Lovely Lake Powell-August 2020

Monday, August 17, 2020

The ultimate socially isolated vacation: just Steve and me on a 46 foot houseboat at Lake Powell. Notice the white plastic chair at the back of the boat, a poor but necessary substitute for a ramp.

We were nervous about our maiden voyage on Lake Powell. Despite spending so much time diving from and living on boats, neither of us had ever commanded the helm. Kayaking experience wouldn’t do us much good here.

The friendly lady on the other end of the reservations line sounded a little alarmed:

“There’s just the two of you?”

Her comment would be foremost in my mind during our initial attempts to successfully beach our rented houseboat.  We had tried to persuade Greg to come along as our deck hand, but familial obligations and the need to quarantine for 2 weeks on his return were obstacles.

The pre-Covid plan for this week had been a cold water diving trip with Greg, a return to British Columbia, where nearly 20 years ago the three of us dove with our Pacific Northwest friend Dave.  The British Columbia trip wasn’t officially cancelled until very late, only one month before, when Canada again extended its ban on non-essential travel.

This came as no surprise. Covid-19 cases were spiking in the US in the summer months, while Canada had successfully kept their numbers down.  By this time, Steve and I were so sure our Canada trip would be cancelled, we didn’t even bother checking the status of our drysuit seals. I began looking for alternatives.

The seed for this trip was probably planted on an earlier pandemic escape trip. In late June, instead of shooting orange sand dunes and craggy trees in Namibia, we did a small group mountain biking and camping trip with Rimtours in Southern Utah. A couple on the trip had just returned from camping at Lake Powell.

I looked into kayaking and camping trips on Lake Powell, but because of Covid-19, they weren’t running. I thought it was unlikely we could find a houseboat to rent, it being so late in the season, but thought it couldn’t hurt to check for a cancellation.  We lucked out with a cancellation for a 5-day trip, for the 46 foot Expedition, the smallest and most basic of the rental offerings. It was close in time enough, we’d have to pay the full tariff, not just a deposit, if we wanted to secure it. We bet that our British Columbia trip would be cancelled and double booked.  Of course, our BC trip was ultimately cancelled, rescheduled (as was our Namibia trip) to 2022.

Our partner Ugne turned out to be a good source of information on house boating on Lake Powell. She and her family had done a trip the prior year, were heading to the lake the week prior to us this year and had already reserved a boat for next year.

One of the best pieces of advice she gave us was to bring binoculars. This proved invaluable! The lake is a labyrinth of fingers and coves and buttes. The main channel is marked with even-numbered red and odd-numbered green mile marker buoys, but trying to read the number from any distance away is near-impossible without binoculars. Inevitably, the number was turned away on the floating markers.

We were armed with maps and GPS (also good suggestions) because telling one’s location just based on landmarks is difficult. Even a cursory comparison of the maps, both physical and GPS, revealed the dynamism of the lake topography. Depending on the lake level, features appear and disappear and channels widen and narrow and even disappear.

We tried for early check-in, which lets you deal with paperwork and sleep on board the night before departure, but they were fully booked. When asked what time we’d like to do our on board training, I grabbed the earliest available time, 9 am.  That’s how we came to stay at the marina hotel the night before sailing. We were coming from Sedona and rather than rise at painfully early o’clock to make it in time, we decided to stay the night before.

Escaping Sedona’s gravitational pull wasn’t without a few hiccups or two. Almost as soon as we cleared our driveway, I realized I’d forgotten my phone, essential not for phone calls or texts, but for the PhotoPills app.

We ordered a reuben and a tuna sandwich and scones from Wildflower Bakery after retrieving my phone. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, only a few blocks from the house, Steve realized he forgot the Nespresso coffee maker, still sitting on the kitchen counter. The aeroccino, oat milk and capsules were with us, but wouldn’t do us much good without the machine. Surprisingly, the boat had a coffee grinder in addition to a coffee maker.

Our food was ready after zip-back-to-the-house trip number 2 and we were on our way to Page, gateway to Lake Powell, 3 hours north.  We had planned our afternoon departure with an eye toward possibly shooting the sunset at Horseshoe Bend, just south of Page, but as we neared it, the haze of wildfires discouraged us and we headed to the marina.

