Yet more vacationblogging

Luxor Hotel, Las Vegas.

Yes, we’re in Vegas, but just for one night. We thought we’d stop in Disneyland for grown-ups before we headed to the real Disneyland tomorrow.

But right now, I want to write a little bit more about Lake Powell. When we first mentioned to friends that we were going there, we typically got two reactions: either “why would you go there — the water level is low?” or “why would you go there — it’s an abomination on everything environmentalists stand for. The government dammed up one of the world’s most spectacular canyons so a few rednecks could have more room for waterskiing.”

Both reactions assumed the only thing the lake was good for was a gigantic water playground. And oh, yes, the waterskiers, wakeboarders, barefooters, and every other item you could possibly imagine towing behind a boat at high speeds were there in abundance. But the low water level also meant that much of the previously unexposed canyon was now visible. Take a look at this little spot where we stopped for the night.

The area in white is what the lake covers when it’s full. Basically, the entire side canyon — including the spot where Jim is standing — would have disappeared had we come there at full pool. Exploring further, we came to some fascinating rock formations:

Climbing to the top of a small butte, we tried to imagine what the canyon would look like with only a small ribbon of water flowing through the bottom.

Climbing back down was a bit difficult, with poor footing and a sheer dropoff to our left, but the experience was worth it:

The next day, in the San Juan River Arm, Nora and I had to climb up 100 feet to even reach the mouth of this side canyon.

There, we found an area lush with life, including lots of small rodents — perhaps some sort of squirrel — that we’d never seen at lake level. We also found evidence of its predator — footprints of a small cat, we guessed bobcat. There were trees, and many birds we hadn’t seen before. While we had seen plenty of the top of the canyon, the main thing missing from Glen Canyon after Lake Powell was built was its bottom, thriving with life.

Still, we couldn’t resist climbing another butte to see what the top looked like:

It was as if we’d entered yet another world. Again, the climb down was rather harrowing:

Now, here in Las Vegas, we’ve entered yet another world, powered by electricity from Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam. Sitting in our air-conditioned room on the side of a glass pyramid, we can look out at thousands of lights, all powered by the water that has drowned the great canyons of the Colorado River. On the one hand, without Lake Powell, we probably wouldn’t have had the ability to even see the fraction of Glen Canyon we did see — before the dam, it was one of the remotest parts of the country. I’ve heard that only 300 white people had visited the canyon before the dam was built. Now over 3 million people a year go there. Even as it is, I most definitely prefer Lake Powell to Las Vegas. But that said, I like my air conditioning, my car, my gourmet meals. I’m not a die-hard environmentalist, and I don’t know how to provide the comforts I enjoy without destroying some of the environment. I do hope we’ll be able to preserve some of what’s left, so some day my kids can enjoy it with my grandchildren.

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One Response to Yet more vacationblogging

  1. Anne says:

    Terrifying! Your pics give me vertigo.
    Your comments are as interesting as the photos are beautiful (and your kids are great to see, if only virtually!)
    But as a good Westerner, you know well already how the best kinds of environmentalism acknowledge the fact of humans. We saw that abundantly last weekend in the Adirondacks–a great American testament to how to combine wilderness with amenities. Some lakes are developed with luxury homes, mobile homes, inns, but many others, with a highway right along the shore, have car-camping sites just right there, for anyone with a few bucks, a car, and a tent. Other lakes are less accessible still…

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