Amphibious Ambling

September 22, 2005
Filed under Destinations

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By most standards, The Turtle Expedition style of travel is, ah, spartan. Even our Tortuga Expedition Camper is small compared to big fifth-wheel trailers or motorhomes with multiple slideouts, so you can imagine how excited we were to test something a little more luxurious. Did I say a little more?

When we stepped into the new 75-foot (yeah, seventy-five foot) Odyssey, my first thought was, “I could live here.” For starters, some of the standard features include six staterooms with GPS/auto-tracking satellite TV/VCR in each; three bathrooms; washer/dryer; satellite radio; and a full kitchen with a residential range, dishwasher, trash compactor, full refrigerator and separate freezer, gas barbecue and a wine cooler.

In the salon, there is a fireplace and a 36-inch satellite TV/VCR/DVD/CD changer home-theater system. Did I mention upstairs? That’s where the wet bar with a second refrigerator is located, next to the second barbecue and the second entertainment center, just across from the sun deck and the eight-person hot tub. All this, and right out the back door is Lake Powell, the second largest man-made lake in the United States, located conveniently in the Grand Circle — a collection of national parks that would take months to explore. Lake Powell, on the border of Utah and Arizona, is part of the more than 1 million acres of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

With nearly 2,000 miles of dramatic shoreline bordered by towering red-rock sandstone cliffs, it rivals the Grand Canyon in beauty. Add some 90 major canyons, sparkling blue-green water, excellent fishing and inviting sandy beaches, and you have one of the most diverse recreation areas in the world. In case you haven’t guessed, the Odyssey is a luxury houseboat — does that make it an RB (Recreational Boat)? We had come to see how easy it is to mix water RBing with land RVing. Our first stop was the modern Wahweap Camp Ground, which is part of the Lake Powell Lodge and Marina Resort complex, (formerly called the Wahweap Lodge & Marina). Spacious sites with full hook-ups are nicely tiered above the main lodge, lake and marina.

While the RV park was comfortable, the twinkling lights of the RB park (read: marina) looked like a small town, with hundreds of houseboats moored at the docks. The next day we left our land yacht moored in the RV park and boarded the Odyssey for a relaxing cruise. Of course, like any large land RV, the Odyssey had a dinghy, in this case, an inboard speedboat with ample seating for eight. With full Lowrance GPS navigation on board, it’s not terribly difficult to find your way around, but we took advantage of the marina’s standard first-night service provided to renters of luxury houseboats, and had a knowledgeable captain find a private cove for the evening. With the gangplank lowered to shore, we jumped in the powerboat and did some touring. It would take weeks of exploring to see even the best of Lake Powell. A day was spent dipping into various side canyons, some so narrow we could not turn the boat around. A must-see is the famous Rainbow Bridge. At 290 feet tall with a span of 275 feet, it is the world’s largest natural bridge. Our tour was exclusively for a select group of pampered journalists.

The Lodge had arranged for celebrity chef Brandon Shubert to prepare some sumptuous meals as examples of what the resort’s elegant Rainbow Room restaurant is offering this year. Crispy Farm Raised Striped Bass and Tournedos of Hearst Ranch Grass Fed Beef were among the entrees we enjoyed. Sitting around a campfire on the beach where we anchored, wiggling our toes into the soft warm sand, we all agreed that houseboats offer an excellent and affordable solution to a vacation for family or any large group. Back on shore, we returned to RV life and set out to see what the area around Page, Arizona, had to offer. A few miles outside of town, we parked and took the short walk to check out the amazing Horseshoe Bend, where the Colorado River nearly doubles around on itself. Even a 24mm lens cannot capture it all. With sheer 1,000-foot cliffs, the view is spectacular.

Speaking of spectacular — that word gets used a lot around here — after a visit to the inside of the 710-foot-tall Glen Canyon Dam and the adjoining Carl Hayden Visitor Center and Museum, we took a raft trip down the Colorado to Lees Ferry. This was a flat-water excursion, but the lack of heart stopping rapids did not diminish the beauty of Glen Canyon’s awesomely sheer precipices. Page began as a construction camp for the dam, and has since grown into a flourishing city of nearly 7,000 people. There are several interesting gift shops and all services, and the John Wesley Powell Memorial Museum contains a fascinating slice of history. Perhaps one of the most spectacular — there’s that word again — side trip we took was to the Upper Antelope Canyon, unquestionably the most photographed slot canyon in Arizona. It’s located outside of Page, on Navajo Reservation land.

Antelope Canyon Tours operate specially prepared 4WD trucks that transport guests to the canyon’s entrance. The amazing petrified sand dune slot has been carved by water, wind and time. Its 130-foot-high walls are breath-taking. We planned our visit for mid-day when the light is best, and it was — where’s my thesaurus — astounding! Between houseboating on Lake Powell and touring the national parks that surround the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, it’s really hard to imagine a better vacation spot.

The transition from land to water is nearly seamless, and when you consider the expense of renting other land RVs or rooms in hotels, the cost per person, per day, on a luxury houseboat like the Odyssey is just begging for your next family reunion.

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