As our family was sitting around the game table late one weekend night the question of “what are we going to do for a summer vacation” came up and within five minutes a unanimous decision was made to take a 6 night houseboat vacation on Lake Powell! First thing the next morning I called Houseboating.org and booked a 59′ Discovery XL Houseboat at Bull Frog Marina on Lake Powell. Houseboating.org is your single source for houseboating on any of 34 lakes throughout the US and Canada and we found them to be very professional, thorough, and a pleasure to deal with.
Lake Powell straddles the border of Utah and Arizona and it is the second largest man made reservoir storing over 24,322,000 acres of water at capacity. It’s 186 miles long (with 1960 miles of shoreline!) with a maximum depth of 583 feet (average 131 feet) and a maximum width of 25 miles near the south end of the lake – most of the lake is less than 1000 yards wide with sheer cliffs lining both sides as the Colorado River twists and turns downstream through some of the most unique and awe inspiring scenery I’ve ever seen.
The Colorado River and several tributaries coupled with wind, erosion, volcanic activity and more carved the Glen Canyon over the last 5 million years. The Glen Canyon Dam was constructed in 1960 which created Lake Powell. The Colorado River twists and turns though towering cliffs and on it’s way to the dam there are over 90 different side canyons plus the beautiful San Juan and Escalante River arms with deeply entrenched tributaries, arches, natural bridges, and waterfalls.This area is not only rich with interesting geological formations (magnificent domes and arches like Rainbow Bridge) but also traces of ancient cultures (lots of ruins and petroglyphs from several different Indian tribes) and hallmarks of early exploration like the miners stairs carved into the cliff side. To learn more check out the Wikipedia.com Lake Powell Page.
Like all good things that we enjoy, Lake Powell is difficult to get to from Texas – you can rent houseboats from Houseboating.org at the south end of the lake which is close to Page, Utah or rent from Houseboatng.org at Bull Frog marina which is closer to the north end of the lake. My Austin daughter’s family with three kids (11, 8, and 5) and my brother and his girlfriend also from Austin flew into Salt Lake City, rented a car and drove 4 hours to Bull Frog Marina. Before they left they brought over all of their gear (2 SUV’s full) that they couldn’t take on the plane – like several bottles of wine, floaties, ski ropes, 2 knee boards, a wake board, excess clothes, two big Yeti coolers, 5 fishing poles and a couple tackle boxes, some blankets and pillows, some groceries, and lots more.
We emptied all of our 42′ motorhome storage compartments and then crammed their stuff plus ours into the motorhome. The wife and I then headed to Dallas to pick up my daughter and her family (2 kids – 6 and 10) and to buy all the groceries, beer, and liquor for six nights and 13 people! We crammed all of that into the motorhome which was loaded to the brim – every storage cabinet inside and out was stuffed with something plus the shower, back bed, closet, and the refrigerator were jam packed with gear. I was afraid we’d need to push the motorhome up the hill to start our 19 hour drive to Halls Crossing. We had 21 hours to make it to Halls Crossing to catch the last ferry of the day to get us across the lake to Bull Frog Marina. We made it with 15 minutes to spare. Not much to say about the drive out:
- long and boring but the radio, audio books, some games, and the movies helped
- the scenery for the last 120 miles was stunning
- breakfast at ThatsaBurger in Shiprock was surprisingly good and inexpensive
- with all the gear and 6 people the motorhome averaged about 5.5 miles a gallon and each stop for gas was depressingly expensive
- the motorhome gave us no trouble but the bumpy roads prevented a good nap or some shut eye
- getting to the ferry in time was a minor miracle
Not only did we catch the last ferry across to Bull Frog Marina but we also got the last full hook-up RV site. Turns out that the July 4th weekend is one of their busiest weekends. On the drive in, for about 2 hours around lunchtime there was nothing but desert and some beautiful rock formations and water carved arroyos, which meant we were all famished and as soon as we arrived we called the shuttle to come and take us from the campground to the restaurant which we were disappointed to find was closed until 5:00. Back to the campground for some appetizers, games, and a hike up and around some multicolored sandstone hills – wow, what a view of the lake and the facilities at Bull Frog Marina
I was dreading having to unload the motorhome and carry all that gear down to the houseboat even though we had 13 people – 5 of which were under 11 – to help. I was shocked when 2 ATVs pulling two trailers each stopped and asked – “need some help?” It still took several trips but within 2 hours we had unloaded every nook and cranny in the motorhome, got the bags and more liquor and groceries out of the flyers cars, packed everything into bedrooms, closets, and cabinets on the houseboat, and crammed 12 bags and blocks of ice into coolers. And within minutes after leaving the marina we were high fiving and sipping the “drink of the day” on our way to find a campsite in Slick Rock Canyon.
