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Houseboat heaven on a man-made lake

© By Pat Brennan
  Trucking magnate, Jerry Moyes, thinks big. He plans to hoist the Stanley Cup over his head while standing out in the Arizona desert on the world's largest floating concrete island.
     To achieve that, he partnered with Wayne Gretzky and bought the Phoenix Coyotes. And for his huge concrete island in the desert he turned to Vancouver's Dan Wittenberg. This is not a dream -- well okay, maybe the Stanley Cup is a bit of a stretch. But in June, Moyes launched the world's largest concrete island and it is floating today on Lake Powell in Arizona's Mojave Desert.
     Wittenberg's firm, International Marine Floating Systems, built the huge concrete island as the centrepiece for Antelope Point Marina, where Moyes rents out luxury houseboats for up to $1,650 US per day. In 1966, Moyes owned one truck and was hauling steel in Phoenix. He called his company Swift Transport. Today he has 18,000 trucks and Swift Transport is the largest private carrier in the U.S. I told you he thinks big.
     Vacationers rent his houseboats to cruise on spectacular Lake Powell, a narrow lake 300 kilometres long created by throwing a dam across the mighty Colorado River. It took 17 years for the backed-up river to fill Glen Canyon and now 274-metre-high walls of red-orange rock plunge down into the shimmering lake.
     It took five million years for the Colorado to gouge out Glen Canyon and the 93 box canyons slicing off the main channel. Many of those side canyons are too narrow to accommodate houseboats and some allow only small motorboats to squeeze through its mouth, one at a time.
     One side canyon leads to Rainbow Bridge, the world's largest natural bridge. It's a rock arch 88.4 metres high, 10 metres wide, 13 metres thick and has a span of 84 metres. It is a sacred place to the Navajo Nation that surrounds Lake Powell, but visitors are welcomed on most days. The Navajo call it "Nonnoshoshi" which translates as "rainbow turned to rock." The colours in the arch give it its name.

     

     In 2000, you could boat to within a couple hundred metres of the arch which has since crumpled. Today you need to get out of your boat and walk nearly two kilometres. That's because the water in Lake Powell has gone down 31 metres since 1990, due to a prolonged drought in the southwest and reduced snow loads in the mountains. A white line of bleached rock on the canyon walls marks the high-water level reached in 1990. Still, the water is 137 metres deep in the main channel.
     For 20 years, Moyes sought federal approvals to build a marina on Lake Powell to rent boats on what he claims is the finest house boating location in the United States. When Washington finally gave him the nod, he turned to Wittenberg, whose firm has built hundreds of concrete homes that are floating today in the Fraser River estuary, plus on waterfronts in Seattle and Portland.
     "It's an acre in size and is the largest floating concrete island in the world," said Wittenberg. "We trained the Navajo trades to work with our special concrete forms and they did a fabulous job."The 8,230-square-metre island is composed of 2,352 tonnes of concrete and reinforcing steel floating on 37,186 cubic metres of Styrofoam. The island supports a luxurious restaurant, plus a service centre for the $80 million Antelope Point Marina near the south end of the lake. It's about eight kilometres from Page, Ariz., one of the newest towns in America.
     Page was built in 1957 to accommodate construction workers brought into the desert to build a huge dam across the Colorado, which created Lake Powell. When the job was done in 1963, many workers decided to stay on and thus kept the town from being swallowed up by the desert sands.
     The lake is named after John Wesley Powell, a Union Army major who lost an arm in the U.S. Civil War, but went on from there to be the first white man to explore the Grand Canyon. During that expedition Powell climbed up to the rim of the canyon from the Colorado River. A fleet of luxury houseboats is tethered to the floating island. The largest are 22.9 metres long and sleep 12 adults in five staterooms, each with flat screen, satellite HD TVs and DVD players. The foldout coach in the living room comes with a 44-inch TV.
     Of course, there's a state-of-the-art kitchen, wine cooler, laundry facilities, two full bathrooms, one with a shower stall. On the upper deck there's a hot tub that seats seven people, a canopied wet bar and a slide that gets you quickly into the tolerable waters of the lake.
     Antelope Point also has a variety of smaller house boats, such as a 13.4-metre vessel that sleeps 10 and rents for $385 a day in summer and $288 in winter. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area has 486,000 hectares of excellent hiking in rugged desert and magnificent orange-red rocky hills and mesas.
     Families and groups often anchor their houseboats in a bay or on a sandy beach and use them as a cottage. They use a small motor boat to get to side canyons.
     The dam has been controversial since it was built. It's 145 kilometres from the Grand Canyon and before it was built the wild Colorado River washed through it. Some say Lake Powell is one of the most beautiful boating areas in the world. Others say it should be drained to return it to its natural state as a deep canyon with a river at the bottom.

Patrick Brennan is a veteran travel, business writer/photographer based in Guelph. His credits include writing for a chain of 60 newspapers with 1.6 million readers. He was a staff writer/photographer at the Toronto Star for 32 years.

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Pat Brennan

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Details: www.antelopepointlakepowell.com
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Powell
Lake Powell Convention & Visitors Bureau: http://www.pagelakepowelltourism.com/

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