Glen Canyon Dam (and Lake Powell)

From the air.

One of the benefits of being a single pilot helicopter operator — as opposed to a big helicopter tour company or flight school — is that I can take flying gigs that many larger operators have to turn down. This is one of the reasons I fly, once or twice a year, for the leader of photographic expeditions in the southwest. He’ll call me when he has a group together and ask me to fly them around Lake Powell for aerial photo sessions of the lake.

It’s a great gig and I love it. What’s not to like about flying over some of the most spectacular scenery in the southwest for several days in a row and getting paid to do it?

Glen Canyon DamLast year my husband Mike came along for the ferry flight to Page. We stayed two nights — I fly only around sunrise and late afternoon for my clients on this gig — and departed early the next morning for Wickenburg. That’s when Mike took this shot of the Glen Canyon Dam with the morning sun casting shadows in the canyon.

According to Wikipedia:

Glen Canyon Dam is a dam on the Colorado River at Page, Arizona, operated by the United States Bureau of Reclamation. The purpose of the dam is to provide water storage for the arid southwestern United States, and to generate electricity for the region’s growing population. The dam has been controversial since its inception, because it caused the flooding of the scenic Glen Canyon and its tributaries to create a man-made reservoir, Lake Powell.


The Glen Canyon Dam is a 710 foot high structure which provides more storage capacity than all other storage features of the Colorado River Storage Project combined. The concrete arch dam has a crest length of 1,560 feet and contains 4,901,000 cubic yards of concrete. The dam is 25 feet wide at the crest and 300 feet wide at the maximum base. Its height above the Colorado River is 587 feet.

Unlike the Hoover Dam, which is the next dam down river in the Colorado River Storage Project, the Glen Canyon Dam has always had a separate bridge for crossing the river — the 1,271-foot bridge you see beside the dam in this photo. This, and its remote location, make it is less of a security concern than the Hoover Dam. (I’m not sure if the construction on the new bridge near the Hoover Dam is done yet; I need to fly up there one of these days and check it out.)

Lake Powell is one of the destinations on the Southwest Circle Helicopter Adventure and Land of the Navajo Helicopter Excursion that Flying M Air offers. I do these trips in the spring and autumn, when there are fewer people in the area but the weather is still warm enough to enjoy outdoor activities.

Lake PowellThe lake is highly controversial. The dam flooded a huge area of pristine canyon lands with many archeological sites and even a few active settlements. This land was mostly inaccessible, like so much of America’s desert wilderness. That may be why the decision to build the dam was made. Although the Sierra Club would like nothing more than to destroy the dam and drain the lake, at this point I think it’s too late. The canyon walls are stained with minerals from the water and all plant life beneath the current water level is dead. It would take hundreds, if not thousands, of years for the area to be restored to its original health and beauty. Sadly, the need for water in the desert southwest has become more important than the need for another remote wilderness. We should be thankful that the original plan to stretch a dam across the Grand Canyon was scrapped, as we could have lost that instead.

Wahweap MarinaI think we should be satisfied with the beauty of the lake and the recreational opportunities it provides. Although most boating activity goes on in the Page area, there’s nothing so peaceful or relaxing as climbing aboard a houseboat for a week-long trip up lake, where few day-trippers venture. Exploring the side canyons by small boat or on foot gives you a sense of what it might have been like before the waters rose.

Indeed, that’s where I hope to retire when I get too old to fly: on a houseboat at Lake Powell.

2 thoughts on “Glen Canyon Dam (and Lake Powell)

  1. Lake Powell is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Anytime relatives come to visit, we make the trek to see Page. What is sad to me is seeing the water level drop and drop. Did yopu know that the last Planet of the apes was filmed there. I’m with you, I’d love to retire there. Thanks for your blog(s) and pics.

  2. during the early 70’s I worked as an electrician for 2 years and lived in a 27’Winnebago trailer parked in Bechtels 700 trailer parking lot. We bought a 21′ Reinell boat used but just like new. Weather permitting we would spend our week-ends on beautiful Lake Powell, if we had guests we would take them to Rainbow bridge. We were very fortunate to have boated on the lake before this drought became so bad. Never the less we have many fond memories of Page and Lake Powell. Can’t tell you how much we enjoy your pictures and articles. We’ll continue watching for them and Thank You! Al Jackson

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