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A Southwestern USA Expedition: Lake Powell and Kanab


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We had dealt with plenty of hot weather thus far on the trip but the town of Page was a dry furnace. We drove straight towards the restaurant we'd chosen for dinner and parked as close as we could to the entrance. Even the short walk to the front door felt suffocating in 106° heat. The Japanese restaurant had a promisingly cool vibe but we found the food to be pretty grim.
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Once we got to the Airbnb, a featureless cube of apartments in the center of town, our mission was to get to sleep as early as possible to minimize the pain of waking up before four for our Lake Powell fishing trip. The older kids really enjoy fishing and I've never been able to take Spenser because it's too much to manage three inexperienced kids on a charter trip. Spenser is also a handful. One of my priorities for the itinerary was finding a nice fresh water fishing trip where we wouldn't need to worry about Mei Ling getting seasick, and Lake Powell turned out to be the perfect spot. I'd arranged a charter trip before we left and now we'd finally arrived at one of our most anticipated adventures. Our captain had wisely insisted we get going by five in order to be safely back at the dock before the real heat of the day began rolling in. After experiencing the atmosphere in the late afternoon the previous day I was grateful for the timing, although I wasn't looking forward to prying the kids out of bed well before dawn.

I fortuitously awoke on my own around three thirty, which was much more pleasant than being torn from deep sleep by the alarm. I had plenty of time to clean myself up and get ready for the boat before we had to wake up the kids, which proved somewhat easier than I anticipated. We drove the fifteen minutes to Wahweap marina in near darkness and took the long walk down to the bottom of the boat ramp just as the first rays of light began to illuminate the sky. As dawn broke we began to see the brownish cliffs that lined the marina and the multitude of houseboats anchored close to shore.
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Our captain wasn't at the bottom of the ramp where we were supposed to meet and we had an anxious fifteen minutes or so when he didn't respond to calls or texts. He did show up eventually and we clambered into the boat and quickly took off. Lake Powell is an enormous dendrite-shaped reservoir created by the flooding of Glen Canyon by the construction of a dam in the 1960's. We had to ride for an hour through the channel between Antelope Island and the mainland to reach the first fishing spot. We passed countless large yachts of a similar design, many of which were rented out as summer homes for family groups. We could see the high water line on the cliffs far above the current level. Lake Powell water levels have been in a choppy decline since the beginning of the new millennium and are currently at their lowest level ever, just 30% of full capacity.
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I had reminded the kids several times that catching fish was no guarantee, but coming home empty-handed would have been a serious downer. Fortunately the striped bass, commonly known as striper, started biting fairly quickly after the captain anchored up at his chosen spot. They aren't enormous fish but they fought reasonably hard and a few of them were big enough to eat. Everyone got some chances to feel their rods suddenly dip as the fish took the bait and then hoist the beautiful fish into the boat. I think we caught more than twenty and kept the two largest for dinner. I would have been happy to try for another species in a different spot but I knew it wouldn't make much difference to the kids so we stayed there until they had caught so many they were actually getting bored of it.
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Even though we hadn't used our full allotment of time we decided to return to the marina to be sure we didn't get too much exposure to sun and heat on the return trip. We got back on land before ten in the morning and the marina was a hive of activity. Anyone going out on the lake at that time was a hardier soul than us, as a heavy blanket of heat had already descended upon us. We only stopped at an overlook on the road back to Page for some pictures of the beautiful lake with its chalky walls before returning to the apartment for a well-deserved nap.
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Having decided to save our fish for dinner, we ventured out in the afternoon for lunch and a quick exploration of Page. Big John's Texas Barbecue was a much bigger success than the restaurant we'd had dinner at the previous evening. We withstood the furnace that Page had become just long enough to pose with the giant smokers and bits of Americana outside the restaurant before racing inside for cooler air. I'm not the biggest barbecue fan but there was no arguing with the tenderness and flavoring of the meat at Big John's, nor with the cold beer that I washed it down with. I bought a shirt that said "I Like Pig Butts" and we were on our way quite pleased with our choice.
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There was nothing to see in Page and entertainment choices were quite limited. The only game in town was a dive bar with a bowling alley that looked like a leftover set from a Coen Brothers movie. It was the kids second time bowling and I probably should have requested the lane with the blocked gutters, but I figured they should learn to bowl the hard way. About thirty gutter balls later we'd given up on bowling and we were at a ping pong table with a saggy net that could barely withstand the ball's impact. Afterwards we made a quick stop at the supermarket for dinner supplies.
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Back at the apartment Mei Ling got to work on the striper filets while I worked on setting up a slot canyon tour in Kanab for the next day. A slow afternoon had helped me realize that there was nothing at all left for us around Lake Powell, and I hadn't set anything else up. I wasn't optimistic that I would find anything on such short notice, but I did get through to someone who offered us a tour the next morning. The only catch was that we would have another super early wake-up call, although not quite as brutal as the one for the fishing trip. The fish was quite flavorful and tender although the kids mostly focused on the pasta we had bought at the supermarket.
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We finished up dinner early enough to head back to Lake Powell for sunset. There was a large resort with a patio overlooking the lake at Wahweap Marina where we had met our guide. The rock formations around the lake looked even more alien and formidable at dusk than they had at dawn. We had a very successful visit to Lake Powell but I don't see a houseboat rental in our future. It's hard to imagine how we would have occupied ourselves if we'd spent more than a couple of days there.
