A Houseboat On Lake Powell

By Kristy McCaffrey
Last July my husband and I took our four children, mostly teenagers at the time, on a houseboat trip on Lake Powell for seven days. Located along the Arizona/Utah border, this unique area is an outdoor and boater’s paradise. The lake, created by the completion of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, offers breathtaking views of buttes, pinnacles and natural arches, encompassed by towering walls of red sandstone. Naturally all of the kids complained that this wasn’t the vacation they wanted. There would be no cell phone service and no internet. How could they possibly last an entire week without texting or Facebook? I secretly smiled, but even my husband worried about no connection with his work contacts. We rallied forward anyway.
Upper deck of the houseboat
We arrive on a Wednesday morning to check-in at the Wahweap Marina, just north of Page, Arizona. Several hours pass before we’re ready to launch our 75-foot rental houseboat. A palace on the water, it’s replete with five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large kitchen with a full-size stove, microwave and dishwasher, a dining area with a big-screen tv, and a hot tub on the upper deck. The kids—Sam (18), Ben (16), Katy (15), and Hannah (12)—are awed by the accommodations. We all are really. After a lengthy orientation on how this floating mansion works we’re set loose. Thankfully my husband has a working knowledge of circuit breakers, generators, and how to deal with septic tanks, as well as a dose of “this thing doesn’t scare me” because we soon realize that driving a giant boat on a lake crowded with other giant boats is not a task for the faint of heart. Sam follows us from the marina dock driving our 19-foot Bayliner boat while towing two rented jet skis. We were told not to drag any additional watercraft behind our houseboat, despite the fact that everyone else on the lake is doing just that. Once out-of-sight from the marina, my husband ties each jet ski off the rear of the houseboat, to give the Bayliner back the speed it was losing while hauling the smaller craft. This turns out to be a mistake.
To gain access to the interior of Lake Powell we must traverse a narrow, shallow inlet. Let’s just say there was traffic and it’s never a good idea to hit reverse while pulling anything. If the rope on one of the skis hadn’t snapped (after wrapping around the starboard propeller) we would’ve crushed the watercraft beneath the back deck. Instead, it drifts away, forcing myself and Ben onto the remaining jet ski to retrieve it. After that fiasco we feel relieved that nothing really catastrophic occurred, but soon the houseboat experiences steering problems. We discover power steering fluid leaking, quite a bit actually, and are forced to an early campsite to await a mechanic from the marina. Feeling sheepish about the jet ski incident, we hope the two aren’t related. The mechanic, who must do the repairs in two trips, lets us know we can pull boats and jet skis behind the houseboat, just make sure the ropes are long and the knots tight.
My husband and I and Katy. Photo by Katy McCaffrey.
The following day we drive deeper into the central canyon of Lake Powell, the red sandstone cliffs dominating the landscape, lending a postcard quality to the desolate surroundings. I feel almost gluttonous enjoying the view from the luxury of a traveling hotel, imagining how difficult it must have been for early explorers. Major John Wesley Powell, for whom the lake is named, first came through the region in 1869 using wooden dories. He and his comrades spent over three months exploring and mapping Cataract, Glen, Marble and Grand Canyons, and his writings are still read and respected today.
We park ourselves on a beach at the mouth of West Canyon, having covered about 27 miles since our launch. We discover that wide, sandy coves don’t always make the best anchoring spots—the next morning we’re stuck. Fortunately we use our Bayliner to pull us free but our neighbors aren’t so lucky and must call for help from the marina. But getting further away from Wahweap means less traffic and we enjoy wakeboarding and jet skiing on calmer waters.
The next morning, once we free ourselves from shallow waters, we head for Dangling Rock Marina, a dock only accessible by boat. This marina, open April through October, is entirely supplied by barges. The workers live all summer in housing powered by solar panels. We must get gas and $700 later our tanks are filled. Our energy consumption would never make it on solar. We like being near the local mini-mart so park our houseboat not far from it, at the mouth of Wetherill Canyon, among a rocky inlet, thus avoiding those sandy beaches. Another bonus is that we occasionally gain line of sight with Navajo Mountain, southeast of the lake, and with it spurts of cell phone reception. Sam and Katy clamber all over the sandstone boulders in search of  “Can you hear me now?” We stay here for three nights.
My husband and I at Rainbow Bridge
On Saturday we set out in our Bayliner for a chance to view Rainbow Bridge, the largest natural spanning bridge in the world. Four of us embark first thing in the morning (two of the kids decide sleeping is more important than seeing natural wonders). Located fifty miles from Wahweap it’s the furthest into the lake we’ll go. There’s a dock, park rangers, and well-marked paths. We take many pictures and my husband teases me for carrying a pack filled with food and water since the roundtrip hike is only about 1 ¼ miles, hardly enough to break a sweat. Many Indian tribes have long held this place to be sacred and it’s only through an agreement with the Navajo Nation that tourists are allowed to visit. It’s requested that no one walk beneath the bridge out of respect for these spiritual beliefs, but this can’t be enforced. We decide not to venture under the thick arch.
Hannah and Sam wakeboarding
We spend our days at Wetherill Canyon exploring narrow slot canyons (this is where jet skis come in handy), wakeboarding, water skiing, visiting the marina for candy and milk, and watching movies (I brought dozens of DVD’s). We enjoy the water slide off the back of the boat and all overcome our fear of dropping into the lake ten feet. Katy and I sleep on the upper deck one night, huddled in our sleeping bags while rain sporadically pelts us. We take a fabulous family photo with the lake and sandstone behind us that later graced our Christmas card. We feed pancakes to three ravens stalking our campsite and realize that the bats we witness each evening actually live on our boat, in the canopy up top.

Our fabulous family photo. Photo by Katy
McCaffrey and her tripod.
On Monday morning we move the houseboat 30 miles back toward Wahweap Marina, in anticipation of ending the trip the next day. We find a beautiful placid cove in Warm Creek Bay but it soon turns into a nightmare of chop when the wind kicks up to such a degree that we think we’re on the ocean. We spend the night trying to sleep on a seriously rocking boat, messing with our equilibrium so much that it will take us three days after the trip to stop feeling the ground move beneath us. My husband resets the anchors several times, fearing we’ll unhinge during the night, but thankfully we’re still in place come morning.


Despite having gained valuable experience all week driving our behemoth lodging, we request a worker from the marina to board our boat and drive us into dock. We already fear our hefty deposit won’t be entirely refunded, so best to cut our losses where we can. We send Sam and Ben off in the Bayliner to retrieve vehicles and deposit the watercraft onto trailers for transport home while the girls and I clean up the houseboat. Okay, while I clean the houseboat. It’s enough that they gather their belongings. Soon they’re off to the marina gift shop for ice cream and souvenirs. This wasn’t the vacation the kids wanted but, if only for a few days, those phones and computer gadgets were replaced with deep red chasms and towering cliffs, all amid an endless water playground.


Katy and Hannah


Leave a Comment:

MK McClintock says June 19, 2013

Sounds like everyone had a great time, and the photos are a nice addition. What a great looking family!

kanab zipline says June 27, 2013

Very nice photos, thanks a lot for sharing on this awesome adventures with us. I really love it.

Photos of Lake Powell

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