After breakfast and check out we returned to the South Rim Visitor Centre to spend some more time at the Canyon to see it in the daylight. It was a bit of a disappointment therefore that the weather was slightly overcast and without the stimulating sunlight to create shadows and contrasts this seemed to leech the colours and the life from the rocks.
It might not have been colourful but it was still an awesome view as we stared down one and a half kilometres to the bottom of the gorge, a hole so deep that can take two days to reach on foot by the official trails. And it wasn’t so peaceful this morning either as there was a continuous buzz of helicopter activity taking trips out over the canyon. The helicopters used to drop into the canyon for a closer look but after a number of accidents caused by rising thermal currents this have now been stopped.
From the viewing platform we were looking over the fabulously named Granite Gorge and along Bright Angel Creek which led directly to the North Rim Visitor Centre on the other side which although only fourteen kilometres to the north needs a journey of over three hundred kilometres to get there. The view just went endlessly on and on and was so infinitely panoramic that it was almost impossible to fully comprehend the scale of the barren wilderness stretching out before us.
To get a sense of perspective it is worth remembering that you could fit Dartmoor National Park in Devon into the Grand Canyon National Park five times and still have a bit of spare left over. When it was time to go the coach took us out along a road that followed the line of the canyon with further viewing opportunities and then we parted company as our route took us first east and then north across the Painted Dessert passing Marble Canyon, which is the beginning of the Grand Canyon, and towards our next destination, Lake Powell.
I have to say that this was a very well organised coach tour and every day we all had to rotate our seats clockwise by one position so that over the course of the fortnight we all got a chance to sit at the front of the coach for the best possible view. This arrangement suited Mum down to the ground because being the gregarious type she does like to chat and this provided her with the chance to talk to someone different every day. Dad always sat by the window which gave Mum the aisle seat and the ultimate chatting opportunity. Today a woman sat opposite and produced from her handbag a book the size of a medieval manuscript and on spotting this Dad, who had a sharp sense of humour, turned to us and whispered ‘she’s got no chance!’ How right he was and Mum ran through the full repetoire of anecdotal stories and not a page of the book was read. At one point Dad turned to us again and predicted, ‘It’ll be the cat tale next’ and because he knew the exact sequence of stories he was spot on.
Lake Powell is a man-made reservoir on the Colorado River, on the border between Utah and Arizona and is the second largest man made reservoir in the United States after Lake Mead, storing thirty cubic kilometres of water when full. It was created by the flooding of Glen Canyon by the construction of the controversial Glen Canyon Dam, which also led to the creation of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which is a popular summer destination for tourists.
The reservoir is named after the explorer John Wesley Powell who explored the full length of the river in three small wooden boats in 1869. Construction of the dam started in June 1960 and the last bucket of concrete was poured in September 1963. Over four million cubic metres of cement were used to create the dam which is two hundred and sixteen metres high and cost a hundred and fifty five million dollars and eighteen lives to build, which was a lot less than the one hundred and four deaths that were caused by the construction of the Hoover Dam further down river thirty years earlier.
The dam has always been controversial, many opposed its construction in the first place, some associated with the decision to build it now think that it was a mistake because it has spoilt the environment and the Glen Canyon Institute is an organisation which even today continues to advocate for decommissioning.
We visited the dam and walked from the visitor centre to the other side of the gorge and then we took the elevator down inside the dam to view the hyro-electric generators. Back on top the sun was coming out now and we took the short journey into the town of Page for lunch. Page is a new town that was created in 1957 to house workers and their families during the construction of dam and the site was obtained by the government in a land exchange with the Navajo Indian tribe. I hope they had their wits about them and didn’t get fobbed off with somewhere useless!
There was not a great deal to hang around for in Page and after lunch the coach took us over the Glen Canyon Dam bridge which is nearly four hundred metres long and about two hundred and fifteen metres above the Colorado River. Before the bridge was built it was an almost three hundred kilometre drive to the other side of the canyon. Over the bridge we followed a road along the western side of the water and stopped off soon after to take a cruise on the lake from the Wahweep Marina.
This is easily the best way to see Lake Powell because most of the features that define the lake, the sheer cliffs, intricate narrow gorges, twisting canyons and towering mountains are inaccessible from the road and the shoreline and can only be fully appreciated from the water. It was only a short cruise but it was fabulous because the sun was shining and the water was a calm but vibrant cerulean blue and the boat took us close to the marbled rocky sides of the lake and into the narrow canyons beyond. I am not sure about the debate over whether creating this lake was the correct thing to do or not but today I simply enjoyed the experience of cruising over the water bathed in sunshine under a big blue peaceful sky.
After returning to dry land we boarded the coach for the journey to the city of Kanab back which was over the State border into Utah. Vance the driver gave us a very precise estimated time of arrival and there was no reason to doubt this because this was something that he was very good at and no matter how far he was driving he could very accurately predict journey times to within just a few minutes. This was because the roads are nothing like those in the UK where it is almost impossible to predict a journey time with any real degree of accuracy because of congestion and the ever present road works but here in the USA they were free flowing and a pleasure to be driving along. The scenery was as barren and empty as it had been all day and it was less dramatic than it had been earlier and we were looking forward to arriving at our destination and getting the beer out.
We arrived in Kanab in the late afternoon and the sun was still shining so after we had checked in and carried out the regular housekeeping duties we went out onto the terrace and enjoyed a cold beer in the motel’s outdoor hot tub joined by our two friends with the extensive travelling bar. This was very relaxing and after a good chill-out we enjoyed some more beers together and later went out for our evening meal. The only really interesting thing about Kanab is its association with the movies and specifically westerns and the town is known locally as ‘Little Hollywood’ because in the 1940s and 1950s a great number of ‘B’ movie cowboy films were made here and the bars and restaurants are extensively decorated with photographs of old film stars and stills from their films and every old hotel has a list of the stars who once stayed there.
Most of the films are long since forgotten but two that I remembered were El Dorado starring John Wayne and The Outlaw Josie Wales starring Clint Eastwood but best of all I was pleased to see that the TV series The Lone Ranger, one of my particular favourites, was filmed here. Dad was a keen fan of the western genre and he was happy to be surrounded by all of this film memorabilia and he especially enjoyed the sets and the photographs in all of the stores and bars in the town.
We still didn’t buy a Stetson though!