road just after the sign indicating “UMC Church” and proceed for 7 miles. Turn right again at the seven mile mark and proceed approximately 8 miles on the rough dirt road which is passable to any vehicle in dry weather conditions. Not recommended–Going straight ahead (left fork) leads to Copper Canyon after 10.4 miles of rough road in the bottom of the wash.

Piute Farms primitive launch site at low water.

The bottom line of this report is that maybe the other attractions of the area might have to take a back seat for a couple of years…

The Wave, about 30 miles west of Page.

Hoodoos and toadstools, about 25 miles west of Page.

That’s all for now! Ciao.