Yes, there is life after summer. A good life, too. And it's not hard to find. Same places people stopped in the summer when blue waters, still breezes, red and brown cliff walls, narrow canyons and open bays proved conclusively that nowhere is there anything quite like it.
Most all the people have gone now and boats are trailered and parked. And, too, the sands aren't so blistering, nor the rocks so sweltering, nor is the sun quite so baking. But it's the same water, cliffs, canyons and bays. The same breezes and rocky shores and reaching buttes.The days are cooler, so are the nights and the water. But the crowds have gone and it's quieter. Most striking, however, are the colors. They're different. Just like leaves, rocks here change with the seasons. Photographers say the sun's light is not as harsh, that the less-direct angle draws out the hue in the landscape. To the less-trained eye it's simply prettier.
Not many get to see it, however. When the sun sets on summer at Lake Powell, many believe life stops. Lake Powell has become synonymous with hot. People believe it needs heat to work, which is why the bigger part of the 3.5 million visitors expected at the Glenn Canyon Recreation Area will have checked in after June and out before November. And why some locals give a mischievous grin when asked about the "off season" . . . They know there isn't one.
*** Lake Powell was changed from a silt-filled river into a lake in March of 1963. Workers ceremoniously blocked the muddy Colorado River from using the by-pass and the Glen Canyon Dam - five million cubic yards of concrete poured 710 feet high and 1,500 feet wide at the top - began its work, holding back water, over 27 million acre feet, and making power, enough for a city of 1.5 million. Twenty years later it was brimming over.
Realizing the remoteness of the lake in the beginning, what limited appeal the lake seemed to offer at the time, and better places to go like Grand Canyon, a few hours southwest, and Yellowstone in Wyoming, Lake Powell wasn't give much hope of attracting much attention.
One projection was that the southern Utah lake would hit a traffic peak around the year 2000, and that maybe, just maybe, 5000,000 visitors would stop that year -- if the fishing were good.
But it did attract people. Mostly from Utah and Colorado uplake, at Hite, Bullfrog, and from Arizona and California at the base, Wahweap. Foreign visitors, mostly from France, Germany and Japan, have also discovered the lure of the lake.
National Park figures show that over 3.5 million people will have visited Lake Powell this year, more than stopped at yellowstone, or the Rocky Mountains or the Grand Tetons, and about the same number to visit Grand Canyon.
*** One of the main advantages of off-season--fall, winter and spring--visits to lake Powell is the escape from crowds, especially at Wahweap, which receives over two-thirds of the total visitors. Problems people have in the summer, such as waiting lines to launch, no vacancy signs, crowded restaurants and long waits at the fuel dock, are gone.
So, too, are the problems of neighbors in the same canyon, boats using the same bay, fishermen around the same point, tents on the same beach.
It's also a time when boats and rooms are available, and at substantial savings. Houseboats and rooms can be difficult to rent in the summer when demand is high. During the fall, winter and spring both are readily available. And, as Harold Johnson, public relations director at Wahweap, points out, "at off- season prices . . . around 40 percent off on a houseboats and rooms."
Dave Nommensen, president of Aspen Wind in Denver, Colo., a company offering joint ownership in luxury houseboats on Lake Powell, points out that some of the best buys are in the fall and spring, "and some of the best experiences."
It is, too, the choice months for fishermen.
Two of the lake records for striped bass were broken on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. The last, caught on New Year's Day near Hall's Crossing, weighed 39 pounds, 12 ounces.
It is, Johnson points out, a time when the bigger fish come in closer to the surface. In the summertime the surface water is too warm and the larger fish can't survive it. According to reports this month, several fish between 29 and 33 pounds have been landed in bays in the northern reaches of the lake near Hite.
Largemouth, smallmouth, crappie and walleye will stay in shallower water, less than 20 feet, until early December and then begin moving deeper. They'll start moving back up in early March to mid-April.
*** The drawing power of Lake Powell isn't what early planners thought it would be. Fishing, they figured, was all there was. Who would travel hundreds of miles simply to see rocks and water? But planners were wrong. People do.
The actual lake is 185 miles long, from where the Colorado and Dirty Devil rivers enter, near Hite, to where it ends, at the dam. Because of the eroded sandstone and desert landscape, however, water has backed up into 96 major canyons and a thousand smaller side canyons. There are over 1,900 miles of shoreline, more than along the west coast of North America.
To explore it all would take years, but to spend days winding in and out of rock canyons like Secret, Mokai and West, with their sheer rock walls and natural designs, or skimming across large bays like Good Hope and Padre, charting rivers like the Colorado, San Juan and Escalante, walking up to Rainbow Bridge National Monument, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, visiting one of the still-standing ruins of the Anasazi Indians, or hiking over one of the sand and slick rock points, gives you a sense of exploration that is exciting and addicting.
Here, too, off-season offers benefits to the lake explorer. No crowds, for one. A greater stillness for another. And, like so many say, more brilliant and softer colors.
Ann Excell, with the National Park Service in Page, Ariz., points out that the oddity of it all is that canyons and formations she sees frequently in the summer, "look totally different in the winter. I know the rocks don't change color, but in the winter they do look entirely different."
The one reservation people harbor is the weather.
According to weather records, highs in November are 59, 45 in December and January, and back up to 53 and 61 in February and March, respectively. Lows are 36 in November, 25 in December and January, amd 31 and 36 in February and March, respectively.
Weather isn't the problem everyone thinks, says Johnson. Excell concurs.
"You dress for it and it's comfortable. It seldom gets that cold to be uncomfortable, though. We may get snow, but the minute the sun comes out it's gone. People up north, in fact, tell me they find it a nice getaway snow down here."
Actually, says Nommensen, temperatures are more ideal for many activities such as hiking and exploring. Many days it's not cool enough for coats, nor is it so hot that it's uncomfortable. "It is," he adds, "the best time of the year."
Rental boats are partially enclosed and protect passengers from the wind, and all houseboats--rentals or joint ownership through Aspen Wind, have propane heaters. Rooms or trailers at the four lakeside marinas are comfortable and cozy, with restaurants at Bullfrog and Wahweap, and convenience stores and gas at all marinas.
When the heat shut offs, Lake Powell doesn't dry up and shut down. In some ways, it just gets better.