A Memorable Place Exploring the West by houseboat By...


August 11, 2002|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

Exploring the West by houseboat

By Gail Parker


When it came time to plan a family vacation, the consensus was to go west -- to the land of cactus and lizard, howling coyote and a million stars.

But this would be a Western adventure with a watery twist. We would be houseboating on Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona, in a desert canyon that had been flooded and turned into a lake.

No small thing, this lake. From the sky it looked like a shimmering blue insect crawling on the dusty land. But up close it looked downright formidable. The lake is 187 miles long and has more than 90 major side canyons with huge formations of barren rock that shoot straight up from the canyon floor like skyscrapers. Our houseboat was tiny in comparison.

As we left the safety of Wahweap Marina and headed out into Glen Canyon, I grew a little panicky hunting for familiar sights to navigate by. These rusty red formations have specific names on the map, like Castle Rock and Cookie Jar Butte, but they all looked the same to me.

Would we get lost? As it turned out, we would -- but not hopelessly so. And in time the lake grew familiar.

By day we'd navigate the lake, searching for spots like Rainbow Bridge, a spectacular natural arch formed by stream erosion. We explored Indian sites, caught lizards and photographed cactus and tumbleweed.

I'd watch as my husband and kids hiked the huge hills, growing smaller and finally disappearing into the landscape. Some-times we'd fish, the bass nearly leaping onto our lines, and sometimes we'd jump off the houseboat into the cool, clear water.

The great thing about houseboats is how quickly you can figure them out. Yes, they're boxy and slow, but they're also easy enough to maneuver. So when it came time to "dock" for the evening, all we had to do was nudge our bow onto the shore and dig our anchors into the sand behind some sturdy rocks, keeping the stern of the boat -- and the propellers -- safe in the water.

At night, after a simple meal, we'd watch the bats fluttering through the sky and play cards or read until the darkness overtook us. Then we'd listen for the call of the coyote as the water rocked us to sleep.

Somehow, this vacation has followed me home. When I drive by Loch Raven Reservoir, I invariably search the shoreline for the perfect mooring for a houseboat. When I look over the photos we took, I can almost feel that desert sun and hear the shush of the water. I see our family grinning at the camera and remember our best vacation ever.

Gail Parker lives in Timonium.

My Best Shot

Eileen Derry,

White Marsh

Heady sight

"I took this picture in Coimbra, Portugal, on a trip to Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Coimbra is a beautiful old town and also home to a university. Walking up a street there, I was amazed at the local women carrying baskets on their heads."

Readers Recommend

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Kathleen P. Young, Joppa

"Rio de Janeiro is a warm, friendly and clean place. The governor's palace [above], in the heart of the city, is a beautiful piece of architecture. The legendary Copaca-bana, Ipanema and Leblon beaches are lined with coconut palms and stands selling coconut water. Also in Rio, seeing the beautiful statue of Christ the Redeemer -- 16 stories high on top of Corcovado Mountain -- is truly a wonderful experience."

Napa Valley, California

Gloria Coventry Bader, Finksburg

"During a visit to San Francisco, my daughter and I took a tour of the Napa Valley wine-growing area about 60 miles northeast of the city. We stopped at a wine cellar called Domaine Chandon, where we passed an interesting grove of sculpted stone mushrooms. Our tour guide explained the principles of wine growing. It was an educational place to visit as well as being beautiful."

Let Us Hear From You

We want to know about your travels, your experiences, your pictures. Here's how to participate in this page:

My Best Shot: Send us a terrific travel photo with a description of when and where you took it. (Cash value: $50.)

A Memorable Place: In 500 words or less, tell us about a travel experience that has changed you; the nostalgia a special place evokes; the power of a favorite beach, the mountains, a city cafe. (Cash value: $150.)

Readers Recommend: Briefly tell us about places you've recently visited that you'd recommend to other readers. (Photos are welcome.)

Readers Respond: Send a brief reply to our current question: What is your favorite destination for escaping the dog days of August? Selected answers may appear in a future issue. (Photos are welcome.)

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