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In the morning we had another stroke of good luck when I woke up ahead of my alarm again and realized I had forgotten to account for the one hour time change between Arizona and Utah. We actually had to leave an hour earlier than I had planned in order to make our slot canyon tour. I woke up Mei Ling and we rushed around madly getting ourselves cleaned up and the bags fully packed. Finally we hoisted the groggy kids out of bed and poured some cereal down their throats before tossing them into the car and tearing back out onto the highway. We made good time and arrived at the departure point a few miles north of Kanab right about the scheduled time. Our guide, a friendly fellow with a ZZ Top beard, helped us get kitted out and then showed us to our UTV. These vehicles are operated like cars with steering wheels and foot pedals and also have a reinforced cab to protect passengers in case of rollovers. We told the guide we were up for an exciting ride but probably not the most hair-raising that he was capable of, and shortly afterwards we were off. The UTV bounced and careened madly through the undulating hills of sand but I could see that he was avoiding some of the rougher terrain.
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Our tour included a stop on the dunes for sandboarding. It's a pretty simple concept: get on a skateboard deck at the top of a dune and slide down without falling off. We all attempted it with varying degrees of success, after which we had to trudge back up the hill through the sand if we wanted to try it again. It was all good fun until Cleo suddenly asked me if I had any nausea medicine. Before I had a chance to respond she threw up into the sand. It was kind of a shock since she'd seemed perfectly fine up until that point. I had a Zofran tablet in my wallet and I put it under Cleo's tongue. Meanwhile the boys at the top of the hill were reacting as expected, screaming and laughing about Cleo's gastrointestinal distress. I figured she had probably overexerted herself in the sun and I let her sip Gatorade until she was feeling better. When we began to make our way slowly back up the hill I saw that Ian was on his hands and knees in the sand throwing as well. Mei Ling yelled down that Spenser had also tossed up his breakfast. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Our kids get sick once in a while, but probably less than other kids and certainly never all at once like this. I was racking my brain to try and figure out what was going on. The ride to the dunes had been plenty rough, but that was already half an hour back and none of the kids had gotten motion sickness for years. Was it the fish we 'd caught and eaten the previous night? Mei Ling and I had eaten much more than any of the kids and we felt fine. A stomach virus? Hitting all three of them within a couple of minutes? The good thing was that Cleo and Spenser now seemed to be fine, but Ian was clearly still miserable even after he'd finished with his bout. I only carried one Zofran in my wallet, although I had more back at the car. We decided to press onward to the canyon but soon after we got inside the UTV Ian started vomiting again in the back seat. That was just too much and I decided it was time to pull the plug on the tour. We still had to endure the rough ride back to the departure point and then Mei Ling changed Ian out of his dirty clothes while I slipped a tablet under his tongue. We called the hotel to see if we could check in early but they couldn't accommodate us until noon, so we still had to kill a couple of hours in Kanab. Fortunately the town had a public library so I took Cleo and Spenser in there while Mei Ling waited in the car with Ian, who had fallen asleep.
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The library was a pleasant, air-conditioned place to hang out with a small section of books for sale, allowing us to make one final restock of our depleted supply of unread books. It was an enormous relief when Mei Ling and Ian joined us browsing, with Ian a little subdued but otherwise apparently recovered. That marked the end of the anomalous vomiting episode, which I have resigned myself to never understanding. Fortunately nothing like that ever happened before and thus far it hasn't repeated itself. After the library we visited an art gallery with some beautiful polished wood and rocks and then had lunch, where I had to hold Ian back from devouring half the restaurant. The motel on the edge of town had pleasing rows of wooden cabins with a backdrop of striated brown cliffs.
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I would have probably written off the slot canyon as a loss and never thought about it again, but Mei Ling is built a little different than I am which is one of the reasons we do so well together. Before we lay down for a nap she called the tour outfit and they agreed to let us give it another shot at the slot canyon that afternoon. I was rather apprehensive about this but Mei Ling doesn't like to get defeated by circumstances. When we arrived back at the departure point, we found we had the same guide who didn't seem at all troubled to be once again taking on the family whose last attempt had ended so ignominiously. He even offered to take us sandboarding again, an invitation that we unanimously declined. I watched Ian anxiously as the UTV tore once again through the hills and dunes but as far as I could determine behind the helmet and goggles he seemed to be doing fine. I was quite relieved once the ride was over and all the kids still had smiles on their faces.
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Slot canyons are another iconic feature of the southwestern USA landscape, especially in southern Utah. We had been close to Antelope Canyon, the most famous of them all, the previous day in Page but the tours had been closed due to COVID. These narrow chasms are formed over millions of years by the passage of water through cracks in solid rock, resulting in gradual expansion and polishing of the passage. Magnesium and iron deposits in the stone account for the swirling colors that make the canyons so memorably photogenic. Despite the high temperatures it was shady and fairly cool between the stone walls. It was an easy and short walk through the canyon and yet another remarkable interaction with geology on this incredible journey. We returned to Kanab with a sense of satisfaction, having overcome another unforeseen obstacle to complete our mission.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 14:28 Archived in USA Tagged fishing road_trip arizona family_travel travel_blog tony_friedman family_travel_blog Comments (0)

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