Our houseboat was 57′ long with a large front patio with chairs, a ice chest, a freezer (packed with 8 bags of ice and 20 hamburgers), and a BBQ grill; a living area with a flat screen and DVD and a sleeper couch; a dining table that seated 8 and made into a bed; a large refrigerator and fully stocked kitchen with microwave, blender, oven, range, and more; a bathroom and a master suite with a bathroom; a double bed in one room; plus two rooms with queen beds down a few steps. The covered upper deck had a table and chairs, cushions for sleeping on the deck, controls to drive the boat, lounge chairs, and a slide the kids never got tired of. The boat was air conditioned and also had a spare 99 gallon gas tank and gas nozzle to fuel the ski boat. Click here to get more information on this houseboat which was perfect for our group – roomy, well equipped, clean, and functional. We also rented a 19′ ski boat with a 150 horsepower engine that was used every day for scouting for a campsite, fishing, exploring the small tight canyons, and kneeboarding.
Our campsite in Slick Rock Canyon (with sentinel like rocks that stand vertically along the high cliffs) was at the bottom of a rock slide with huge boulders. Once we got all 4 anchors set, the adults grabbed floaties, a drink, and jumped in the lake. The kids started climbing on the boulders and found a small cave on the side of the cliff just in front of the houseboat. That evening around 9:00 we were surprised with a loud boom and a sky filled with red, white, and blue that came from a houseboat around the corner from us setting off a 5 minute fireworks display. Cool!
Our second night was Ribbon Canyon (which cut deep into the mesa and is exceptionally photogenic) and a good campsite where the fishing off the shore was great, a massive boulder was perfect for jumping 20′ down to the lake, and right in front of us was a huge dome which the kids loved hiking up to.
We set off early the next morning to climb to the top of Hole in the Rock. In 1880, a group of Mormon pioneers sought a route south from Escalante to Montezuma, Utah. To help the 233 men, women, and children (plus 83 horses) get through, they spent 45 days blasting through a rock wall to make a path wide enough for their wagons. That pathâthe Hole In The Rock Trailâis still there today. It took a couple hours to get to the top with thousand-foot cliffs on either side and the summit had spectacular views of Lake Powell, the Henry Mountains, and a plaque honoring the hard work and sacrifice of the hearty pioneers who carved out this piece of history. Five of the adults and all of the kids except for the 5 year old made it to the top with only a few scratches and bumps! I had burgers, water, and the “drink of the day” waiting for them when they returned to the houseboat red faced, tired, and proud that they made it to the top. After a long soak in the lake we set off for our next destination.
We headed to Reflection Canyon (a beautiful winding canyon with amphitheaters and tiny coves and a narrow slot at the end) in search for a good campsite – which we found and set anchors. The ride into our campsite was a narrow 80′ wide waterway that twisted and turned with several S turns through towering sandstone walls and massive domes – unbelievable!! Shortly after anchoring we set out on the ski boat to explore Music, Anasazi, Hidden Passage Canyon.
Music Canyon is a tight snaking waterway through tall smooth faced walls which comes to an end a mile or so from the entrance. Anasazi Canyon is a beautiful long eerie gorge that contains great splotches of colorful lichen and desert varnish. On the way in we dropped off my daughter and two grand kids so they could climb up and into a massive dome with what appeared to be a ledge with a cave 100 yards up a sandstone face. While they were hiking up to the cave we took the boat further up the canyon until the sheer 500 feet cliffs came so close together we couldn’t go any farther! When we got back to the dome, my daughter had a big grimace on her face and her daughter was crying – my daughter had lost her footing and slid 75 feet straight down the side of the sandstone wall – ended up with a huge skid mark (swollen road rash) on her thigh and fingers and an elbow. Scary!