Horseshoe Bend, a jaw-dropping vista, in late afternoon, from a trip in 2015.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

My original concept of this trip was the houseboat as an aquatic recreation vehicle, which could be readily moved from beach to beach, allowing us to explore different limbs of the labyrinthine maze of arms and fingers and coves.

My first reservation iteration secured us 2 single kayaks in addition to the houseboat. We used to enjoy kayaking enough to have done multiple kayak camping trips, including in Alaska’s Glacier Bay, in northern British Columbia near Port Hardy and in Baja, from Loreto to La Paz. But that had been in the 1990s, before Steve’s worsening spinal stenosis made the twisting motion of kayaking increasingly painful, enough that we sold our kayaks.

But as the trip date approached and the more I learned from Ugne, the more it became necessary to refine this plan. Houseboats, while mobile, are not nimble and securing them, with 2-4 anchors, is difficult enough that it sounded like a better plan would be to park it as soon as we found a suitable beach and explore on a more nimble craft.

Back on the phone I went, cancelling the 2 single person kayaks in favor of a double and adding a jet ski, which holds 2 people.  But jet skis have no sun protection and the more we thought about it, the more it seemed necessary to have a speedboat. Many people use speedboats for waterskiing and other sports, but our primary interest was in reaching and exploring side canyons.

Which is how I came to be talking on the phone with friendly reservationist number 3, a veteran of 17 Lake Powell houseboat trips herself and another font of information.

It was she who raised my alarm level slightly, with the  “There’s only two of you?” query, after a discussion of how one of us would have to drive the houseboat and the other would have to drive the speedboat through “The Cut”, a narrow channel between Castle Rock and Antelope Island.

Gulp. We’d been picturing ourselves driving together, one remembering steps the other forgot, towing the speedboat behind. I learned from her that this plan was fine, once we were through the cut. Ugne mentioned using the speedboat to scout ahead of the lumbering houseboat to find a suitable beach.

From the Lake Powell Marina website, I learned from a series of YouTube videos what constituted an ideal beach (bordering deep water) and how to spot a too shallow beach (lighter color, protruding rocks, plants sticking out of the water).  Our houseboat orientation was conducted by Aidan, a young man with a nose ring, which seemed to interfere with his positioning his bandana mask over his nose.  Going through the checklist, an immediate problem became evident. This boat had no ramp, used to disembark from the boat to shore. A prior renter had damaged it and no, there were no other boats or temporary ramps available. We were offered $100/day discount off of our tariff.

To manage, we had to employ a white plastic chair on the beach to mitigate what would otherwise be a giant step, a 4 foot drop from the bow to shore.

Ugne had texted me that they had parked their boat in the last western offshoot of Last Chance Bay. Steve sent me ahead in the speedboat to scout for a landing spot. Of course, him coming on the walkie talkie to urge me to push the boat to greater speed actually impeded my progress, as to hear anything over the roar of the engine, I had to greatly slow the boat.

I loved the swollen and rounded pink and white speckled formation of an inlet on the east side, the next to last, so marked it on the GPS and radioed my find back to Steve. We met up in the channel and turned into the finger.  Steve immediately zipped passed my first and best candidate. Another great option was occupied by a family in a speedboat, probably out for an afternoon excursion. A huge houseboat occupied a prime spot already.

Several spots had sandy swaths just wide enough for a houseboat, but were flanked by rocky patches on either side. Our first attempt was on one of these and didn’t go well. I had to persuade Steve to turn around and try my intended candidate, similar in the rocks/sand/rocks configuration, but oriented better to the wind.

Our second effort didn’t go well initially either. While I hung back in the speedboat, Steve drove the front of the boat onto the shore. The idea is to drive the bow onto the sand enough to make contact, then nudge it a bit further. The first time, the boat wasn’t square enough on the sand and the wind was trying to turn the boat parallel to the shore. Steve didn’t make that mistake the second time. Even from the speedboat offshore, I heard the crash of dishes flying out of a cabinet onto the floor. The walkie talkie crackled to life:

Steve: “I broke some dishes.”
Me: “They’re cheap.”

Actually, a whole stack of white Corelle bowls flew out of a cabinet and went to ground, but only one broke. Steve’s computer fell too, but it survived. One way that houseboats differ from actual boats is that they don’t have cabinet and door latches to keep items from crashing.

