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Tuesday, 01 January 2019

The Last Wild Miles of Glen Canyon

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I have dreamed of floating the Colorado River through towering red rock walls, past hanging canyons, and shorelines dotted with wildlife and petroglyphs. I did not want to have to spend a week camping or going through dangerous rapids or hiking down three thousand feet. Glen Canyon was the answer to my dream. The 15 miles of the Colorado River that stretches between the Glen Canyon Dam and Lee’s Ferry is a trip for everyone.

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This is the last wild section of the canyon that was mostly buried by the deep blue waters of Lake Powell. This stretch of the river is smooth and calm. It allows you to take in the towering walls of Navajo Sandstone that reach over 1000 feet up into the sky. You see how nature has used water and wind to carve its own rock sculptures into the cliffs. Wild Horses, Bighorn Sheep and several species of waterfowl make the steep shorelines their home. The serenity of floating a stretch of this mighty river without rapids or cataracts gives you the chance to appreciate its fragile beauty.

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My journey started with a bus ride through a two mile long tunnel from the top of the Glen Canyon Dam to the river below. A few holes in the tunnel wall that were carved out to allow the rock from the tunnel to be removed allow some glimpses of the canyon as you ride in darkness to the shoreline. The 32 foot raft awaited my fellow passengers and me to board. The raft pushed off into the current as I gazed up at the second highest arched Dam in the United States. Glen Canyon Dam is only 16 feet lower than Hoover Dam. The steel bridge that carries Highway 89 north into Utah is perched above it.

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The raft drifted downstream away from the Dam and into the tall red stone cliffs that dominate this section of the Colorado. Rain water spilling down the cliff faces leaves dark vertical streaks called “Canyon Varnish” on the canyon walls. Nature seems to be painting abstract art on the cliff sides. Mallard ducks floated peaceable nearby. A mile or so downriver rocky side canyons appeared. A “Hanging Canyon” was around another bend. This is where the mouth of a side canyon ends in a sheer cliff above the river. I imagined what a waterfall must flow over the edge during the summer monsoons in Arizona.

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Last modified on Saturday, 15 December 2018

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