Lake Powell houseboat trip
Jean has always raved about her childhood houseboat trips on Lake Powell and we have discussed it for years. Miles is now old enough and a proficient swimmer, so it was an easy decision when planning summer vacations for this year. Since houseboats book up so early, Miles and Jean researched, and booked, the houseboat back in February. Fortunately, COVID did not affect our plans at all. The week prior was spent meal planning, packing, and gathering stuff for 5 days and 4 nights on a 46’ Expedition Houseboat!
Jean was so excited that she set the alarm on Saturday for 4am. The truck was mostly packed, so we just had to fill the cooler and hop in for the 10 hour drive to Page AZ. The skies were dark, we hit rain for a couple of hours, and it seemed like there was a wicked headwind most of the drive. We only made quick stops for gas, bathroom breaks, and drive-thru food. We were hoping to stop at the 4-Corners to stand on four states at the same time, but that was also closed. Pulling into Page AZ we were super stoked and stopped at the closed visitor center to walk across the Glen Canyon Dam Bridge to oogle at the engineering marvel 710’ tall Glen Canyon Dam. Next was Wahweap campground. It was hot and windy, which quickly bent a tent-pole, so we took the tent down and walked down to the beach. No matter how often you see the giant sandstone walls and formations, they are always stunning. Miles and Willow splashed around for a bit, then we headed into town for Subway, then back to the campground.
Sunday finally arrived! We had coffee and oatmeal, packed up camp, then headed into Page to pickup our rental jet ski from H2O Zone, then back to the marina for our houseboat orientation. It was daunting thinking about being responsible for this giant and expensive vessel! The staff were great and they brought our stuff from the truck in an ATV with a cart. It’s funny to see the massive amount of stuff that people load onto these houseboats! Because we rented the jet ski from town and not the marina, we had to launch that from the Stateline boat ramp, get the truck back to the marina, then meet out in the harbor to attach it. A bit complicated, especially with the wind, waves, and us being first-timers. The goal is to not crash or flip the jet ski, and not get the tow-rope tangled in the engine props! We headed towards “The Cut”, which connects Wahweap Bay to the Colorado River and Lake Powell, saving time and miles of going around. Castle Rock stood out like a fortress to the left. The slow, no-wake zone gave us a bit of time to become more oriented with the boat and where everything was. Fortunately Jean has done this before and has experience with boats, so she was more than comfortable captaining “The Beached Whale”. The radio was humming with other boats having issues with the wind, jet skis flipped, ropes around props, etc. Yikes!
Once past “The Cut” the water really opens up and we were able to go full-throttle (aka, ~8mph) more towers, buttes, and sandstone cliffs filled the views all around. Our destination for the evening was a beach somewhere in Padre Bay. The wind was at our back and the water was a bit choppy. Once we turned north into Padre Bay there was less cliffs and the wind was blasting our side after passing the appropriately named Gunsight Butte and Gunsight Pass. The boat really started rocking and was quite a bit nerve-racking! Jean and Miles were on the top deck and carefully made their way down as the knives flew off the counter and the dishes ejected from the cabinets. A chair on the upper deck went flying over the front of the boat and underneath, that’s a goner! Jean took over and steered up at an angle into the waves, which really helped, and we spotted a beach to hopefully park for the night. We were about to find out that having just two adults on a houseboat can make anchoring challenging! Jean pulled the boat right up on the beach and I hopped out to dig an anchor hole in the sand. Immediately the wind made the back of the boat drift, and beach, on the sand also. Folks from another boat saw our predicament and came over to help. We got the boat unstuck, dug anchor holes as quick as we could, re-beached the boat, and attached/tightened the anchors. That was not fun! In the process we bent a prop and I got a nasty cut on the bottom of my foot from a rock. We profusely thanked our neighbors and cracked open some liquid refreshment. Whew! We got settled, played in the water, Miles begun his effort to go off the slide on the roof 8,000 times, and we explored further back into the bay on the jet ski. It was an easy dinner of hot dogs and beans (grill on the front deck of the houseboat!) then off to bed under a sky full of stars and a gently rocking boat.
Monday morning was a beautiful sunrise illuminating the red sandstone walls all around. Not much beats a sunrise in canyon-country! Coffee and breakfast on the boat, then we took a short hike on the rocks behind the beach. We zoomed around a bit on the jet ski, Miles got to drive, and we took out one of the stand-up paddle boards with Willow following us in her shark-doggie-vest. Since it was supposed to be another windy day, we headed out mid-morning back through Padre Canyon and past Cookie Jar Rock. Pulling up the anchors was a bit easier, but it was still a huge effort with just two adults and trying to keep the boat from drifting into the beach again. We went around Padres Butte, Gooseneck Point, and Gregory Butte, and several side canyons then turned towards Dangling Rope Marina to re-fuel, get Neosporin and band-aids, and get Miles ice cream. The radio warned of gusts up to 40mph and to take caution. Uh-oh! We were hoping to make it to Oak Creek Canyon to anchor for the night but were looking for alternatives and the water started to get real choppy. Fortunately it didn’t last too long and in Oak Creek Canyon I scouted beaches with the jet ski. We did much better this time getting the boat beached in the talc soft sand and we resumed our pattern of playing in the water, going off the slide, and cruising around on the jet ski. Clouds moved in along with more wind and some rain, so we stayed inside eating chili for dinner and playing games. Luckily this would be the last of anything less than perfect weather!