By now we had settled into a good routine – coffee and breakfast on the upper deck, break anchor by 10 or so, head out to our next campsite with lunch and a dip in the lake before heading into a remote canyon with the ski boat in search of a campsite, and then setting anchor. Once the anchor was set we would have the “drink of the day” (in most cases, we had it well before we set the anchor), jump in the lake, go for a hike, or set out in the ski boat to explore a new canyon or tow the kids on the kneeboards. As we cruised from place to place there was always some games being played on the upper deck but it was hard not to just sit and stare in awe at the scenery. Each evening the boys (two son-in-laws, sometimes my brother, and some mix of grandkids) would jump in the ski boat and set out in search of a boil – which is where bigger fish chase smaller fish toward the surface to make them easier to catch. Casting into the boil is likely to catch a fish. And over the course of the week they caught some big stripers which were BBQed or fried as an excellent addition to our dinner. Each day the oldest grandsons would fish off the back of the houseboat or shore and catch perch, catfish, or striper. A good dinner was served on the upper deck with stunning views each evening and that was followed by games or campfires,
After exploring Secret Canyon and it’s towering cliffs the next morning, we set off early and headed down to Dangling Rope Marina (a floating facility anchored in a big bay) for gas ($4.50 a gallon), to pump out the holding tanks, grab 10 more bags of ice, get rid of our trash, and get some additional groceries. All of which took much too long and cut into our drinking, games, or swimming time! Then we started our trek back up river for the final few days of our trip. We ended up staying at the base of another towering cliff with a partial dome in the Escalante River Arm. A ski boat trip found some narrow slot canyons, some cliffs to jump off of, and a hole in the canyon wall.
Our last night, we were all sad to see it end, we stayed at the end of a beautiful very narrow cove with a large dome and ledge that was perfect for jumping off of. One narrow cove was too tight for the boat so we jumped in with life jackets to see how far we could go. After a great dinner (Rock Cornish Game Hen with Orange Marmalade and Thai Pasta Salad plus some fresh fish – delicious) we had a huge bonfire, roasted some marshmallows, and lay on the sandstone rock under a sky full of stars. We saw several constellations, some satellites, at least 8 shooting stars, and some high flying aircraft. It was beautiful with the stars reflecting off the still lake – what a fantastic way to end a fun filled vacation.
The adults had a blast and each of the kids said that this was their best ever vacation – enjoying the lake and the houseboat slide, hiking and climbing to arches and caves, s’mores by the fire, fishing, knee boarding, playing in the sand, games, lots of cliff jumping and leaping from the top of the houseboat, and more.
The trip home was uneventful except for a very exciting, nerve racking, teeth grinding ride down Mokee Dugway which is a staggering, graded dirt 3 mile road with sharp switchbacks carved into the face of the cliff edge of Cedar Mesa. It’s an 11% grade that winds 1200 feet from the top of Cedar Mesa to the valley floor near Valley of the Gods. How in the world the GPS found this route I’ll never know but I’ll make sure we avoid it next time unless I’m in a small sports car. I saw the sign that said “S cures, 5 MPH, steep grade.” What it didn’t say was “one lane, very narrow, twisting, dirt road, with majestic panoramic views.” Oh boy! Would have been a fun ride if we had been in the Jeep instead of a 42′ 50,000 motorhome that was loaded to the brim! Sheer rugged rocky cliffs on one side and a 1200′ drop off the other side. Everyone in the motor home was on the edge of their seat – and when we saw a pickup truck with a camper shell heading up toward us no one spoke a word. Luckily we were at one of the wider spots on the road so I pulled over as far as I could (my wife in the passenger seat was hanging on for dear life) and he slowly passed by with a couple inches to spare. In spots the road was so narrow I was sure I was going to scrape the motorhome on the rock cliff and at one of the S turns the motorhome was too long to make the turn – I turned as sharp as we could, backed up, and turned slowly again – made it! A hair raising, knuckle biting, but scenic ride.
I Googled Mokee Dugway and up came Dangerousroads.org which had some interesting facts on the road one of which was “the State of Utah recommends that only vehicles less than 28 feet in length and 10,000 pounds in weight attempt to negotiate this steep, narrow and winding road. Caution is advised for motor homes or vehicles pulling trailers.” Wow, what a ride.
What a fun trip. What are you waiting for – call Houseboating.org and book the vacation of a lifetime. Before you book a vacation consider this few caveats – you need to:
- like a vacation with water
- enjoy or participate in some or all of the following: fishing, hiking, swimming, cliff diving, water skiing, tubing, or wake boarding or if you’re so inclined, just relaxing and enjoying the scenery, a cold drink, some games, and your fellow houseboat mates
- look forward to seeing some of the most magnificent and awe inspiring scenery you’re likely to see in your life
- be able to bond and get along with your family or friends – pick you houseboat mates carefully because you’ll be with them all day and night for a number of days with no way to escape
- plan your meals, ice and alcohol consumption, and itinerary carefully plus you’ll need to conserve water and gas
- be able to survive without internet or cell phone service