Lake Powell Houseboat Adventure: 10 Lessons Learned

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Lake Powell is a massive reservoir on the Utah/Arizona border.  There aren’t many roads in this sparsely populated desert region, so this man-made lake makes the perfect highway to explore canyon country! There is no better way to experience the surreal beauty of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area than a Lake Powell houseboat vacation!Lake Powell Houseboat

Lake Powell is HUGE! It stretches 186 miles in length and has approximately 1960 miles of shoreline! Lake Powell was formed by the completion of Glen Canyon Dam in 1966 and took 17 years to fill!

If you boat regularly on Lake Powell, then you may know some or all of these things. However, as this was our first Lake Powell houseboat adventure, we learned several lessons:

  1. Communication is difficult. During much of our trip, we had no means of communication. Cell phone signal was extremely spotty (at best). The houseboat had a marine radio, but it did not work everywhere (including places we anchored overnight).  I had anticipated this issue and rented a satellite phone for this trip in case of emergency.

    Lake Powell Houseboat
    I tested satellite phone in an area where we had no other form of communication. It worked.
  2. A paper map is a MUST! Because of the issues mentioned in #1, don’t leave the marina without a detailed paper map! We used the waterproof and tear resistant map by National Geographic. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: Utah / Arizona, USA (Trails Illustrated Map 213) Also, keep in mind that when your down in the lake, those rocks will all start to look alike. It is a good idea to keep up with where you are on the paper map as you move along through the lake.

    Lake Powell Houseboat Map
    National Geographic Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Map
  3. The wind can be fierce. Pay close attention to the weather before you leave. Unfortunately, a lake wind advisory was issued after we left the marina, and we had no knowledge of it until we returned. In retrospect, we should have found a place to anchor as soon as we noticed the winds picking up.

    Lake Powell Houseboat-5 trip
    The Lake Powell Wind
  4. It was easier to anchor in the morning.  During our visit, we found the winds to be calmer in the morning, and thus, it was easier to anchor the boat at that time of day. After night one, we moved the boat first thing and anchored before noon. Again, check the weather and with the locals at the time of your trip.

    Lake Powell Houseboat
    Moving the Houseboat in the Morning
  5. Lake Powell has lots of underwater obstacles. I recommend talking with someone with recent experience on the lake to warn you of those areas that are extra rocky. Make notes on that paper map you’re bringing with you.Lake Powell Rock Formations
  6. Anchoring takes physical strength. Keep in mind that you’ll have to dig 2 or more fairly deep holes to anchor the houseboat securely. Make sure at least one or two people in your party have the strength to do this. This would be a significant problem for someone with a mechanical injury.

    Lake Powell Houseboat Anchor
    The Houseboat Anchor
  7. Seriously consider the extra insurance. Lake Powell is in a canyon filled with those same types of monoliths and rock formations you see all over this area. But, these are under water and difficult to see. Another potential hazard in narrow channels is the wind. It can blow your boat against the rock. (This happened to us, fortunately, the damage was minimal.)  It pays to be careful and get the extra insurance.Lake Powell Houseboat
  8. Check and recheck supplies.  It is important to have all the needed supplies before launch. You do not want to have to go back to get something.  It is too far and just not practical.

    Lake Powell the cut trips
    Passing Through the Cut
  9. It took us longer to get back to the marina than expected.  We were concerned that we’d be late for drop off time.  There are 2 reasons for this: houseboats are slow (we knew this) and Lake Powell is humongous (we knew but couldn’t fully appreciate this). We made it just under the wire!Lake Powell Houseboat Marina
  10. It is completely amazing.  There is absolutely nothing else like a Lake Powell houseboat adventure. This was such a completely awesome experience that I can’t even begin to describe it adequately.

    Lake Powell Houseboat
    The Night Sky over Lake Powell

A Lake Powell houseboat trip was a bucket list experience for us. It exceeded all expectations. I’d love to return and stay longer, of course!  We did learn some lessons from this adventure, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. Lake Powell is nothing short of magical!Lake Powell Houseboat

Page, Arizona sits on the shores of Lake Powell. Check out this other information:  Lake Powell Bathtub RingHorseshoe Bend: 5 Things to Know BEFORE You GoGlen Canyon Dam TourYou CAN Tour Antelope Canyon, and Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon.

Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour

Tom and Jesse Bingham came across an unassuming hole in 1881. As the story goes, the wind from this hole blew Tom’s hat right off his head. A few days later, that hat was sucked in the hole in by the wind.