I maneuvered the speedboat adjacent to the houseboat, enough to tie one rope to the big boat. When I boarded the houseboat, Steve was sweeping up the dish fragments, his hand was bleeding and he had a tiny white dish fragment in the sole of his foot. I managed to extricate it with my fingernails, thinking we didn’t have tweezers with us. Days later, hiking in Sedona, I realized I actually did have tweezers with me, buried in case of cactus emergencies in my hiking hydration pack.

Steve’s back was aching, so he stayed in the houseboat. His task was to keep the bow of the boat wedged on the sand. The back end of the boat needed to hang over reasonably deep water. Two anchors needed to be buried or otherwise secured on the beach and tied to the stern.

I dug and dug, hitting stones within the sand. The hole was supposed to be 2 feet deep. The anchor looked huge next to the hole, despite my exertions, and was so heavy I could hardly pick it up.

Steve came ashore to move the anchor into my not big enough hole and to dig the second hole. I changed into a bathing suit, planning to swim the anchor line to the back of the boat. But without him at the helm to keep the motors running and the boat pegged to the shore, it was precarious, to say the least.
Suddenly, two handsome good Samaritans from Laguna Niguel came by on a jet ski, armed with shovels. Evidently, they’d been witness to our first flailing attempt to tie up the houseboat. Our anchor holes were only 10 feet up the beach and not angled out wide enough to achieve the desired 45 degree angles.

These two knights in bathing suits were veterans and had been on the lake already 2 weeks this trip. They assessed the situation and decided moving the anchors up higher and wedging them behind small boulders on the beach was a better strategy. Then they helped subdue the spinning speedboat by bringing it alongside the houseboat and securing it with two ropes. Thanks to them, we were set for our stay (or so we thought). Now I understood what Ugne had meant about parking the houseboat and ditching it for the duration.

We gradually learned our boat’s quirks, such as the hand soap and lotion being swapped in their bathroom dispensers.  The refrigerator did not inspire confidence. It definitely wasn’t a food safe temperature with the generator off, leading us to use the freezer as a refrigerator. Fortunately, our recently acquired and enormous Yeti cooler kept our Blue Apron meats an appropriate temperature.

Steve cooked up a premium meal for dinner, chorizo meatballs with golden raisins, shrimp with arugula, and corn.

The evening was definitely the day’s crowning glory. The wildfire haze we’d seen the prior day made us concerned the night shooting would be affected, but it was a warm, still, balmy, windless night, perfect for shooting the night sky. The milky way, the stars and multiple meteors were on glorious display and the water was so calm we could see reflections of the stars in it.

Our houseboat perch in Twitchell Canyon, an offshoot of Last Chance Bay in Lake Powell, afforded us a wonderful photographic vantage. Made from 20 light frames by Starry Landscape Stacker 1.8.0. Algorithm: Min Horizon Noise

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

We relaxed in the morning, before setting out on an exploratory tour of our canyon and its neighbors in the speedboat.

A beauty of a butte, reflected in the early morning glassy waters of Lake Powell, in our Last Chance Bay neighborhood.

Steve produced a bagel, ricotta and smoked salmon breakfast, as well as a hummus, toasted naan, cherry tomato and cherry lunch.

We headed out at 2 pm in the speedboat, trying to find a niche to tie up the boat in an amazing side canyon opposite our site. The steep canyon walls were remarkably smooth and the few boulders were too enormous for the length of rope we had.

We spotted a loop of rope hanging overhead on one of the smooth canyon walls. Trying to maneuver the boat close enough to snag it with a length of rope was a flail, with one person at the helm, the other using an oar to keep from banging into the canyon wall, while also trying to move close enough to loop the rope through the tie overhead.

We gave up and ended up swimming at the end of the canyon holding the bowline.

We made it to Dangling Rope marina after 4 pm, just in time to top off the gas tank and procure 4 bags of ice for the now essential cooler.

A glimpse of movement on a canyon wall on the way to Rainbow Bridge National Monument cued me into a mule deer halfway up a steep slope, its coat blending with the muted buff tone of the stone.

It was late enough when we traversed the glowing canyon approach to Rainbow Bridge, that only 2 other boats were at the dock at the end. You can enjoy the traverse here and here.  Their passengers returned while we were setting out for the world’s largest natural bridge, a stone rainbow. The mile-long, mostly level, sandy hike was eased, thanks to the late afternoon hour, by being in shade the entire way.

