“A six hour tour … a six hour tour… the weather started getting hot.” I kept silently singing my own version of Gilligan’s Island’s theme song as I headed down the black asphalt path to my waiting tour boat, the Desert Odyssey.
I had always heard that Lake Powell was a gorgeous place. However, along with being beautiful, the word ‘houseboat’ always seemed to follow. Needless to say, I never had the time or energy necessary to put together a houseboat trip to Lake Powell, thus I had never seen the lake. But on a trip heading up the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, I had decided to make a short detour and stay at the Wahweap Lodge on Lake Powell for two nights.
The Wahweap Lodge was a real surprise – a gem in the high desert. I call it a destination vacation spot. The two nights I spent there clearly gave me only a taste of what the Lodge has to offer its guests.
One of the activities I chose was the boat ride to the Rainbow Bridge National Monument. I had always wanted to see it in person. It’s the largest known natural bridge in the world. There are two ways to visit Rainbow Bridge, by foot or by water. Hikers must acquire a guide and use the trails on the Navajo Nation. Boaters must take a six-hour trip, including a short hike to the bridge. Rainbow Bridge was designated a National Monument in 1910. Today, the Glen Canyon National Recreational area manages the monument.
Once at the end of the asphalt path, I finished my TV theme song rendition and boarded the boat. The Desert Odyssey had bench style cushioned seating inside with large sliding glass windows. These windows made viewing easy. Upstairs on the top deck were plastic seats ideal for grabbing some rays and enjoying unobstructed views.
Since it was July, I chose the comfy shaded indoor seating. This proofed to be the best decision I could have made during the trip, along with following Captain Melvin’s advice of hydrating (drinking lots of water) during the boat ride. After making my seating selection, I looked back up the slope that I had walked down. Now I could see the Lodge perched on the hill.
Captain Melvin spoke to us about the boat and the adventure ahead. Eleanor, the co-captain was also on board to help the captain with his duties. The back of the boat had three huge containers of water, lemonade, and coffee. We were also each handed a bottle of water for the upcoming hike from the water’s edge to Rainbow Bridge. A bathroom was available on board. I settled back and listened to the groan of the boat’s motor as it began its first leg of a 100-mile round trip journey to the Bridge.
Throughout the trip, Captain Melvin would sporadically come onto the public address system to describe the sights. Many times, the Desert Odyssey had to slow to a crawl because a houseboat or park ranger tugboat would be coming our way. Our large boat coupled its speed put out a large wake, which could spell disaster for these boats. Once we passed these vessels we would increase our speed down the lake.
Every turn through the irregular shaped Lake Powell, I experienced breathtaking views. Although the water level was low, the lake was at 50% capacity. The edges of the lake were amazing. The low water level has left a large white band on the rocks and canyon walls. This makes a picture perfect sight, deep blue water rippling against the chalked white rocks, which gradually changed to red rocks and then set off by the light blue sky. It was a sight to see. With every turn of the boat, new views could be spotted. Towering red rock formations, winding canyons, distant mountain ranges, coves cut out of rock. Nature’s beauty was everywhere you looked.
Every once in awhile, you were brought back to reality when the boat slowed and a houseboat chugged by trailing its water toys or when I glanced to the rear of the boat to see a jet skier racing to catch up with our boat’s wake. Our wake afforded jet skiers the opportunity to fly through the air from the crest of one wake to another.
About a half an hour from Rainbow Bridge, Eleanor distributed our box lunches. The boxes were crammed full of delicious treats such as a ham and cheese sandwich, an apple, celery and carrot sticks (which included a container of ranch dressing for dipping), a cinnamon health bar, a mint candy, and a pack of Oreos. I separated and saved some of the food, so I would have a snack on the return boat trip.
Captain Melvin soon informed us that we were near. The boat veered off the main waterway down Forbidding Canyon and passed by the sign indicating the National Monument of Rainbow Bridge was up ahead. As the boat’s speed dropped, so did my mouth. The walls of the canyon closed in and the size of our boat paled. It was easy to see how the weather overtime had formed the rocks smoothing them and allowing sunlight to reflect colors of the rock wall.
After several minutes, we turned down Cliff Canyon and then the boat came to a dock. Here is where I immediately jumped ship, so to speak. We were given an hour and a half to hike to Rainbow Bridge National Monument and back. As I ascended the dirt path, I noticed the temperature of the canyon also begin to rise. I continued my hike and spotted evidence of a later time, when the lake water level was high. This would have made the hike to the Bridge much shorter. However at the time of my trip, the hike was three miles round trip. As I proceeded, I passed by several hikers seeking shade along the carved out trail resting and wishing they had come better prepared for the trail. I pulled out the small water bottle that was given to me at the beginning of the boat trip and began drinking it. After about 15 minutes of walking, I rounded a bend to discover a view. Half of the Rainbow Bridge could be seen with the black rock of Navajo Mountain in the foreground. I immediately took a quick picture and pressed on.
The bridge made of Navajo sandstone was carved out of wind and water. It spans 275 feet and reaches a height of 290 feet. The top is 42 feet thick and 33 feet wide. I had seen many photos of the monument, but none compared to actually standing there in person. Rainbow Bridge is very important to the Navajo, Hopi, San Juan, Southern Paiute, Kaibab Paiute and the White Mesa Ute tribes. Visitors are asked to show their respect to these cultures and to help in the preservation of such a remarkable rock formation by not approaching or walking under the Rainbow Bridge.
There are several spots along the trail that are ideal photo opportunities. Also, at the end of the trail is a large, flat rock perfect for more photos and/or to take in the bridge’s sheer size and beauty. There is a small mesquite wood shade structure off to the side that I used to hydrate and cool down before my trek back to the boat. Summer temperatures can get high. Proper clothing and sunscreen will make the trip much more pleasant.
Once back on the boat, I settled back to enjoy the drone of the boat’s engine and the fresh air streaming through the open windows. I reflected on those who had ventured out to see Rainbow Bridge in the past, President Theodore Roosevelt, the famous western writer Zane Grey, and the numerous photographers and writers, including National Geography.
Approximately halfway between Wahweap Marina/Lodge and the Monument, there lies a large bay called Padre Bay. Captain Marvin explained that this bay holds a gigantic rock formation named the “Crossing of the Fathers”. It marks a place in history. During 1776, two Spanish priests set off from Santa Fe to create an overland route to a military garrison on the California coast. They traveled for three months and reached the Great Basin in Utah. However, winter was setting in, so they decided to turn back. In doing so, they arrived at the Colorado River. However, crossing the river became almost deadly. They spent four days searching for a way to cross. Then on November 7th, they carved steps into the rock canyon wall and led their pack stock across. The actual Crossing of the Fathers lies beneath the waters of Lake Powell, yet a grand rock marks the event.
As my boat rocked its way back to Wahweap Marina and Lodge, I decided to take the stairs up to the boat’s top deck. There in the late afternoon sun I could see the rocks around the lake change shades to brown, red and yellow and blue sky was filled with white puffy clouds. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.