Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell: Beauty and power

It is March 1963. The place: the depths of Glen Canyon in Arizona.  An epic is being filmed. George Stevens is directing “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Charlton Heston as John the Baptist is finishing filming for the day. He has a  wet suit under his costume (he had been doing scenes at the Crossing of The Father’s, where Arizona, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico meet). He has been standing in cold, waist high water all day (enacting the baptizing of Jesus.) He is rushing to catch the movie company’s leased DC3 for Burbank, out of the airport under construction in Page, Ariz. before daylight turns into a swampy black night, with no lights installed yet on the runway.
Max Von Sydow, who plays Jesus, gets his call sheet for the next day. They will be filming scenes of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Elaborate sets of the walls of Jerusalem, and Lazarus’ house and tomb have been recreated on parts of the bed of the Canyon. Stevens is given a note telling him he is behind schedule and must make up time, since work on the dam is ahead of schedule and the area will be flooded to create Lake Powell in September. He returns to his accommodations a few miles away, to Wahweap, Utah, where 100 prefab houses have been set up to house the crew and cast. The deal was to finish the movie before the completion of the dam and have all cast, crew and equipment out of the area in plenty of time for the flooding of the lake. Today the lake can hold 27 million acre feet of water with a surface area of 252 square miles.
This was my introduction the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. I was the senior flight attendant assigned to the chartered DC3 that took the crew and cast back and forth from the Page, Ariz. airport to Burbank every night. The film finished on schedule, and the prefab homes were donated to the Indians (who were hired as extras for the film). The movie was filmed on what today is the lake bed of Lake Powell and when the water was released, the sets were immersed and Lake Powell became the blue, shimmering, water carpet for glorious Glen Canyon and the stunning Glen Canyon Dam.
Glen Canyon Dam’s multiple purposes were sanctioned by the U.S. Congress in 1956 “to create a reservoir to provide conservation storage, control sediment, abate floods and facilitate development. Aid in fish and wildlife conservation, and produce electrical energy.” Later, the Glen Canyon Dam succeeded in all these areas, but has also provided a magnificent monument of power and beauty. The Glen Canyon Dam, the Glen Canyon Bridge (the second highest steel arch bridge in the United States) and Lake Powell are a tribute to the creativity of man.
The beauty of this place is overwhelming. Just the sight of Rainbow Bridge, the largest natural stone bridge in the world will leave you with a deep reverence for nature. Hanging gardens and a variety of plants and animals make one wonder if this is truly a desert area. A glimpse of an endangered bald eagle or a peregrine falcon can make the whole trip worthwhile.
Dungeon, Cathedral, Labyrinth, Anasazi, Iceberg, Moki and Last Chance: The names of tributary canyons of Glen Canyon convey the enchanting moods of this region. This is a special place to come and refresh the spirit. A relaxing houseboat trip or a float down the Colorado River can be a captivating experience. I returned many years later as a travel editor and sped through Lake Powell in a motor boat over where the elaborate sets were immersed under the beautiful blue water. An odd spiritual feeling was felt for a few minutes.
A sunset dinner cruise is a true winner and should be mandatory for any visitor. The colors of the changing sky with lightning streaks against the canyon walls gives the feel of time as grand, silent and beautiful as the canyon itself. As that last bit of fire from the sun covers itself with the night, a special unique moment is created that can leave you breathless. To add to the perfection of the evening, the food and service on the cruise is excellent.
For reservations and information for house boat rentals and dinner cruise, call 888-454-8825.
Wahweap Lodge and Marina, located on the south shore, 6 miles north of Page, Ariz., has come a long way from these prefab houses that were set up for the cast and crew of “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Comfortable accommodations, some with views of the lake and all the usual amenities that go with a memorable stay are available. Fine dining, entertainment and an upscale gift shop are also included. Houseboats, small boats (with motors and covers), rafting trips and boat tours are there for your pleasure. Page also has a number of reasonable hotels.
In the Arizona and Utah area your best bet is Avis, Enterprise and Arizona Rent A Car. They offer great service, competitive rates and new clean, well-maintained cars. You can pick up a car at Page Municipal Airport, which is the closest point to the Glen Canyon Dam.

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