Back to Lake Powell, with Condors!


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North America » United States » Arizona » Lake Powell
March 25th 2019
Published: March 25th 2019
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Ready to move again, we broke camp for the short trip up to Lake Powell. I say short, and as the crow flies (or, more likely raven, here) it’s only about 10 miles away. For those of us forced to more terrestrial forms of transport though it’s a trip of nearly 50 miles, that takes about an hour and a half.

On our way out, we stopped this time at the Navajo Bridge, where the state highway crosses Marble Canyon. There are actually two bridges there. They are similar arched truss steel spans, the first one built in the 20’s, the second built in the 90’s. The new one is designed for heavier traffic, and is much wider to accommodate modern vehicles. Wisely though, the old span has been preserved for foot traffic and sightseeing.

We crossed and parked on the south side, then walked back over towards the visitor center to the north. The view from there is spectacular, with the Colorado River streaming under you almost 500’ below. We saw a young guy taking pictures with a DSLR camera and a big lense. He was looking a couple of big, vulture-looking birds on a shelf of the northern canyon wall.

I thought they looked sort of like common turkey vultures, but different. So I said to the guy “those aren’t turkey vultures, are they?” And he said “no — those are California condors!” Well — shut my mouth — I was flabbergasted! I had read that a few had been released near here, but I never expected to be lucky enough to see one.

These are among the most rare birds in the world. Functionaly extinct by the 80’s, the last 27 individuals were captured and put into a breeding program. After a time, they were re-introduced into the wild, and they seem to be doing well. Still, there are less than 500 individuals alive, so seeing these two was a rare treat.

Better still, as the young fellow pointed out, there was a little fledgling perched on another rock below his parents, proof that they are now reproducing in the wild. That was great, but the best was yet to come.

We visited the welcome center and talked with some folks there, and when we came back out, there was a young women in a rangers uniform on the bridge. She was holding a directional antenna, and scanning around with it. It turns out that “our” condors had just been waiting from the air to warm enough for thermal currents to begin, and now they were soaring about the area.

We hurried back out onto the bridge, and no sooner than we got there, the pair of adults flew right over us, what a thing to see!

We humans screw up a lot of things, and it’s easy to get discouraged buy what we see us doing each and every day. But here was an example of us getting something right. A lot of good, dedicated people worked long and hard so that those birds could soar again in these western skies. To them I say “Thank You!”

Then in was back into the truck for the drive up to the lake. In a strange coincidence, as we climbed the steep road up the face of the escarpment leading to Lake Powell we passed through a deep and narrow rock cut blasted into the towering rock formation at the top. This was the very same formation that had been pointed out to us yesterday as a “mountain giant”. This cut passed through what would have been the old fellows neck. I looked closely as we passed, but I saw no sign of any vertebrae in the sandstone walls — disappointing!

We secured a primo site at the Wahweep campground and set up. We unloaded the Sportboat and rigged her up. Tomorrow we will take a long boat ride to Labyrinth Canyon, then (hopefully) do some slot canyon hiking.

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