Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Canyon Wren

Backlight and a snowy Navajo Mountain
All eight of us settled down for a bit of a rest mid-day, waiting for the light to soften and warm before we moved on to our next destination.  Then I heard it.  My favorite bird call.  I’m a casual birder at best, but the song of the Canyon Wren wakes up my hippocampus and brings back a flood of joyous memories.   

Every place I’ve heard this bird is magical and extraordinary to me, including here on Lake Powell.  They sing to me in Grand Canyon, through Southern Utah Canyons, and in my part-time home among the rocks in Yarnell Arizona.  These are all places where I get that “no place I’d rather be” feeling and my brain has associated it with the sound.

I’m given to pointing this bird call out to friends, which has taught me that this joy  is rather a personal thing.  Others are unimpressed.  No matter; I can be content without on my own.

Gary Ladd
It had been three years since I’d last been on the lake.  I think this was trip #6, each with Gary Ladd in one capacity or another.  The Glen Canyon Natural History Association hires Gary, the photographic expert on Powell, to lead “Lens on the Lake” Houseboat trips.  After that trip in 2015 the price nearly tripled with the arrival of a new Executive Director.  Disillusioned, I didn’t plan any more until my withdrawal symptoms got the better of me and I cajoled a group, including Gary, to rent a boat and spend a week on the lake together.

Much could be said (ahem) about the condition of the rental fleet at Wahweep Marina, but I’ll skip that discussion. Likewise, I won’t detail the preparations required.  There’s some work involved, but I’m not complaining.  Feel free to contact me if you’re contemplating a trip. 

Reflections and re-reflection in Cathedral in the Desert
Incidentally, Gary wrote an article in the May 1977 issue of Arizona Highways about what I think was his first boat trip on the lake.  He rowed its length in a wooden dory.  He’s had hundreds of trips since then, I’d wager.  We appreciated the depth his experience many times on the lake.  He knew just what time to visit Cathedral in the Desert to witness a dazzling light show as the sun first penetrated the narrow canyon.  He also knew just where to hide from windy storms, of which we had several, and where to take best advantage of glittering reflections on windless days.  

Speaking of storms, we were blessed with one heck of a double rainbow…

…and some dramatic clouds.

I confess to having rather mixed feelings about this body of water.  I’m not old enough to remember the Colorado River in Glen Canyon, but the photographs are striking.  There are folks who, feeling the loss of Glen Canyon acutely,  would like the dam destroyed.  Perhaps the most famous of these was Katie Lee, who died at her home in Jerome Arizona last November at 98.  The license plate on her Prius read “DAM DAM.”

Reflections, and our 53-foot houseboat for scale
On the other hand, the lake gives access to so much natural beauty.  I could have hiked for a year before its construction and not seen what we did in a week.  The reflections alone are worth a visit.  Ultimately, we have far too much tied up in water storage, power generation, and recreation to easily drain this lake.  It won’t happen in my lifetime.

As Gary writes, “Lake Powell overflows with Paradox.”

So many riches are here for a landscape photographer.  Sometimes I get restless, thinking I’d rather be there, or over there.  Given that I can only be in one place at a time, though, I just try and make it a good one.  One with canyon wrens.

More images are in the Page and Lake Powell Gallery on the website.