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Powell by houseboat

1/28/2008

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Ever visited a place that you really didn't want to leave?

A place that was everything you heard it would be and more? As soon as you drove away you wanted to turn around and head back?

I visited one of those places last month. Where is this idyllic ever-ever land? None other than the desert oasis of Lake Powell.

Always heard a lot of good things about Powell; the scenery, the fishing, the houseboats. I was a little skeptical: How can a pond in the desert be all that wonderful?

After spending a week on Powell, which straddles the Utah-Arizona border, I'm here to tell you it's all true. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking. I spent 3 days on the pond with my mouth wide open.

Glad they don't have a lot of bugs there because I would have swallowed my own weight in them. The fishing was good; not as good as I had heard it could be, but for the conditions we were faced with and an early fall bite, it was fair.

The houseboats were, by far, the coolest part of the adventure.

The scenic sandstone formations that surround Lake Powell are amazing. Every bend in the river channel brings a new view. Every hourly change in the angle of the sun brings a new look to the sandstone.

Rainbow Bridge, Cathedral Canyon, Wahweap Window Arch, Humdinger Arch, the names of all the separate features and formations around the desert impoundment make a long list. A map of the lake with just the highlights is covered with red dots. Some of the locals have spent their entire adult lives around and on the lake and few have seen every formation around the lake.

At over 180 miles in length, Powell is one pond on the map you could quite literally spend a lifetime exploring. I'm not sure how long it would take you to fish in each of the numerous canyons that line the lake. To give you an idea of the extent of the shoreline, at full pool Lake Powell has 1,960 miles of shoreline, which is more than the entire western coast of the United States.

Totally dependent on runoff from snowmelt, Lake Powell has depths that exceed 500 feet. Even though the lake was nearly 100 feet below pool during our trip, there was still plenty of water to explore.

Hey, I even saw dinosaurs. Tracks that is. Not the real thing. Did see pictographs of dinosaurs. It is so amazing to see a track in the rock that has been there for thousands of years. Even more amazing to see one that is on the roof of an overhang.

How does that happen? Took me a while for that one to sink in: Dino walks across the sandy mud and leaves a track. The mud dries and hardens around the track. Another layer of sandy mud is laid on top of the track and another layer and another layer.

Over thousands of years, there are 50 feet of mud layers over the original track layer. Due to some shift in the rock, the layer falls out from under the track, exposing the track.

Despite being high desert, the region immediately surrounding the lake has a fair amount of wildlife. Out on the lake, ravens and mergansers are the most common birds, but herons and eagles — bald and golden — call the lake home. Mule deer are the largest mammals around the lake.

Bighorn sheep inhabit the rugged cliffs of the upper lake. On a short hike up one of the canyons, the most noticeable tracks in the sand were those of rabbits, both jack and cottontail, coyotes, and mice. Despite its barren appearance, Powell has an amazing variety of wildlife.

One of the most unique features of Powell to me was a marina. Sounds pretty mundane, I know. I've been in and around quite a few marinas on quite a few lakes across the country, but until I visited Dangling Rope Marina I had never been to a marina that didn't have a road leading to it.

The only way to visit Dangling Rope is via boat as no road leads to this floating outpost. Every drop of gas, every bag of ice, every can of soda that is sold at the marina comes by boat. By the way, the ice cream is supposed to be the best west of the Mississippi; tasted pretty good to me.

The fishing on Powell has improved over the past few years with the explosion of a smallmouth population. Even though we were faced with post front conditions, we still managed to catch a wide range of both largemouth and smallmouth up to 4 pounds and several stripers; not bad for fall fishing.

While much of the fishing centers on the typical deep, clear water, desert lake fishing, we also caught fish in as little as two feet of water. Fish were caught on topwater, crankbaits, jigs, dropshots, and even fly's. The lake is also home to crappie, walleye, catfish, and several species of sunfish.

Then there are the houseboats. This is the first time for me to stay on a houseboat and it won't be the last. I can't tell you how cool it is to pull the BassCat up to the back of the houseboat at the end of the day.

How cool it is to sit on the top deck of the houseboat and watch the sun go down and the moon come up over the sandstone. See the full moon over the desert with no lights from a town anywhere on the horizon. Watch the sun hit the highest points of sandstone as the new day begins. No, I wasn't sleeping on the upper deck, but I sure thought about it. Pretty cool stuff.

I'm already planning my next houseboat trip to Powell. Working on gathering up a few friends to have some fun. May do a little less fishing and a lot more exploring on the next outing. Might even sleep out on the upper deck one night, listen to the coyotes, and watch the stars.

Before you go, here a few things to know and people who can help:

• The nearby town of Page has everything you might need for your adventure. They even have four flights a day at the municipal airport, for those who want to save the windshield time. There is even a Starbuck's in the Safeway. Man's gotta have his priorities in line.

• Lake Powell Resort and Marina can hook you up with houseboats for the largest or smallest parties. Need and executive chef for your houseboat excursion? They have some of the best. Want to "rough it" on your own? They can help there too. Want to visit Powell but don't want to stay out on the lake? Lake Powell Resort has some of the best lakeside accommodations on Powell.

• Get a map. Most of the local establishments and all the marinas will have the "Lake Powell Boating & Exploring Map" by Stan Jones and Steve Ward. Get a copy. Better yet, get two copies; one to make notes on and one to keep. Jones and Ward have spent 39 years exploring the Lake Powell country and this map shows everything that is worth seeing, which by my count is 168 different points of interest. Valuable info on all the sights around the pond.

• Stix Bait & Tackle in Page has all the tackle you need for Powell. Mike Stickler knows the Powell region as well as anyone. He can help with all your fishing as well as hunting needs. Also has "the map".

• In addition to Lake Powell, within 150 miles of Page are the following must-see destinations: North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Monument Valley, and Glen Canyon Dam.

For more info on Kevin Short or to contact Kevin, check out his website at www.kfshort.com.