The Magnificent Lake Powell
“We will move over the water
With such speed we will forget
Even what we have never known.”
Excerpt of Poem, “Glen Canyon on the Colorado”
As Lake Powell filled, those that knew Glen Canyon and all its wonders watched in sadness as they saw beautiful canyons and wildlife habitats disappear. But some came to realize, as did
Art Greene, an original Glen Canyon tour owner, that what was lost was replaced by perhaps greater beauty, and more importantly, a beauty now easily accessible and shared by many in contrast to the
rugged Glen Canyon. Greene expressed this insight in a 1965 letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, “From a fellow who with a tear in his eye, and a hurt in his heart saw Sentinel rock,
Outlaw Cave, the Incendiary Urn, Music Temple and others slowly covered by Lake Powell. From a fellow who now sees that where one monument was covered, 10 more were brought into
view. Where in the 40’s & 50’s, 150 people was considered a good year. Where, now in one week that many people share this beauty with us, where folks can bring their own boats now on
beautiful Lake Powell (where very few dared as a river). …I feel sure Lake Powell is destined to be one of the outstanding, recreation areas in the
world.” And that it has; since the creation of the lake, many have marveled at its wonders. Lake Powell, a massive lake spreading across
two states, was created by a large manmade dam, and is full of history as well as current controversies.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was president at the time that Lake Powell was created. He initiated the first blast to start the creation of Glen Canyon Dam on October 15, 1956. This dam
contained enough concrete to make a four lane highway from Phoenix, Arizona to Chicago, Illinois, and stood a towering 710 feet high from the canyon
floor. Once the dam had been completed in 1963, what once used to be a large beautiful canyon was now filling up with water. It took
14 years once the dam was finished to fill the lake, which was fed by the Colorado and San Juan rivers. The created Lake Powell stretches 186 miles and has almost 2000 miles of shoreline, and at
full capacity the lake encompasses 161,000 acres of water making it the second largest reservoir in the U.S. This enormous lake filled
the canyons, but opened the way to easy access and viewing of such wonders as Rainbow Bridge (a national monument and the world’s largest natural bridge now visited by about 300,000 people a
year) and the San Juan goosenecks (the San Juan Goosenecks are part of the Colorado river where the river sharply snakes around towering
At full capacity the lake sits at an elevation of 3700 feet, although the current water level of Lake Powell is approximately 3600 feet above sea
level. In 2004, Lake Powell had dropped to its lowest point in history, since then it has been going up. Some exciting news for many
boaters on Powell is that the famous “Castle Rock Cut” will be open sometime in June! The Castle Rock Cut is a body of land that divides the lower section of the lake from the upper section of
the lake. When Castle Rock Cut is finally navigable for boaters, it will save 12 miles of having to navigate through a windy, snaky canyon to get to the upper section of the lake from the
lower section. The water level must be at a height of 3610 feet for the two sides of the lake to touch, as of now it sits only 10 feet away from that checkpoint. This will be the first
time Castle Rock Cut will be open in the past 5 years.
Although there is exciting news going on for Lake Powell, such as Castle Rock Cut perhaps opening soon, there is also some news that is not so great. This includes the threat of Quagga
mussels. A Quagga mussel is a type of invasive mussel, commonly known as a Zebra mussel, named for the stripes on its shell. These Zebra mussels are brought in from boats coming from
lakes infected with these mussels. When these Zebra mussels infect a lake, they form thick mats which can get almost two feet thick and contain hundreds and even thousands of mussels. If
the mussels were to enter Lake Powell, it would cause dramatic changes to the eco-system, and in most cases compromises sport fishing. This happens because each little Zebra mussel, which
grows to about 1.5”, is like mini filters for the lake, which is not good. A Zebra mussel filters out algae and small zoo plankton, which are what the fish commonly feed off of. The way
to keep Lake Powell uninfected is to simply clean your boat thoroughly and inspect it yourself, or have it inspected to ensure that there are no mussels on it.
Another controversy, one that started in 1996 but continues today, is the suggestion by the Sierra Club and the Glen Canyon Institute to drain Lake Powell and to possibly remove the Glen
Canyon Dam forever. Their belief is that the lake has upset the ecosystem and that things should return back to the pre-dam condition. Those opposed to this idea point out Lake Powell’s
benefits including the tourist economy (2.5 million people visit Lake Powell every year); its beauty; its provision of electricity, irrigation, and drinking water; and the flood control provided by
the dam. The lake generates four hundred million dollars to the local and regional economies. Also, if Lake Powell were to be drained, it would leave a “bathtub-ring” around the canyon
for at least a decade. For the surrounding towns, such as Page, Arizona, the air quality would be absolutely horrible whenever the wind kicked up. These are just two of the many examples
of the problems that would rise if Lake Powell was to be drained.
Lake Powell may have replaced the beautiful, rugged Glen Canyon and its monuments, but it has brought to many more people, many more beautiful sights such as Rainbow Bridge. And
although there are controversies surrounding Lake Powell, the lake has much to offer. Its towering canyons, crystal blue water, sandy beaches and great recreation opportunities are worthy of
our visit and of a visit by our kids, and our kids’ kids; and worthy of the preservation of its history.
1. Abbott, Lon and Terri Cook. Geology Underfoot in Northern Arizona. Missoula: Mountain Press Publishing
2. Crampton, C. Gregory. Ghosts of Glen Canyon: History Beneath Lake Powell. St. George: Publishers Place,
3. Farmer, Jared. Glen Canyon Dammed: Inventing Lake Powell and the Canyon Country. Tucson: University of Arizona
4. Friends of Lake Powell Staff. “History of Lake Powell.” www.lakepowell.org. 1999. Friends of Lake
Powell, Inc. 12 May 2008.
5. U.S Bureau of Reclamation. “Lake Powell Water Database.” 22 May
2008. Lakepowell.water-data.com Summit Technologies, Inc. 23 May 2008.
6. Wikipedia. “Lake Powell.” www.Wikipedia.org. 8 May 2008. Wikipedia. 12 May 2008
7. National Park Service. “Rainbow Bridge.” www.nps.gov May 2008. U.S. Department of the Interior. 23 May
 Farmer, Jared. Glen Canyon Dammed: Inventing Lake Powell and the Canyon Country. Tucson: University of
Arizona Press, 1999. Pg. 180.
 Ibid. Pgs. 164 and 165.
 Abbott, Lon and Terri Cook. Geology Underfoot in Northern Arizona. Missoula: Mountain Press Publishing
Company, 2007. Pg. 39.
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