Wind Cave Natural Entrance
The natural entrance to Wind Cave and origin of the legendary hat story

This hole was an opening to Wind Cave. Wind Cave National Park is the world’s 6th largest known cave system with over 140 miles of explored passages.  It also has the distinction of being the first cave to be designated as a national park.

Wind Cave National Park Sign

Wind Cave was named for the pronounced way the cave breathes. The air pressure inside the cave is constantly working to equalize with the air pressure outside the cave which creates its wind.

Wind Cave Air Flow Conditions
Visitor Center display shows the current air flow in or out of the cave.

One Wind Cave’s unique features is the intricate boxwork, or honeycombed calcite formations which fill the cave.  This South Dakota cave system has the largest concentration of these lace like formations in the world. Wind Cave is unlike any other cave I’ve visited!

Boxwork on the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour
Intricate Wind Cave boxwork

The park service offers several tour options. We selected the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour. Tickets for the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour or any of the other tours available may be purchased at the tour desk in the visitor center.  If someone traveling in your party has a 4th grade pass, be sure to mention it when you purchase your tickets.

Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour Map
Map showing the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour route

The Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour is rated as one of the more difficult walking tours due to the number of stairs. There are 450 stairs on the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour. Those stairs are both up and down and occur throughout the 2/3 mile tour.

Boxwork on the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour

I recommend arriving early in the day to purchase tour tickets. Tickets are limited and available on a first come first serve basis. While we waited for our tour time, we enjoyed exploring the exhibits in the visitors center.

Map of Wind Cave National Park
Map of explored passages of Wind Cave in the visitor center

The Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour begins in the Elevator Building. Since everyone in the tour cannot fit in the elevator at the same time, we descended in groups.

Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour Elevator
The Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour elevator

Throughout the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour, the park ranger pointed out the cave’s unique features and talked about Wind Cave’s rich history.

Wind Cave Fairground Tour
At the age of 16, Alvin McDonald began exploring Wind Cave and continued until his death at age 20.  He explored 8 to 10 miles of Wind Cave and left his initials on the ceiling in this room in code.

Of course, as with any other cave tour I’ve been on, there is the obligatory turning off the lights to showcase the darkness.  Fortunately, on the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour, we were actually seated on some small bleachers during the blackout.  Side note: I would rather skip the dark portion of the cave tour.  I get it. It is super dark in there. No need to demonstrate!

Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour

The Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour lasts about hour and a half. Fortunately, after the tour is over, you get out the way you came, the elevator!

Boxwork on the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour

I did not find the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour to be all that strenuous. We stopped numerous times throughout the tour to look at formations and to hear cave history. In my opinion, a person in reasonable health with no mobility challenges should be ok on this tour.

Wind Cave National Park-19 trip

Wind Cave National Park is an incredible place both above and below ground. Whether you choose the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour or one of the other tour options, you’ll be amazed at the spectacular intricacy of the formations in this cave.

Boxwork on the Wind Cave Fairgrounds Tour

Be sure to check out this Fun Fact about Wind Cave National Park!

The Needles Eye Tunnel in Custer State Park

The Needles Highway is one of the many scenic drives in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This section of Highway 87 is part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway and is located in Custer State Park. The Needles Highway stretches from the junction of Highway 16A in the east to Sylvan Lake in the west. My favorite part of this drive is the Needles Eye Tunnel.

View larger map

The Needles Highway winds through spectacular Black Hills scenery.  This 14 mile stretch of highway was completed in 1922.  The terrain is dotted with other-worldly granite rock pinnacles. While driving this highway, you’ll have a better appreciation of the formidable challenge construction crews must have faced trying to make this road happen!

Custer State Park Trips
Needles Highway scenery

The entire drive is amazing, but the Needles Eye Tunnel is truly unique. It is a one lane section of road which passes right through granite.

Needles Eye Tunnel
Make sure your vehicle meets the size requirements!

The Needles Eye Tunnel is small! Be mindful of the size restrictions. Getting stuck in a tunnel on vacation would seriously cut down on fun time!

Needles Eye Tunnel
Signs indicate the size restrictions for the tunnel.

When I first read about the Needles Eye Tunnel, I assumed its name came from the feeling you get when driving through the tunnel – like going through the eye of a needle. Not so! There is actually a rock pinnacle that looks just like a needle’s eye next to the tunnel!

The Needles Eye rock formation in Custer State Park.
The Needles Eye rock formation.

