Glen Canyon "has always been a lonesome place."
Cathedral in the Desert
In March 2005, the lake level dropped to 3555' msl and briefly exposed the floor of the Cathedral. The lake has rebounded, however, with three consecutive years of spring runoff increasing the lake to a level of 3611 and then the lake pushed up to as high as 3661 in 2011 which was a 10-year high. The Cathedral floor is unlikely to re-emerge anytime soon.
However, the higher lake levels allow hiking access into the upper chamber of the Cathedral. It is an interesting place and a small stream runs there. The situation is always changing and there's never a bad time to visit the Cathedral in the Desert.
A quiet paddle on Lake Powell
The Cathedral sunbeam
An Overland Journey to Cathedral in the Desert
In the old days, Cathedral in the Desert involved a several mile trek up the Escalante River and then about another mile more up Clear Creek Canyon. Although one could hear the amplified trickling sound of water, the entrance kept its secret until you unexpectedly rounded a corner into a great glorious chamber. Reflected light from above bathed the Cathedral in a warm glow. Mosses and hanging gardens provided vivid accent dashes of green and a small waterfall cascaded playfully into the huge plunge pool that formed the base of the Cathedral. It was no doubt a serene and spiritual place.
Because Cathedral in the Desert was part of the Escalante River system, it was able to escape total inundation by the rising waters of Lake Powell even at the highest lake levels and the top part of the chamber has always remained accessible by boat (see picture below taken in the 1990s).
As the lake levels fluctuate, each trip to the Cathedral in the Desert can produce a new look and feel.
Cathedral in the Desert with Lake Powell near full pool
Environmental activists want you to believe that all was lost when Lake Powell was created but those of us who are intimate with Glen Canyon know better. Raw adventure still abounds up numerous side canyons and across the wide expanse of Glen Canyon slickrock. The landscape keeps pulling us back... again and again and again.
See the photo gallery below for a
very small sampling of
side canyon adventure that still exists today.
At full pool, Lake Powell covers just 13% of the the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area and so it's not too hard to understand that many more chambers still exist...tucked away in hidden side canyon tributaries. One can still search out grottos, plunge pool pour-offs, arches, playful waterfalls, narrow slot canyons, verdant springs and hanging gardens. Personal adventure abounds in all directions with no permits, no waiting list and without the limiting logistics associated with white water rafting.
Like it or not, the reality is Lake Powell and Lake Powell offers a recreational freedom that is hard to match anywhere in the world. So the choice is yours. You can mourn forever and die in grieving martyrdom or you can move past your sorrow and grow into new life experiences.
It's interesting to watch environmental organizations protesting recreational access. The Glen Canyon Institute recently wanted to hold a fundraising activity in the Cathedral of the Desert. The dilemma was that they had to use boats to transport their paying clients into the Cathedral although they could have hiked in overland and used kayaks to paddle into the chamber.
Likewise, a group of phony medicine man group wanted to protest easy access to Rainbow Bridge. So instead of hiking to the Bridge on historic trails, they drove to Page in SUVs, rented boats and then motored their way 50 miles up to the Bridge because as they said "it was the only practical way to reach Rainbow Bridge".
Convenience before ideology, I suppose.
Well, in case you have wondered what lies up above and beyond the Cathedral in the Desert....the Friends of Lake Powell take you there via this overland dayhike photo journal. Be careful, don't slip and enjoy the push of boot against slickrock formations.
Clear Creek Canyon contains numerous deep potholes
The canyon deepens and widens
Until a sensuous chamber appears
For scale....note the hiker on the slickrock dome
Viewing the east entrance to the Cathedral of the Desert
So why mourn when you can be out there finding
other Lake Powell area grottos and chambers?
(All these places exist above full pool)
With so much Lake Powell adventure to behold.
What are you waiting for?
At full pool water covers just 13% of the Glen Canyon National Recreational AreaLake Powell adventure is what you make it. Here's a film of how one family spent their vacation time. It can certainly be a bonding experience with a lot of smiles!
Want to kayak Lake Powell?
Essay and photos by Paul Ostapuk
Board Member for the Friends of Lake Powell