top of page

The Sunken Fleet of Lake Powell Ghost Ships

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

(Previously published on 3/11/21)

I decided to take a walk with the dogs. It was one of the first days of Spring weather in the desert, and the buds on the trees were just beginning to burst forth with new life.

The winter had been mild enough, but the warm sun was a welcome visitor, if just for a few hours, and the dogs knew it. They looked at me expectantly every time I touched the door handle or my car keys.

By the fifth time I managed to wind them up in anticipation, I knew I had no choice but to take them down to the lake. Or more to the point, the remainder of the lake.

While I appreciated the lack of snow and the mild winter, the lake was not as impressed. It receded by inches most days and feet others and exposed its vile rancid mudflats like some addict sharing tales of molestation at a 12-step meeting.

What came from unnatural mud was even more amazing, and as the water dropped, years of abuse and poor judgment were exposed.

In January, when the great recession started, the first signs of abandoned homemade moorings became evident as their metal poles and buckets filled with concrete began to emerge from the still waters. By February, the ancient engine blocks and transmissions ripped from the bellies of old Pontiacs and Cadillacs began to appear along the waterline, admitting an evil truth about humanity and the bad habits of yesteryear.

It wasn't until March when the lake would give up its dead. This day, when the dogs beckoned to be set free, I found the first of what I expect to be dozens of ghosts climbing from the crystal clear depths of Lake Powell.

The ghosts were once badges of honor and pride sliding effortlessly across the mirror-like waters of the man-made lake.

In the days when men thought it was their job to tame nature and beat back the harsh dryness of the desert, they had the hubris tendency to think that they might harness the mighty Colorado River and fill the canyons of Utah with water.

And when the last concrete was setting and the river filled the vast valley, they celebrated their arrogance by creating an industry of house boating and pleasure crafting on the newly minted inland ocean.

Summer days that once sat as still and silent as a parched and dusty grave, came to life with fishing, swimming, and happiness. The Lake beckoned trailer and RV alike, under the command of upwardly mobile Americans desperate for recreation and elevation.

They trailered their boats behind 4-wheel drive trucks and gas-guzzling V-8 workhorses fashioned from the iron piles of Detroit. They drove them over sun-baked roads winding through empty desert wastelands and mountain-lined canyons filled with cactus and cows, like pilgrims sojourning for summertime enlightenment on the vast reservoir.

And when they arrived, they drank and ate, fished and swam, and celebrated their claim to America and all its glory.

These days of glory appeared in such contrast from the state in which I found their ghostly remains newly emer