It is easy to access the Needles Eye Tunnel. It is less than 2 miles from Sylvan Lake Lodge. On the west side of the tunnel, you’ll find a couple of small pullouts by the Needles Eye rock formation. I suggest that you park and get out of your car to get a better view but watch for traffic!

Needles Eye Tunnel
There are a few places to park near the Needles Eye Tunnel.

The Needles Highway and tunnel are not open during the winter.  Typically, the season runs from April through some time in October.  Check the South Dakota Department of Transportation to find out the status of the Needles Highway for the time of your visit.

Needles Eye Tunnel in Custer State Park
Driving thru the Needles Eye Tunnel does feel like driving thru the eye of a needle!

The Black Hills in South Dakota has so much to see and do! The Needles Highway is only one of the incredible drives in this area!  The Needles Eye Tunnel is a fun feature which the whole family will remember long after your trip!

South Dakota is a great state for a road trip!  Check out the Badlands Notch Trail, the best way to drive to Mount Rushmore, and the Corn Palace in Mitchell.

Delicate Arch Hike: 6 Things to Know Before You Go

Arches National Park is home to over 2000 natural arches and boasts the largest concentration of arches in the world. Of all those 2000 arches, there is one that stands out – Delicate Arch. This arch gets more press than all the other arches combined. It is the star of both Utah’s license plate and state quarter! Visiting Arches National Park without seeing Delicate Arch seems like visiting Paris and skipping the Eiffle Tower. Who doesn’t want their picture made with this icon?

Delicate Arch hike in Arches National Park

Delicate Arch is not visible from the park’s main road. To see this rock star, you can either trek the 3 mile round trip Delicate Arch hike or visit the much easier to access Delicate Arch Viewpoints area to see the arch from about a mile away.

Delicate Arch hike in Arches National Park
The Delicate Arch Hike slickrock.

If you are physically able, I recommend making the Delicate Arch hike which begins at Wolf Ranch. It is a much more rewarding experience. Should you decide to hike this trail, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. It’s uphill. Delicate Arch hike has an elevation gain of 480 feet.  Once you pass the first flat section of the trail, the elevation gain is primarily up open slickrock. The trail is marked with carins.Delicate Arch hike in Arches National ParkDelicate Arch hike open slickrock
  2. There is no shade. Most of the trail traverses slickrock. So, there is basically no shade. The sun can be quite intense during the most challenging part of this hike. Consider wearing a hat and don’t forget your sunscreen! Also, don’t expect respite from the sun once you reach the arch. There is no real shade up there either.Delicate Arch hike open slickrock
  3. Water is a must. I know this is obvious but still worth mentioning. It would be really easy to get dehydrated on the Delicate Arch hike. Arches National Park is a high desert environment, so I suggest bringing plenty of water since you’ll be exerting quite a bit of effort.Delicate Arch hike in Arches National Park
  4. You won’t be alone. The Delicate Arch hike is popular. If you are seeking solitude in Arches National Park, look elsewhere. During busy times of the year, getting a photo of Delicate Arch without people in it can be challenging. Be patient and you’ll likely have an opportunity, albeit brief.Delicate Arch Trail in Arches National Park
  5. Mind the drop off. In general, this is not a trail where you have to worry about taking a tumble off a cliff. However, there is a short section right before you reach the arch where you might want to keep the kiddos close.

    Delicate Arch hike narrow portion of the trail
    Narrow Section of the Delicate Arch Hike
  6. You may not want to leave. The stonework here is mesmerizing. Gazing on this giant spectacle from different perspectives never gets old. It is a bit of work to get up to the arch, so allow yourself extra time to sit and stare.View of Delicate Arch Thru Rock Opening

The Delicate Arch hike is not easy. But, the payoff is worth every uphill step! With the La Sal Mountains as a backdrop, this natural wonder poses perfectly on the rock face. No wonder this Delicate Arch steals so much of the spotlight!

Delicate Arch Hike Closeup View of Delicate Arch
We made it! The Delicate Arch hike is worth every step!

For more information on Arches National Park hikes, check out Turret ArchPark AvenueBalanced Rock, and Family Fun in Moab.

La Jolla Sea Kayaking: Caves, Sea Lions, and Sharks

La Jolla is a coastal community about 12 miles north of downtown San Diego. One of La Jolla’s big draws is, of course, the beach. This family friendly 1 mile stretch of sand is adjacent to sea cliffs that house a series of caves. These caves are easy to access by sea kayak.Sea Caves in La Jolla

A sea cave adventure in La Jolla sounded too good to pass up! We decided to use a guide service rather than going it alone. Several local companies offer this service. We selected La Jolla Sea Cave Kayaks. In retrospect, I’m really glad we went with a guide! We saw and learned so much more from our guide, Luke, than we could have experienced on our own!

