In years to come, the cliffs would gradually become shortened by the rising water and bleached by the sun. Lake Powell is still among the grandest features on the continent, but without doubt, the best time to see it was in the late sixties.
Friends who had visited Lake Powell rhapsodized about the hundreds of miles of canyon walls, the variegated colors, the countless islands and peninsulas. Fascinating and incongruous is this giant body of blueness in the barren wilderness. We thought we knew what to expect. Nevertheless, that day in Two-Four Fox, when we flew the full length of Lake Powell, something profound happened to me and to the members of my family. I call it "sensory overload."
Our course was due west from Cortez for 100 nautical miles, past Blanding, Utah to Bullfrog Basin at the northeastern extreme of Lake Powell. I took the plane down to 500 feet above the water and throttled back to 21 inches of mercury and 2,200 RPM. That gave us a quiet and maneuverable 120 knots. Our destination was the airport at Page, Arizona, 50 nautical miles to the southwest. Ah, but the circuitous path we followed extended the flight distance to twice that.
Ahead and to the left was Navajo Mountain; beyond lay Rainbow Plateau. Lake Powell filled all our windows. Too bad the expression "breathtaking" has been used so often. For as much as an hour, the four of us were stunned into silence. Perhaps "speechtaking" conveys the feeling. Around each banking bend, were wondrous surprises. Rugged, colorful images expanded ahead of us and flooded our eyes, saturating our brains.
At times, I almost felt like pulling up. Enough, I would think. But then . . . not enough. Don't even blink.
The lake widened as we approached the airport. I hesitated, then with a sigh, reached for the microphone. "Page Unicom, Two-Four Fox five northeast. Landing advisory, please."
"Good afternoon, Two-Four Fox. Winds variable from the north, favoring Runway Three-Three. Righthand pattern. No other reported traffic."
We landed and taxied to a tie-down. I pulled the mixture, and our propeller stopped. My family and I sat for a long minute listening to the gyros winding down. Whatever any of us might have said was inadequate to express the magnitude of the experience just passed.
My children and my wife walked arm-in-arm to the small terminal building while somehow I completed the procedures to secure the plane for the night. I picked up our luggage and followed.
Standing at the counter, I had trouble concentrating on a routine fuel order.
"Will you be needing transportation?" the clerk asked me.
"Transportation," I said thoughtfully. "Transportation, yes. To the motel, I suppose."The four of us entered the room with our luggage. I turned on the air conditioner then sat down on a small couch beside my daughter. In a chair near the window, my wife stared at the drawn blinds. The only activity for the next half hour was my son folding a plane from a sheet of motel stationery. He tested it once, then sat on the floor quietly.
As if answering some common psychic impulse, the four of us stood up and prepared to leave the room. I don't recall that we spoke so much as a word. I picked up my flight bag and opened the door. It was only a few hundred yards back to the airport.
We took off again and flew the length of Lake Powell. Both ways.