The hike to Rainbow Bridge is pretty spectacular and in late afternoon, was completely shaded.

The arch is a site sacred to Native Americans and awe-inspiring. It wasn’t lit and we didn’t have any time to spare to make it back before dark, so the trail behind the formation to the plaque memorializing the Indian guide who led the first white men to see it will have to wait for another visit.

Rainbow Bridge, the world’s largest stone arch, is most easily accessed by boat and a short hike. The alternative is a two-day hike.

Steve sped back all the way at 28-30 mph. The Gaia GPS was very helpful in charting our progress, freeing us from having to slow down to try to read the mile marker buoys along the way. There was much less traffic and we had a technicolor sunset on way. We barely made it back to our berth before dark.

Our race against darkness back to our berth in Last Chance Bay after visiting Rainbow Bridge was graced by this sunset.

In the bathroom toweling off from a shower, I heard a yelp from Steve in the kitchen.

“What?!”

“I saw a shadow dart across at the foot of the stove-I think we have a mouse!”

Eeew. This was a Lake Powell problem we didn’t think we would have. Back at our check-in, Aidan had mentioned that we should bring in the ramp at night to avoid having scurrying visitors. That was before he realized a prior renter had damaged the ramp and we didn’t have one. Thus ensued the discussion of whether there was another boat available (no), if there was a portable ramp, not attached to the boat) (no) and how much of a discount we would receive for our inconvenience (at least $100/day, but we determined to negotiate for more).

Rodents are wily creatures and ramp or no, Steve’s well stocked kitchen and delicious smells emanating from that kitchen would be a draw. Our mooring lines from the beach to the stern of the boat would be no obstacle to a cunning mouse in search of food.

Aidan had pointed out the provided pair of mousetraps in a ziplock under the kitchen sink, with rubber gloves and plastic bags.  Steve loaded a mousetrap with a piece of aged cheddar and positioned it in the corner of the L-shaped kitchen.

While Steve prepared another delicious Blue Apron dinner of salmon with shallot and whole grain mustard vinaigrette, with sugar snap peas and roasted potatoes for dinner and I made a few notes on the day at the kitchen table, I suddenly saw a shadowy streak toward the helm.

After dinner, Steve headed out with his torch, intending to light paint the adjacent canyon. The night was even darker than the prior night, with a new moon.  I decompressed at the dining table, nursing a weak gin and tonic, when I heard a loud SNAP from the kitchen. A cute long tailed mouse was caught. I momentarily contemplated freeing it, but its convulsive movement ceased almost as soon as I thought of it.

Finished with my drink, I headed up the bluff behind the boat, steering clear of Steve’s glow in the dark, not wanting to light pollute his shot in progress.

I had learned the prior night that the longest exposure I could achieve without using the bulb function was 15 minutes. I thought I would attach my cable release and try a 20 minute exposure for longer star trails. I must have screwed it up, as I ended up with bupkis.

Turning back toward the boat, I framed another scene, including our minimally glowing boat with the milky way.

Our splendidly isolated houseboat emits a minimal glow in Twitchell Canyon, off Last Chance Bay at Lake Powell, with the lights of Page in the distance and the Milky Way and Jupiter overhead.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

We set the alarm for 6 am, to assess the sunrise shooting potential, but didn’t have the volume all the way up. By the time we heard it, becoming more insistent in the kitchen, it was 6:23 am. Lurching into where the phone was charging, the glow of the first rays on the bluff opposite us jolted me awake and out onto the stern deck with camera and tripod, still in pajamas (in my defense, they look like a shorts set) with my retainers in and teeth unbrushed. The beauty of a houseboat as a shooting platform is remarkable privacy. Our nearest neighbors were behind us in the next cove.

A serene Lake Powell morning view to propel me out of bed and onto the stern in my pajamas!

Steve peered out the window and grunted ascent at the beauty of the scene and went back to sleep. I disembarked and tramped around the sandstone behind our boat, ascertained that the family behind us had not vacated their primo site and continued shooting until the light harshened.

For breakfast, Steve coaxed Joule into sous vide scrambling eggs, served with ricotta atop a toasted everything bagel.

Towards noon, my early awakening and sleep deficit caught up with me and I took a midday nap, while he set out on the speedboat to explore, inadvertently grabbing my camera bag instead of his.