La Jolla Sea Kayaking

Our sea cave kayak tour was in the morning. We started  with a lesson on the beach in maneuvering the kayak. Fortunately, the water was like glass at launch time, so we had no trouble getting past the breakers.

Sea Kayaking in La Jolla

When we arrived at the cave, safety was the primary focus.  Our guide carefully explained the process of entering and exiting the cave. We were led in the cave 2 kayaks at a time. Instruction included how far into the cave to paddle and when to paddle out.  I was glad to be with a guide who knew the pattern of the waves as well as the location of the obstacles. I would not have felt comfortable doing this solo!

Sea Cave Kayaking in La Jolla

Mission accomplished – we kayaked in a sea cave! But, the fun was far from over! A colony of sea lions was lounging  on rocks near the cave. These marine mammals were entertaining and quite vocal! We had plenty of time to just sit and watch the sea lion soap opera unfold. Watching bulls jockey for position among the females was a hoot!

Sea Lions in La Jolla

On the return paddle along the cliffs, we stopped to watch sharks swimming below the surface. No need to sing the Jaws’ theme song – these were leopard sharks which are harmless to humans. It was such a treat to see these amazing predators in their natural habitat!

Leopard Shark in La Jolla

Kayaking in the sea cave and along the rocky La Jolla coastline was really fun! It wasn’t difficult or scary. A sea kayaking experience was an amazing way to spend a morning in La Jolla.  It far exceeded my expectations and was a highlight of our trip!

Tip & Tee: San Diego Bay

San Diego is home to a natural deep water harbor with a rich military and commercial history. San Diego Bay is at the heart of this coastal city. It is lined with hotels, shops, and restaurants, and there is no shortage of opportunities to stroll alongside this body of water.

Sailboat in San Diego Bay

San Diego Bay Trip Tip

There is so much to do in this Top Gun town that no trip is long enough to do it all! However, there is no better way to see San Diego than to get out on the bay. Whether you take a bay cruise or rent a boat and explore on your own, admiring San Diego from this incredible perspective is an experience you won’t soon forget.

San Diego TeeWhen it comes to shopping on a trip, I am a total tourist! My favorite souvenirs are travel tee shirts! Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a collection. In Tip & Tee, I share some of my treasures and a Trip Tip for that destination!

The Corn Palace of South Dakota

Mitchell, South Dakota is home to a quirky and one of a kind attraction –  The Corn Palace. I’ll admit when I first heard about The Corn Palace, I was somewhat skeptical. However, a trusted source from South Dakota insisted it was worth a stop.  She was right. I’m glad we made time for a visit!

South Dakota Corn Palace-2 trip

The Corn Palace has a great backstory. In the late 1800’s, the citizens of Mitchell decided to build a corn palace to showcase its rich farmland to attract settlers. Oddly enough, this was not a novel idea at the time.  In fact, corn and grain palaces were cropping up throughout the plains.  Fortunately, Mitchell’s Corn Palace has stood the test of time thanks to the support of the community.

Corn Palace of South Dakota

Mitchell’s original corn palace was built in 1892 and was the centerpiece of the Corn Belt Expo. It has been rebuilt several times over the years.  Today’s Corn Palace was constructed in 1921 and serves as an entertainment venue as well as a home for community events.

Corn Palace of South Dakota

Surprisingly, there is no charge to visit the Corn Palace!  Several exhibits highlight the importance of corn on the economy as well as the painstaking work that goes into decorating the palace each year. Many of these exhibits are interactive and great for kids! A gift shop on the arena floor sells more corn related merchandise than you can imagine. There is a Corn Palace movie as well as a tour available. I suggest allowing at least an hour for your visit.

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The Worlds Only Corn Palace is a distinctive destination that you’ll not soon forget.  Corn designs and murals are both inside and outside of the facility.  Only natural corn colors are used, and the cobs are split in half to create these designs. These murals are quite intricate.  Each year, the corn decorations are removed and replaced at a cost of over $130,000.  This is truly a labor of love.

South Dakota Corn Palace-10 tripCorn Palace of South Dakota

The Corn Palace of Mitchell, South Dakota is a unique budget friendly destination.  It is awesome to see a community embrace their past and present. They have successfully used a commodity which may seem ordinary and created something quite extraordinary!