story by Sandra Leinweber - Harper, Texas - USA
photos and videos mostly by Chuck Leinweber

Part 1 - Part 2

The original plan was to take the Ladybug out to Lake Powell for the messabout and the Kokopelli cruise.  It had been damaged in the TX200, but we had plenty of time to fix it, or so it seemed.  September crept up on us, and when Chuck suggested that we just take kayaks, my first reaction was, “Are you crazy?  Paddle all the way from Stanton Creek to Hite?  That’s 50 miles!”  A minute or two later, I found I was intrigued by the idea.  I thought about the limited amount of gear we could carry and again decided he was crazy.

Sandra steers while I relax in our Ladybug at last year's Kokopelli.

We decided to take the Toto and the Imresboat and set them up on sawhorses outside.  Then we gathered all our gear and started packing it into the various spaces and compartments in the boats.  It all fit with a bit of room to spare.  We could still lift the boats, so chances were they would not just sink beneath the water.  I was still apprehensive about the distance, but once begun, we would just have to tough it out. 

Lake Powell is 1000 miles and two long days drive from Harper, TX, but we added an extra day and detoured through western Phoenix to visit Ken Simpson in Fountain Hills, Arizona.  This is an interesting town.  Ken said it was created by Mr McCulloch, the man behind the McCulloch chain saws.  He built the lake and put the fountain in the middle as a way to attract new inhabitants.  The fountain shoots 3 times higher than Old Faithful, and we arrived just in time to see it in action.  Ken is the designer of the Toter, Toter Motor, and the Toter Duckboat, and we like to meet the designers we represent.  A good visit with Ken and his wife, Grace, and the original Toter which lives in Ken’s garage. 

We had lunch and a very nice visit with Ken Simpson and he took this picture of Sandra and I in front of his home.

The next day we drove north through the Navajo Reservation with a stop at Mexican Hat and lunch and a nap by the San Juan River just for old time’s sake—the river much lower than the last time we saw it after the Kokopelli cruise of 2 years ago, also known as the “Soki Koki” when the lake came up 3 feet and the San Juan was running at some 10,000 CFS, cold black water with logs and other debris boiling downstream at a fearsome pace.  We are hoping to get back soon and make the San Juan leg from Sand Island near Bluff to Mexican Hat as we missed that part on our last trip.

This is the river access area at Mexican Hat. I took a nap.

There are certain sections of road that we have traveled more than once that stay with me, and the drive up the Moqui/Mokee/Moki Dugway to the first view of Lake Powell is one of those.  (Another is the drive from Vaughn, New Mexico south to Roswell—don’t ask me why, I just love that country.)  The Dugway is one long series of hairpin switchbacks, part paved, part washboard dirt and gravel that climbs 1100 feet from near Mexican Hat to the top of Cedar Mesa.  From the top, you can see south for about a million miles.  Cedar Mesa is a huge plateau, covered with mostly scrub cedar, and I am told that it is a good place to see some of the less famous Anasazi ruins, hidden down in the canyons that cut off the mesa.  We have visited Butler Wash, a small site, and it is a treasure.  The mesa segues into White Canyon, aptly named for the mostly white sandstone that lines the deep, hard to see the bottom of canyon.  There are always vehicles parked at the pull outs along here, and I have to think it is hikers, because this long winding canyon looks like a good one.  Just after the canyon heads down towards the Lake to the west, the Colorado River bridge appears, with the Hite ranger station off to your left.  As you cross the bridge, the Hite ranger station and marina is to your left, and the take out spot for Cataract Canyon in on your right.  Last year, the Colorado was high with rain, and big standing waves were pounding past the take out.   

This shows Hite from the overlook on the North side of the river. The picture was taken two years ago, when the water was lower.

 The Lake is indeed up—higher than we have ever seen it, maybe 60 feet below full pool, and there is activity at Hite—the store is open, and boats are launching even though the end of the ramp is not quite down to the edge of the water.  We decide to head for Bullfrog, and spend the night in the campground there.  The road around from Hite to Bullfrog is one of those short but long drives, always thinking you will see the lake just over the next hill, and when it finally appears, you remember why you keep coming back.  There is the deep blue of the water reflecting the sky and the red Navajo Sandstone cliffs that tower above and below the water, and the feeling that you can get lost here and not really mind, but don’t let me get sappy.  I do love Lake Powell.

