It was the summer of 1966 at Henry's Lake in Idaho. I, who had been a 50-yard-dash and high jump contender on high school track teams, found myself water-skiing from one end of the lake to the other - underwater. Usually a tenacious competitor, I glumly admitted that this was one sport I was not going to conquer. Instead, I spent the rest of the day cheering my friends and wishing I had brought a book.Twenty-two some years later, I was faced with a family trip to Lake Powell that focused on the water-skiing capabilities of the two family speed boats. I was packed for reading when we rented a houseboat at Hite but somehow never finished a single book. I became intrigued with the red-rock cliffs and the B silent stories that were waiting to be discovered.
We anchored our houseboat at the end of a canyon where it served as base for the water skiers who journeyed out each day for hours of skiing and boogie-boarding. I was not alone in my fascination with the chiseled canyon walls. Exploring our quiet little cove in a raft, my husband and I discovered a path that led to the top of the cliff overlooking the houseboat.
We set out early the next morning to hike and explore. As we walked, I was continually reminded of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. The searing August heat and soaring cliff walls gave an aura of timelessness and reverence. One cliff was broken off leaving the likeness of a sharp-beaked falcon, a red-rock god Horus watching over temples carved by wind and water.
We had not brought canteens so we were limited in how long we could hike. There were times when we didn't want to quit and walk back to the houseboat for water, so we found a huge rock to sit under to escape the sun. It was not difficult to feel like we were in subjugation to the elements.
The landscape told many stories. We walked up a wadi that in the spring must be a rushing torrent of water. A solid rock formation that had been smoothed by a millennia of spring run-offs held pockets of glassy rocks temporarily trapped in depressions in the rock.
Further up the wadi, two cottonwood trees struggled to survive the heat. Growing out of rock and sandy soil, their presence proclaimed a deeply hidden water source. We dug for a moment at their roots and the sandy loam quickly became damp. This was an oasis if one was willing to dig for the precious water.
Other survival tales were uncovered by the continuing process of erosion. A determined sagebrush clung to the edge of a bank even though its long tap rootwas sure and strong and delved down almost three times the height the sagebrush had attained.
In some places the banks we wanted to climb were not safe to step on as they were too far along in the erosion process to hold our weight and the whole hillsidethreatened to slide off.
A small lizard skittered through the rocks, alarmed at our unexpected movements. We would see no more creatures until dusk when Powell's bats came fluttering out of the shadows to decimate insects. I found I held no fear of the bats that behaved just like curious children. As we climbed into our beds that night, the bats cautiously swooped through open doorways and flew just over our heads as they took their turn at exploring.
The next day, several water-skiers joined our expedition and we found new wonders to enjoy. A sharp-eyed brother-in-law spotted a rock that had a strange texture and as he brushed back the dirt from around it, he uncovered a magnificent petrified log. How many centuries had passed since this excarpment was covered by a forest?
The red-rock cliffs left huge boulders that had crashed to the earth below when freezing water cracked open and split the monoliths. Like Abu Simbel's Ramses that sheared off during some cataclysmic earthquake, these massive walls will slowly and solemnly bow to the quite power of wind and freezing rain.
I never did water ski during that family vacation, but I'm going back next summer. Back to listen to the wind slide over the silent canyon walls and to hear thunder echo down ravines. Back to the clear green water and wide skies above. Back to hear the rest of the stories Lake Powell is waiting to tell.