A trip to Lake Powell is always a good idea

A trip to Lake Powell is always a good idea, especially in early autumn

Sometimes, it’s OK to be forgotten.

When TV documentarian Ken Burns forgot (or perhaps simply overlooked) Lake Powell for his stunning six-part documentary “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” he missed what so many of us already know: Lake Powell is a vision to behold amidst a land of extremes.

No one tires of seeing sun-burnt slickrock cliffs slip into blue-green waters, the song of canyon wrens echoing along isolated canyons and finding that special spot to spend an hour, a day or a week.

It’s not a place to go be alone, unless you wish it so, nor is it a place to go to be with others, unless you wish it so.

Anglers might be found everywhere, as are houseboaters (if the memory of William Safire will forgive me), water skiers, Jet-skiers, canoeists, kayakers, sunbathers and even the high-pitched squeals of those being towed on giant rubber innertubes.

If it can be done on, near or in the water, it’s happening at Lake Powell. At the same time, it’s possible to spend your time in solitude.

“I’m paddling the lake,” called out a well-bundled kayaker who was a bit too far away to carry on a conversation.

Sitting in an enclosed, sea-worthy kayak, he quietly entered our narrow, water-filled canyon one morning and took a quick look around before heading out again to open water, where he would battle the turbulence of passing houseboats and speeding powerboats.

That was the morning after the night a long-tailed mouse (perhaps a Great Basin pocket mouse?) found itself somehow trapped inside our stove. We heard the tinny scrabbling as the mouse searched for a way out of its temporary jail, and only a lot of shaking and finally turning the stove upside down released the unwilling prisoner.

With a mousy gasp, the critter sped off into the dark, surely with a terrific story to share back home.

Unexpected furry guests aside, early fall possibly is the best time to visit Lake Powell. Water temperatures hover around 75 degrees, the nasty spring wind has blown itself out, and crisp days linger in high 80s, perfect for hiking, fishing, water sports and simply lazing around camp.

“Yeah, it’s beautiful right now,” said Mike Panepinto as he prepared our boat for a long weekend of exploring a particular maze of canyons north of Bullfrog Marina. “I’m going to miss it this winter.”

Panepinto, like most of the marina’s seasonal employees, will leave his summer job on this 129-mile lake in early October as the tourist season finally slows down.

The college-age workers already have left, returning to classes, and Panepinto and others will head home or elsewhere to spend the winter.

In their absence, life goes on at the lake.

This includes the fishing, and in his latest weekly report, longtime Utah fisheries biologist Wayne

Gustaveson (http://www.wayneswords.com) emphasized topwater fishing and fall fishing patterns.

“The pattern is all about shad and how fish feed on the unusually abundant shad population,” writes Gustaveson on his popular Web site.

“The key is to find feeding bass and stripers near camp and frequent the feeding areas in a morning and evening fishing circuit to maximize fishing success.”

Following his advice, we jumped at every splash, casting long-idle surface lures and catching largemouth and smallmouth bass.

“Timing is the most critical factor,” Gustaveson writes. “Before the sun peeks over the horizon, single bass and stripers whack shad in the center of lake. It looks like trout feeding in a high mountain lake.

The first hour of daylight is critical.”

The water level by Sunday was at 3,635.6, down about 64 feet below full pool (elevation is given as feet above sea level). That was a drop of about 2 inches over the weekend, an indication the lake is holding stable as cool weather returns to the West and hydropower demand drops as air conditioners are shut down.

But it was enough to add interest to getting away Sunday.

We had the boat loaded and ready to go when we noticed the anchor rope wasn’t what held the boat in place.

A small sandstone ledge we avoided coming in became a bit larger when the water level dropped.

That, combined with wave action from passing boats, left our little craft a bit, well, stuck is a good word, I guess.

We rocked and lifted and rocked some more and finally the boat floated free.

Conversation actually returned to near normal inside the hour.

But you don’t have to rise at dawn to fish or boat or water ski to visit Lake Powell.

Just being there is enough.

Nights are special at Lake Powell, especially those warm nights when the only blanket you need is the moon and stars.

You try to stay awake by counting stars but you soon lose that fight. Sometime in the night, though, you awake to find the Milky Way has shifted, dragging new constellations over your head, a shower of sparkling light almost within touch.

The night sky is so close, you take a breath and inhale the stars.

The national parks “make you available to higher forces,” moviemaker Burns told reviewer Brad Buchholz of the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. “As (writer) Terry Tempest Williams reminds us, it’s not so much that we save the parks. They save us.”

Willace Stegner once called national parks “the best idea we ever had.”

Lake Powell is a great idea any time.


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