When he returned, he had a pained look on his face. Apparently his exit from our cove was not without difficulty and he thought the speedboat was riding rougher. Raising the propeller out of the water, his fears were confirmed: there were 2 adjacent cookie bites out of it. Ouch, that was going to cost us (or possibly our insurance company).

For our afternoon excursion, we decided to head across Padre Bay toward Alstrom Point, a famous overlook of Lake Powell, accessible by road. We thought maybe we could command a similar vantage point via drone.  Although the map and even the GPS suggested a watery passage beyond Gunsite Butte, it was silted in and impassable when we arrived.

We headed instead into adjacent Padre Canyon, which was rimmed with glowing buttes and was just beautiful. Part of this excursion was with an eye toward potentially moving camp for our final evening, to make the final day’s trek back to Wahweap to return the boat less of a haul. We found abundant sand beaches and suitable perches for us.

We hauled out at one such beach, a semi-lunar crescent. Steve assembled the drone to take some aerial shots and in the midst of exclaiming how great it looked, was brought up short by realizing he hadn’t formatted the card and it was out of space to take any more panoramas. Searches of his camera bag and the drone case didn’t turn up the spare. I imagined it at home, safely in a corner of a red plastic organizer box we use to house bits and pieces related to underwater photography.

We headed back up Last Chance Bay toward our boat. Reaching the turnoff, we stopped again to shoot the imposing bluff marking the entrance.

The sculptural “entry” to our home base in Twitchell Canyon, an offshoot of Last Chance Bay in Lake Powell, glows in the late afternoon.

We were in high spirits as we moved into sight of our mobile home. I saw it first, a lone white plastic chair on the beach, the one we left in place to step up onto the front of the boat, lacking a ramp. It was now nakedly revealed by our boat having blown off the sandy strip of beach.  It was now dangerously courting the adjacent rocky section.

My first thought was we had dragged anchor. But no, both anchors and lines were just where we left them. It was the boat which was now floating, the wind evidently having dislodged the purchase the front of the boat previously had on the sand. This was a potential disaster in the making. I think both of us could see another big propeller damage bill looming.

We were still in the speedboat, making these assessments. We tied up the speedboat to the bobbing houseboat and jumped onto it, trying to decide how to mitigate this situation. One problem was the boat was no longer perpendicular to the shore, but oblique. The left propeller was digging into submerged rocks, while the right front was no longer on sand, but bumping up against the smooth sandstone shore.

We tried pulling on the anchor lines to straighten the boat out, but first the left propeller had to be freed. I managed to dislodge a melon size rock on which the propeller was teetering. Then a combination of pushing the boat and pulling on the lines put the boat into a better position. We needed to fire up the right engine to lodge the boat into a firmer purchase on the sand. But the boat was still close enough to the rocks that Steve wanted to raise the left propeller out of harm’s way first. We racked our brains, trying to remember what we’d been told about how to raise the propellers out of the water. What we remembered was Aidan saying:

“You probably won’t need to do this, but just in case….”

With the covers off, we frantically scanned the apparatus looking for the little button to hoist the metal monsters out of harm’s way. Finally, Steve spotted it on the opposite side and then located its counterpart.

The left propeller tucked away, Steve fired up the right motor, drove the boat more squarely up on the sand, enabling us to tighten the ropes and breath sighs of relief.

Our Blue Apron dinner was a Korean steak bowl, with sushi rice and sautéed bok choy.

This night was even darker than the 2 preceding nights, with clouds moving in. Even Jupiter, which had glowed so vibrantly the prior nights, was subdued. The Milky Way was visible, but faintly. We decided it didn’t warrant shooting and just enjoyed the delicious night air up on the roof deck.

Friday, August 21, 2020

The still of the water and the glowing reflection of Twitchell Canyon’s walls was enough of a draw at 6 am to lure Steve out of bed for a few minutes before he donned an eye mask and went back to sleep.

Morning calm in our anchorage in Twitchell Canyon, Last Chance Bay, Lake Powell.

I had only learned our temporary home’s name the day before, finding it labelled on one of our two physical maps. I had another surprise yesterday. Weeks before, after I discovered Ugne and family had Lake Powell experience to draw on, she had texted me a screen capture of a map fragment, with a pen pointing to “the cove we loved” the year before. I had barely glanced at it at the time, meaning to review it more closely when I had a larger map in front of me.

