Exploring Lake Powell…from the Ground

A drive to Romana Mesa.

Yesterday, after finishing Chapter 7 of the book I’m working on, I took the afternoon off. I really needed a break and yesterday seemed like a good time to take it.

I drove out to Romana Mesa. These days, as some of you know, I’m living in Page, AZ, where American Aviation is booking photo flights and day trips for my helicopter. I only want 5 to 10 hours of flight time a week, and that’s just what they’re giving me. It gives me plenty of time to work on my book and, when I need a break, I can take it.

Romana Mesa is on the north side of Lake Powell, across the lake from Tower Butte. It’s a high mesa, about 1,000 feet of the surface of the lake. The tour planes flight right over it and use it as a reporting point. On a recent helicopter flight, I saw a truck out there. I figured if someone else got a truck out there, I could, too.

So I did some research and, with the help of Google Maps, discovered which back roads would get me there. I had no idea of the condition of the roads, but I had Mike’s 4WD Chevy pickup which I figured would be able to handle most conditions. I used Garmin’s MapSource software to load area topo maps into my Garmin GPSMap60c — I’d had Washington maps in there — and packed up some food and clothes (in case I got stuck), my camera and tripod, and a cooler full of ice and drinks. At 3 PM, I headed out.

This segment of the Lake Powell Map shows my route. The purple line traces my route in and out.

To Romana Mesa

I drove out on highway 89 to Big Water and turned right onto the only road that ventured north east along the north side of the lake. The road soon turned to dirt. I drove through Wahweap Creek, which wasn’t much more than a puddle. Further on, I was surprised to find a sign that pointed me toward Utah Route 12, which I knew ran east/west far north of the lake. Evidently, there was back road access to it.

The road wasn’t in bad shape, but it obviously hadn’t been graded since the last rainstorm. The mud had been deeply grooved by trucks and other vehicles that had been out there when it was still wet. That mud was now dry and rock hard. The going was easy enough, but it jarred my bad back in more than a few places. I wished I had my Jeep, which offers a softer ride on roads like that.

There were signs at each intersection. I followed the one to the Grand Bench, then turned right on route 264. By this time, I’d climbed to mesa-top level. The road struck out over flat terrain studded with small bushes and grass. Very easy going, despite the fact that the road had narrowed down to a single-lane cut through the sand and rock.

About four miles down the road, I got to my first viewpoint. I was rather surprised to find a white Jeep Cherokee (or some other SUV; I really wasn’t paying attention) out there. I chatted with the woman while her husband walked to the edge of the cliff to snap photos. They were from Boston. I got the impression that she was nervous about being so far away from roads and people. She stuck with her vehicle, then followed me as I went to the cliff edge to take some photos. I gave her some ideas for photographing Lower Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. They moved on down the road while I took a break for some cold water.

The road got weird. It was all rock in one place with deep cracks and fissures. The road was invisible — no tire tracks in sight. But beyond that area I could see the road continuing on toward the end of the mesa. The people from Boston gave up and turned around. I kept going. I found a path over the rocks and joined up with the road again. A while later, I had to repeat the same process in another spot. The road forked off in a few places, but I stuck with the main road. It ended a few minutes later, less than a mile from where the Bostonians had turned around. I parked and got out.

Lake PowellI was on the edge of a cliff, looking down at Gunsight Butte. There were houseboats down below me and a few powerboats cutting wake into the otherwise calm water. I walked around a bit and took pictures. Then I settled down to wait for the light to change.

It had taken me close to two hours to get out to the edge of the mesa — a distance of about 40 road miles and less than 10 air miles. I wanted to take photos in the late afternoon light. There was a storm out to the west and the sun would soon be sinking behind it. There was another storm to the east, which appeared to be moving toward me. I couldn’t stay until sunset because, if I did, I’d be driving at least 25 miles of unimproved, unmarked dirt road in the dark. My night vision is pretty crappy and I knew that would not be a good idea. So I decided to wait no longer than until 6 PM.

While I waited, I took photos and drank cold beverages and ate cherries. I also took this video:

I’ll be putting the photos I took in my Photo Gallery, http://www.FlyingMPhotos.com/.

I left the area at 6:10 PM. It took 30 minutes just to drive the 5 miles to the turnoff for the mesa. The sun set while I was about 2/3 back. My headlights came on when I reached pavement. It was about 7:40 PM when I rolled back into the campground.

Would I do it again? Definitely. Would I recommend it to others? Yes. But on a cooler day. (It was 95°F out there.) Bring plenty of water. An overnight camping trip out there would be incredible, too.

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