The Bullfrog campground - still relatively civilized.

I can’t remember why we walked over towards the parking lot the next morning, but the blue boat parked there was obviously Dave and Anita Hahn’s Picara, though the fellow folding up the cot next to the boat was definitely not Dave.   About then, Anita appeared in the cockpit—she and Dave were sleeping in the boat, and the fellow with the cot was their a friend who had driven down from Delta, Utah with them.  They were thinking breakfast, so we told them we would see them at Stanton Creek, and left to see what we could find as a site for the messabout.  The spot by the Ice Cream Rock that had been the site in the past was underwater—not unexpected, but still a shock.  The outhouse type toilets that had always been a very long walk from the old spot were suddenly near the water.  Stanton Creek is a popular area, and we drove and looked and drove and looked a good while before we found a spot that seemed big enough to accommodate the group.  We also needed a good spot to launch the bigger boats without too much mud or too many sharp rocks.  We ran into Martin Adams while looking, and with his help found a nice wide spot to spread out in.  The ravens were there too, watching to see what we might leave unattended, just as they were at every campsite for the rest of the week, never more than one or two at a time and never pushy. 

Stanton Creek. You can just see Sandra on the right, looking for a campsite.

People began to trickle in, and by Saturday afternoon, it was a good crowd, and food was being prepared for the evening meal.  Dave Hahn is a genius with cast iron pots and small pieces of hot charcoal.  A few of those babies underneath and on top of each of 3 pots, and he had chicken, potatoes and cobbler cooking.  Everyone brought something.  Heather Gale had made beautiful blue and green ceramic tumblers that said Kokopelli for everyone. 

Dave Hahn has the Dutch Oven thing down cold.

After the meal, it was time for the tribute to Jack Hicks, Heather’s dad, and one of the original Kokopelli cruisers.  DeWitt Smith had built a scale model Viking boat, and Heather had added the dragon figureheads.  Jack’s ashes were placed on the boat, and it was sent out into the Lake and set alight.  We all raised our tumblers to Jack—he loved Lake Powell and will be missed.

Heather Gale prepares the funeral boat for launch

I shot this video of the funeral boat burning. I kept thinking it would sink, but it just burned and burned. Good by, Jack.

Sunday morning some of us were packing for the cruise, while others were packing to head home.  Steve Axon wanted the cruisers to leave by 10AM and make at least 7 miles to the first camp spot.  Jim Thayer and his son Steve were the first to leave, sailing slowly west in their boats, with Steve Axon and his wife Helen close behind in their canoe.  John Dennison, and Michael Jackson left in their twin Hobie adventure islanders.  Chuck and I were not far behind—we were trying to get a good video of Martin Adam’s catamaran sailing, but the wind did not cooperate, and he turned back while we paddled on.   Tom and Heather Gale and their kids, Wil and Ruby were the last to leave.

Martin's cat when the wind was cooperating. I should have shot the video then
We got this picture as we overtook Jim. Steve's boat is beyond Jim's.

The advantage of taking off first thing in the morning was soon obvious, as the clear sky let the sun beat down, and we resolved to head out right after breakfast the next morning.  Nothing for it but to paddle on.  Lots of boats and busy/buzzy little personal watercraft on the water near Bullfrog, and the Lake was choppy with conflicting wakes.  I found myself a little queasy for the first time in a kayak.  When Steve and Helen waved from a nice beach, I was happy to stop and lie in the shade of a rock. 

Steve and Helen's canoe. You can just see them sitting in the shade under the overhang. Sandra joined them immediately.