I ordered maps from Amazon and forgot about it. After this year’s trip, the week before ours, Ugne had texted me with a description of where they landed this year, “the most distal finger to the west (left) of Last Chance Bay”. That was what led us up this arm, but when I had scouted out the far reaches, I had been drawn by the sculptural forms of this calm and beautiful cove, which now that I scrutinized Ugne’s original text, was the exact location of her first suggestion!

The calm of the morning was suddenly pierced by a Jet ski coming alongside the boat, with a beautiful blond young woman and a handsome teenage boy, who called out:

“Excuse me?!”

I was writing at the kitchen table while Steve was still slumbering like an eye-masked bear.  I leapt up and sprinted to the back of the boat where the jet ski hovered.

“We’re the family that helped you the other day. One of our group has stomach pains and we were wondering if you have any Pepto-Bismol?”

Did we have Pepto-Bismol?!

Pepto-Bismol is literally the one medication I am almost never without, even carrying a small vial in my purse at all times. Although I don’t generally have GI issues, having had bouts of violent diarrhea in locales as diverse as Fiji, Japan and Paris, I have an almost superstitious fear of being without Pepto-Bismol, JUST IN CASE. After an ambitious cheese tasting in Paris and an all-day search of pharmacies in Paris, only to discover that it doesn’t seem to exist in France (quelle surprise!), I now carry it everywhere.

After confirming they were the group in the primo cove behind us, I gave them an Aperture Photo Arts card and a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. The prior afternoon on our return, we had dug out a card, intending to take the speedboat over to their cove to thank them for their aid in securing the boat and to offer to send a milky way print. Finding our chairs on the sandstone hill blown over and the houseboat bobbing on its tethers had left us drained and exhausted and scuttled that plan, so I was glad we had a chance to repay their hospitality.

Steve whipped up a brunch of scrambled eggs with ricotta on toasted bagels. I had a mid-day siesta in the heat of the day.

We mobilized for a 3 pm departure, covered from head to toe in our sun avoidance outfits. Our first stop was our neighborhood canyon, which is a delightful dead end. Today we had it to ourselves; the most people we ever saw here were two kayakers on our prior visit.

We headed up lake to investigate Rock Creek Bay, which from the map had many points of interest, namely arches and caves and balanced rocks. We weren’t entirely sure we found any of these notables but the canyon formations were stunning. We found a vacant sand beach at the end of Middle Rock Creek and flew the drone in gorgeous glowing late afternoon light.

Middle Rock Creek glows in the late afternoon, Lake Powell.

Back in the boat, we found a private canyon swimming inlet which was so stunning and beckoning, we had to take another swim. By this time, I had perfected my bowline knot, enough to secure the boat around a boulder or conveniently placed rock.

Our return was enhanced by clouds with god rays, enough to make Steve stop the boat to photograph them for his “cloud library”.

Approaching the houseboat, I tempted fate by remarking that this was the first end of day approach that hadn’t been traumatic (Day 1: beaching the boat; Day 2: racing darkness falling coming back from Rainbow Bridge and Day 3: the houseboat trying to break free of its mortal tethers).

Chef Steve produced a scrumptious send-off dinner, juicy hamburgers on potato buns, with sautéed shiitake mushrooms and a mild green chile pepper, with mustard and paté. Cherry tomatoes were served on the side and I orchestrated the buttered corn on the cob and did the clean-up.

It was cloudy again, as judged from the roof deck. I noticed the surrounding canyon walls were slightly illuminated by our neighbor’s boat in the cove behind us and decided to see if I could make this form of light painting work for me. Based on Steve’s experiments with light painting the other night, we had decided our flashlights were not strong enough and needed a warmer tone.

Borrowed light painting: I noticed these canyon walls were lit up by the lights from the Beautiful Family’s houseboat in the cove behind us, so decided to take advantage of the opportunity. 15 minute exposure. (Twitchell Canyon, Last Chance Bay, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon)

Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Beautiful Family sailed past us serenely before 7 am, making us wonder: “What do they know that we don’t know?”

We had targeted a 9 am departure time to make our return deadlines of 3 pm for the house boat and 4:30 pm for the speedboat back in Wahweap, including stops at the fuel dock to gas them up.

