Lake Powell - History
The history of Lake Powell is closely associated with the place where the Glen Canyon Dam, a region which was formed during the Pleistocene, about 9,000 to 11,000 years ago. It is believed that the first inhabitants of this region were a tribe of prehistoric Native Indians, referred to as the Paleo-Indian people.
When the Ice Age was over, the actual region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah developed a Desert Archaic culture based on nomadic lifestyle until the year 200 BC when Anasazis (Puebloan) populated the area. All of those ancient Indian tribes were basically hunters and basket makers.
Corn in the region was making the tribes steady settlers, creating irrigation systems as they found new resources for their baskets and pottery. Indians also manufactured rudimentary artifacts and tools. The Colorado region was occupied by the Ancestral Puebloan culture from 1050 to 1250 AD.
It was not until 1776 when two Spanish priests led the first documented journey through the area, departing from Santa Fe, and seeking a trail to California. It was then when cutting down the Glen Canyon they jotted down the route, drawing the first maps of the Four Corners area, and naming many of those places, including the Colorado River.
The route taken by Father Silvestre Vélez de Escalante and Father Francisco Atanasio Domínguez was named Crossing of the Father, today several hundred feet under the waters of Lake Powell. In the 18th century, Crossing of the Father was known as "Ute Ford" by the Indians and "El Vado de los Padres" by the Spaniards who survived eating piñón nuts, prickley pear cactus, and wild seeds.
With the turn of the century new expeditions occurred throughout the Colorado River Area. In 1848, Mexico ceded Arizona to the United States and military groups were sent to the area, although Canyons remained for a long time unexplored, even when Native American Tribes continued living in the area.
In the mid 19th century the first formal expedition was completed, led by Major John Wesley Powell in 1869. Major Powell was a 35 years Civil War hero and scientist, who embarked on a exploring journey along with 10 men. After three months and almost 1,000 miles of uncharted canyons, the first detailed map and information on the region was recorded.
Powell's Green and Colorado rivers expeditions are considered the greatest explorations within the continental United States. After mapping the zone and keeping detailed journals, Major Powell assumed the directorship of the U.S. Geological Survey in March 1881. By then, the actual Glen Canyon Dam area was considered "too thick to drink and too thin to plow."
Powell also lead the Bureau of Ethnology, dedicated to philosophical and ethnographic writing until his death from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1902. As a Civil War Veteran he was buried with honors in Arlington Cemetery, and Lake Powell was named after him. But, the Colorado river region remained ignored during the first decades of the 20th century.
People first heard of the region during the early 1950's when the Bureau of Reclamation proposed the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam at the Colorado River. The construction of Glen Canyon Dam occurred after many arguments from groups that wanted to preserve the Colorado River's ecologic setting, and those who thought that its potential was wasted.
However, the arid region of the Colorado Plateau motivated the creation of the dam for water supply and power generation, beginning with the construction in 1956, originally planned to be built at Echo Park in Dinosaur National Monument. Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1962 and filled in 1963, however Lake Powell was not fully completed until 1980.
Glen Canyon Dam served all the purposes for which it was created, but the recreational area of Lake Powell surpassed the expectations of those skeptics in the development of a tourist attraction which believed that arid lands with no other attractive than red block walls would bring visitors. . Today, Lake Powell provides a large number of attractions, as well as those at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (NRA).
During the expedition of 1869, Major John Wesley Powell described the striking canyon where Lake Powell is as "a curious ensemble of wonderful features-carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcove gulches, mounds, and monuments" as it is still today. But another fact that still remains is the conservationists trying to persuade Congress to decommission the dam, returning the Canyon to its natural state.
The creation of both Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, made many historic sites disappear, including gold mine sites of the late 19th century and early 20 century, the Crossing of the Fathers, used by priests Escalante and Domínguez in 1776, rock art panels and homes of the Anasazi, along with many others, including those where Major John Wesley Powell stood.