Expedition to a Haunted Landscape

The 50-foot tall “bathtub rings” near Antelope Point, Lake Powell demonstrate declining lake levels from prolonged drought

I have been lucky to visit so many natural treasures across this country, which, when their given names are spoken, conjure up singular images about the place. Grand Canyon, Washington Monument, the Everglades, Zion, Nebraska — when you hear those words spoken, an image flashes across your mind that tells the story of that place in a second. But in the minds of many, the hearing the words “Lake Powell” can spark a diverse collection of thoughts, emotions, and reactions.

Contrasts explode through the mind like a 4-year old in a bouncy castle.

To some, Lake Powell is deemed Lake Foul, and a kinder term for the place does not exist, especially among those who experienced the grandeur and sublimity of Glen Canyon before it was flooded in the 1960’s to supply cheap air conditioning to Phoenix. With others, the name draws images of sun and splashing, of bikini’s and jet-skis and three-season motorized fun. To a few, Lake Powell is a symbol of what is wrong with humanity, and our need to control and confine nature.

Bobbing along the western edge of Lake Powell, July 2015

Amid those contrasting opinions of the second largest reservoir in the country, Lake Powell has a purpose that touches nearly all of the 36 million people who depend on the Colorado River. Like it or not, as we have become more dependent on water storage in the West, Lake Powell is the one place that helps out states like Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico like no other. Without the existence of Powell, a number of other rivers in those states would be more heavily dammed and diverted — sacrificed for storage and certainty, rather than flowing and in most cases, naturally wild.

It is in this cloud of emotions, and declining lake levels due to lingering drought and overuse of the Colorado River, that a team of five adventurers is setting out this week to experience, contemplate, and capture on film some of the broad horizons and hidden wonders being revealed as water levels drop. In July, I visited the area around Antelope Point at Page, Arizona with a film crew from the Tzu Chi foundation, and we made a short film about water supply and the native people who depend on the Colorado River in Arizona. Again in September, I visited Wahweep Marina and the Glen Canyon Dam in Page with the crew from CNN’s The Wonder List, shooting an hour-long show about the Colorado Basin that will air in February, 2016.

Cassius and Julian from CNN’s The Wonder List filming Glen Canyon Dam

This time, our team will be traversing the lake from north to south, 83 miles by sea kayak; paddling from Hall’s crossing in Utah to Antelope Point over 10 brisk December days. Kayak Lake Powell is setting us up with boats, gear, and logistical support, although they are likely scratching their heads about why we would choose the dead of winter to launch this trip.

Sea kayaking one of a billion side canyons on Lake Powell, July 2015

Writers Brendan Leonard and Hilary Oliver, photographer and film maker Forest Woodward, adventurer and pro skier Kalen Thorien, and I will launch our 17-foot crafts and begin the journey south, exploring features like Iceberg Canyon, Cathedral in the Desert, Music Temple, and Dungeon Canyon over 9 days. Many features won’t be immediately obvious, and others we may only see their tops — like headstones dotting a 50 year old graveyard — but even knowing that we are bobbing along above some of these lost treasures will invoke the imagination of what is below and was submerged as the waters ascended the canyon walls a half century ago.

Stories and photographs from this trip will grace the pages of Canoe & Kayak magazine in the spring, which is super exciting. We would also like to thank NRS, Smartwool, and Revo Sunglasses for their support of this adventure.

Here’s to warm days and crisp nights!


Originally published at medium.com on November 29, 2015.