Since Steve wanted to sleep more to be rested for the 4 hour houseboat trip back to the dock and the 3 hour drive back to Sedona, I took advantage of the Beautiful Family’s departure to hike up the sandstone slope separating us to better survey the cove they loved enough to occupy for 2 weeks.

Twitchell Canyon, offshoot of Last Chance Bay in Lake Powell, a serene and beautiful setting.

It was a beauty, in terms of intimacy and enclosure, although not necessarily a better photography platform.

Our departure definitely benefitted from everything we had learned during the week and went very smoothly, without a hitch.

Steve brought the anchors to the bow, while I loosened the ropes and then recoiled them in the front after he stowed the anchors. We left the speedboat tethered alongside the houseboat until Steve had backed up into deeper water, then I undid the stern line, let the speedboat rotate away from the big boat, then used my newly acquired knot skills (mastering the bowline) to tie it off securely to the stern for the tow back to Wahweap Marina.

Soon we were underway at the behemoth’s maximal speed of 7.2 miles per hour, heading south toward Gregory Butte at the mouth of Last Chance Bay, before turning west toward the channel and the end of our trip.

It had been simultaneously one of our best and occasionally, one of our most stressful, trips ever. At least 3 separate times during our stay, I thought “This is the most beautiful scene I have ever seen”.

Certainly, it was our most isolated trip, a splendid Covid-19 choice and a formidable photography platform. After departing the dock with Aidan’s instructions ping ponging around in our heads, the only words we had exchanged with other people for the past 4 days were 2 short exchanges with the Beautiful Family.

We were already thinking about a return next year, even possibly yearly, we were that taken with flooded Glen Canyon, an aquatic rival to the Grand Canyon. The extraordinary sculptural and carved and eroded landscape, coupled with the inky darkness of the skies and unparalleled brilliance of the stars and the milky way, made it an exceptional launching pad for photography.

In Wahweap Marina, we untied the speedboat, which I piloted over to the fuel dock, while Steve steamed on alone, bringing it in for fueling uneventfully, and then not to press his luck, turning it over for repositioning at the rental dock.

I brought my boat in for fueling perfectly, at least initially, but no one sprang up to grab my lines, leaving me bumping in the slip. My entrance into the rental dock was more graceful.

The same friendly agent who had briefed us on the speedboat was there on my return. I held my breath and continued chatting as he elevated the propeller but maybe because of the angle, he didn’t seem to see the damage. Maybe it had been like that?-our initial inspection was rather cursory and one-sided.

Meanwhile, Steve had orchestrated the unloading of our coolers and gear from the houseboat, which filled only one of three of the train of wheeled containers ferried to and from the parking lot via an ATV. Aidan had remarked on our arrival that we travelled light. I initially thought he must be being sarcastic, but he was serious.

While we were waiting for a staff person to drive the train with our gear, another couple came by. Seeing the two of us and our sole container of belongings, she exclaimed:

“Just the two of you?!”
“Yes.”
“A romantic escape! Why you could f@#k in every chair on that houseboat if you wanted!”
Her companion chimed in: “We had 10 of us. I don’t recommend it.”

Our final task was to negotiate how much of a discount we would receive for not having a ramp. We had managed with one of the white plastic chairs to divide the 4 foot drop from the front of the boat to the beach, but I seriously doubt someone with a replaced knee or hip would have been able to manage it. Fortunately, the weekend manager was very reasonable and in addition to knocking off $100/day, picked up our $300 final fuel tab.

Closing out a great pandemic escape, we walked to dinner back in Sedona, to the patio of the Saltrock Southwest Kitchen at Amara, where we enjoyed chicken tinga tacos, elote, grilled peach and burrata salad, scallops and gazpacho with jalapeño smoky West Fork margaritas. Ugne and family had given us a gift certificate as thanks for staying in our house in Sedona prior to their houseboat trip.

Many trips coin a new catch phrase for us. Given our novice status as boat operators, references to Gilligan’s Island abounded during our trip, with Steve and I arguing which of us was the other’s “Little Buddy”, as the Captain was wont to call Gilligan on the show. At first, him calling me Little Buddy was annoying, but by the end of the first day, either one of us calling the other Little Buddy was enough to elicit giggles.

“Now listen, Little Buddy, here’s how you (fill in the blank).”

My Little Buddy at the helm of our houseboat preferred a white plastic deck chair (also useful as an emergency ramp) to the Captain’s padded bench.

-Marie

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