Tuesday was a beautiful, cool, and calm morning while drinking coffee on the deck. We planned on taking the jet ski to Rainbow Bridge and to explore Oak Creek Canyon. While eating breakfast we noticed that the back of the jet ski was below water. We tried to move it as it wasn’t as beached as it was the night before, but the back kept sinking. Looking in the cargo holds, the engine compartment had several inches of water in it. I didn’t think much of it, considering these are meant to get wet… but it seemed like too much water. We used coffee cups to scoop out as much as possible, then used Miles water gun to siphon the rest. We let it dry for a few hours while deciding that we were staying put for the day. At some point, Willow head-butted Miles giving him a big purple egg on his forehead. We paddle boarded around the canyon and had a blast on the slide and on the beach. We even managed to get Willow to sit still on the SUP while exploring a side canyon. The jet ski eventually started, but the warning light blinked/beeped and the battery light was flashing. Eventually it just shut off and Miles swam a paddle out to me so I could bring it back to shore. The weather was mid 80’s with no wind, it was perfect! Surprisingly, this canyon wasn’t crowded, and we were just one of a couple houseboats. We grilled burgers and corn, and read outside realizing we all got some sunburn.
Wednesday was a repeat gorgeous morning. Miles was exhausted from raging all day on Tuesday! Pulling the anchors and launching was a piece of cake and we got the busted jet ski hooked up to the back of the boat. We motored back down river and turned into Forbidden Canyon towards Rainbow Bridge. The canyon was just wide enough to fit a houseboat through, looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Once docked we did the short, and hot, hike back to Rainbow Bridge, one of the world’s largest known natural bridges. Cool stuff! A guy helped us turn around and Jean expertly navigated us back thru the canyon along the crystal smooth water. We stopped at Dangling Rope Marina again to top off the tanks, then the next stop was Rock Creek Canyon for the night! It was good to have the GPS on my phone because the area is so vast that it’s easy to think you’re somewhere else on the paper map. This canyon was quite a bit busier and we found a great soft sand beach on a little island that we named “Miles Island” to anchor the Beached Whale for the night. More of the same…. Playing on the beach, going down the slide hundreds of times, SUP’ing, and playing “Log roll death match”. Hard to believe, but the scenery of towering buttes and sandstone walls in this canyon was even better. We finished off the day with fajitas and reading on the top deck.
Thursday started the same as all other days and Miles slept in until 8am from fully exhausting himself the day before once again. He woke up briefly, hugged Willow, then fell right back to sleep. We easily pulled the anchors again, attached the jet ski, and headed out while others were starting to water ski and fish. It was going to be another hot day! Plenty of activity in the main channel of the lake as we cruised back past Last Chance Bay and Padre Bay. Miles and Willow laid in bed for most of the 4.5hr ride back. The Cut was like rush hour traffic of boats or all shapes/sized and I called H2O Zone to arrange for them to meet us outside of the marina to haul the jet ski in. That worked out real well so we didn’t have to get to it the ramp somehow then onto the trailer and get the houseboat back to dock. We fueled up one last time and parked, surprisingly we only spent around $500 on gas all week. It was 97 degrees out which made it real fun hauling all of our stuff uphill to the truck in the loading area! We packed the truck and decided there was no way we were going to camp again in close to 100-degree weather. Our goal was an air-conditioned hotel and pizza!
We returned the trailer to find out that a fuse on the jet ski got wet and shorted out. He said a seal must be bad or something because the Honda jet skis are designed to not get water in them. They were extremely apologetic and refunded most of our rental fee. Certainly not intentional on their part, and no hard feelings. We found a hotel, pizza and meatball Stromboli, then laid in bed for hours relaxing and watching TV. We received the crappy news that the upcoming Air Force Falcons hockey season was cancelled also. WAHHH!!! Meanwhile, the balance for the security deposit came in and it was only $175 per prop! I was fully expecting that to be much more. Heck, for that price I’ll bring two spares next time.
Originally we planned to take two days driving home through Escalante National Monument, but with the heat and all of the closure we decided to just reverse the way we came. It was a long, but easy drive back after an amazing trip that we will repeat!
From the start we figured this trip would be a learning experience for next time. Things we learned…. Forget camping, plan for a hotel the night before and after. Reserve a trip to Antelope Canyon for the way home, then stay in Durango. Rent the jet ski from the same place as the boat for ease of use and not dealing with a trailer or boat ramp launching (look for email specials!). Definitely bring two or more families, it was difficult to do the anchoring and launching with just us. Bring more meals to grill. Bring a phone to RCA cable to pipe music through the boat, though it was great to have tons of music on my phone and a Bluetooth speaker. Bring fishing gear, tons of big fish were jumping everywhere. Maybe rent a small boat instead of a jet ski to explore the canyons and water ski. Maybe stay in Rock Creek for more than a night.