We had passed Jim and Steve some ways back, so no need to hurry.  Steve and Helen said there was a good spot for a camp just back over the hill behind us, but there was a fisherman there, so Steve and Chuck climbed over to see if he was planning to stay the night.  The fisherman soon moved on, and we moved in.  Turned out we had paddled farther than I thought, and this would be a good place to spend the night.  Helen and Steve were our chefs for the first night’s dinner.  They served pasta with fresh pesto from their garden and a big green salad.  A little wine completed our meal, and we relaxed with a big fire built of driftwood.  I am pretty sure we had the first Cremora bomb that night—more about that later. 

Helen and Steve prepare dinner at our first camp. Yum.

Monday found us all eager to get going.  Steve Axon had told us about a slot canyon a mile hike up from the head of (I think) Smith Fork Canyon, and we decided to take that as a side trip.  After close to 2 miles of twists and turns with few places to land and stretch, we came to the end of the water with still no really good place to hop out of kayaks and hike up canyon (another mile).  We voted and decided to skip the canyon this time and head back out and stop at the one spot we had seen with a bit of beach, have lunch and a nap in the shade of the tamarisk. 

This is where we stopped for lunch and a nap.

Hat over eyes, we were just nodding off when the slow rumble of an engine  had us looking down canyon, wondering what was coming.  It was a houseboat, moving slowly, almost as wide as the canyon, but determined to get as close to the head of the canyon as possible.  As it moved slowly past, we wondered if it would have to back out.  It was followed by two fellows going at top speed on jet skis, their wake rocking the kayaks against the rocks on shore.  We got back in the kayaks and headed back to the main lake.  By the time we stopped for the evening, the GPS showed about 20 miles of paddling. 

I caught this blur of a jetski as it roared by.

Our camp that night was the best we could find as spot after spot was already taken and afternoon stretched into evening and darkness began to approach.  It was a narrow rocky beach under a steep wall of rock, and at first we just sat in our boats and thought this is not great, but hunger made us reconsider—it was dry and had a nice ledge for cooking.  Chuck and I fixed salmon croquettes (salmon from a pouch), rice, beans, and fruit salad for our group dinner.  I do not remember a fire—space was limited.  Those of us sleeping in tents found the few level spots, Jim and the Gales slept in their boats.  Steve Thayer never arrived, and we did not see him until early the next morning when he came slowly sailing in for breakfast.  He had explored some different side canyons and never found our camp.  Steve and Helen also camped elsewhere that night. 

Steve Thayer finally comes rowing into camp - the next morning.

Each morning, there was much discussion about where we might look for a camp for the night.  Typically, we needed to go 7 to 9 miles up lake each day.  The different boats had different speeds, and we all had our own ideas about side trips, so we would agree to meet in a general area in the afternoon.  Jim Thayer and his son, Steve were each proceeding under sail, rowing if they had to.  John Dennison and Michael Jackson in the Hobie Islanders had sails, and also the Hobie mirage drive.  Heather rowed her Whitehall and raised her small sail whenever the wind was right.  Wil rowed most days in his boat built by his grandfather, the late Jack Hicks.  Tom had a new boat, a Venture 22 and he sailed when possible, and motored when not.  Chuck and I had determined that we could pretty easily make 2 or 3 miles an hour paddling the Toto and Imresboat with just moderate effort, so we had plenty of time to piddle around and explore and still find everyone later. 

Michael Jackson (the other Michael Jackson)
John Dennison (is he even awake?)

Today’s first goal was finding a small secluded niche for a swim/bath.  After paddling into several small canyons, we found one that looked perfect.  A small beach to land on and a deep spot for swimming.  I found the flaw almost immediately.  I was going to slowly walk into the water, get used to the coolness at leisure.  Just beneath the surface of the water, the algae growing on the steeper than I realized rock turned it into a slide and whoosh, I was in the water.  Not really a flaw, the water felt wonderful.  The problem turned out to be getting back out of the water.  I found toe holds in the rocks, and managed to bathe while holding on with my toes.  Chuck had left his shoes on, and that turned out to be the trick with the slippery rocks.  He pulled me out of the water, and we dried off and dressed in the sun.  No photos here.

Ha!  I did get one, but it was taken before the show.

On to Part 2


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