It’s sunrise at Monument Valley, on the Utah-Arizona border. The sun comes up behind the monuments, silhouetting them in a beautiful orange glow. We’re staying a Goulding’s lodge, which elevated itself from a struggling trading post to a tourist mecca when its proprietor convinced John Ford to come here and film Westerns in the 1930s. At the restaurant, they still serve John Wayne’s favorite dishes, and the motel lobby rents all the classic John Ford films. Last night, we rented She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, which I wouldn’t say was exactly John Wayne at his best. It was, however, fascinating to watch him lead his cavalry troop back and forth across the identical stretch of Monument Valley in a plot that was supposed to have him ranging miles across the southern desert.
Last night’s sunset here was also quite impressive: at sunset, the monuments are illuminated directly, and the view from in front of our cabin was astonishing. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get much of a photo, so you’ll have to live with just the sunrise pic.
We’ve spent the last several days on a houseboat on Lake Powell. While Monument valley is a destination for tourists from across the globe (last night at dinner, for example, we saw a tiny Japanese woman polish off almost three entire entrees — a “Navajo taco” — a cholesterol-farm of chili smothering a plate-size piece of Navajo frybread, a plate of spaghetti, and half of her mother’s meal. For some reason she didn’t touch her French fries.), Lake Powell is redneck heaven. Three million visitors descend on the desert lake every year, most of them towing speedboats in pickup trucks. While they sought the water as a race-track for their jet-skis and power boats, we were there for the opposite reason. The water was at historically low levels, exposing much of Glen Canyon that had been drowned by the Glen Dam for nearly forty years.
Unfortunately, last winter’s historic snowfall in this part of the country has caused the lake to rise more than 75 feet, so we were only able to see half as much as we would have last season, when the water was 150 feet below full-pool. Nonetheless, we did get to see some amazing canyon scenes that have been exposed during the drought of the last five years. Here’s a typical view of the main canyon. The whitish area gives an approximation of the lake level at full pool. See how much less of the canyon we would have seen had the lake been full?
The impact is even more significant in the hundreds of side canyons. Here’s a spot where we stopped for the night. This canyon wouldn’t have been much more than an inlet at full pool:
About half of our days were consumed with putting up and down the river. Our rental houseboat could do about 10 miles per hour at top speed, and with over 3000 miles of shoreline and a 140-mile-long main canyon (not to mention those side-canyons, some of which are over 50 miles long), we were able to explore only of the fraction of the canyon. This did give Nora plenty of time to catch up on her summer reading — Tom Sawyer, perhaps the ultimate lazy river book.
The rest of the time, when we weren’t sitting on the deck of our boat enjoying our friends’ powerful pina coladas or a cooling glass of white wine, we were hiking up the side canyons. Here’s Greta on her way to Rainbow Bridge:
As we approached, the monument loomed overhead, dwarfing us even from a respectful distance (due to the sacred nature of the ground for many Indian tribes, we were requested to stay about 200 yards away):
I’m finishing up this post in Kanab, UT, where we’ve found a Holiday Inn Express with free wireless Internet. Kanab is a sort of crossroads for tourists, halfway between Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon. I’m going to try to post more on Lake Powell, and other updates a little more frequently over the next couple weeks as we head toward more commercialized regions of the southwest, with more free wireless, but for now I’m going to enjoy our last day in semi-wilderness. Even here, the view from our hotel is canyons on a smaller scale — albeit with tract housing rather than lake or creekbed in the foreground. What an amazing, quirky place, this Southwest.