Lake Powell's Cathedral in the Desert

Utah.com sent an expedition to Cathedral in the Desert April 13-14, 2005, to see for ourselves the sight that attracted so much national attention. It was a great trip: the Cathedral was spectacular, the weather was wonderful and it was fun to explore Lake Powell at that low water level.

Powell's water level has now come up, inundating the Cathedral. I don't expect it to re-emerge again in my lifetime. We continue to get calls and emails about the Cathedral and so we'll leave this info on this website, but it is too late to see the wonder yourself.

The Cathedral has become an icon for people who love Glen Canyon. They describe it as one of the world's great treasures, a place so beautiful and serene it has a spiritual transcendence. A paradise lost beneath the waters of Lake Powell, but briefly re-emerged because extended drought drastically lowered the lake's level. The New York Times recently ran a long feature article on the Cathedral. There have also been reports on ABC TV news, in National Geographic Adventure magazine and in other national and local media.

Often, when you hear extensive hype about something before you see it, the actual experience does not live up to your expectations. In this case we expected it to be great and it was exceptional. The Cathedral's colorful sandstone walls arch upward to form a huge amphitheater with a narrow slit at the top. Hanging gardens grow from seeps in the stone walls. A small stream falls down the cliff face at one end. During the middle of the afternoon a narrow beam of sunlight finds its way into the Cathedral and hits a sand bar, illuminating the entire cavern with a rich, warm golden light.

Powell's water level is now on the rise, coming up about 2 inches a day. That rate will increase as spring progresses and runoff intensifies. By mid-May the lake water level will probably be above the base of the Cathedral's waterfall. By July the waterfall may be completely covered by lake water.

On April 13 the lake's surface was at 3555.95 feet above sea level, a few feet below the bottom of the waterfall. You can monitor the water level by going to this website, www.wayneswords.com, and clicking on the home page water level link. That website also has current fishing and launch ramp reports.

We've noticed some faulty information in media reports about the Cathedral. Some have described it as a great hiking opportunity. You can boat into the Cathedral, just a few yards from the base of the waterfall, with no hiking involved. Some people have tried to hike down to the Cathedral from Hole In the Rock Road. That is extremely difficult and requires specialized canyoneering skills and equipment.

Some articles have stated that Mother Nature is doing what environmentalists have not been able to do - draining Lake Powell. They imply that it is only a matter of time before the lake will be gone. They ignore the fact that the drought is over. The lake is expected to rise 50 or more feet from this year's runoff, then fall about 20 feet through summer and fall. So the lake will have a net gain of about 30 feet during this water year.

The Cathedral is located at the back of Clear Creek Canyon, on the Escalante Arm, about 23 miles down-lake from Bullfrog. I marked these waypoints on my GPS:

  1. Mouth of Clear Creek Canyon: N 37 deg 18.050; W 110 Deg 54.464
  2. Cathedral mouth (closest point where I could get a fix): N 37 deg 17.410; W 110 Deg 54.860

I've explored most of Powell's 96 named canyons, poking my nose into many beautiful spots. The Cathedral is now my favorite. It's worth the trip. I don't think people can see it any more with the water level up. While what you see varies greatly by water level, it is surely not to be missed when coming to Lake Powell. Water levels above 3620' will allow boaters to glide through calm waters back to a place where a small powerboat can tie off. A short walk up and over some ledges will lead you into a chamber where sandstone walls tower 1000' over your head

Many other interesting features are visible now but will soon be covered by lake water, including Anasazi ruins, rock art, arches, caves, slot canyons and streams. The New York Times article said Gregory Arch, the world's second-largest natural bridge, has partially emerged. The article did not give a specific location for the bridge and I have not yet been able to track it down. If you know about Gregory Arch please send me an email: davewebb@utah.com.

We launched on the temporary ramp at Bullfrog and had no trouble putting a 21-foot boat into the water. With the lake now coming up, launching conditions will get better and better. Good ramps are available at Wahweap, Bullfrog and Halls Crossing.

- Dave Webb

Back to top Print this page E-mail this page