It was well after dark before we found the turnoff onto road 89A, that would take us into a magnificent landscape of craggy red cliff faces, eroding mesas, creosote- covered flatlands and emerald rivers—on through to Marble Canyon. Road 89A is spooky at night. The wind howls through an invisible canyon and a set of headlights does little to illuminate the darkness. After dark, a landscape that holds the power of the sun in its body turns to charcoal shadows, bone colored tumbleweeds, and gusts of sand.
We drove for several miles along the road and eventually found the illuminated marquee of our motel: The Cliff Dwellers Lodge. A low, barrack-style formation of independent structures adorned with flagstone siding, the motel felt grown from the rocks and sunken into the landscape. The next day we woke to still air, a vast blue arc of sky, and fiery rock formations. Marble Canyon, Arizona, is part of the severely altered Colorado River tributary that extends to the Grand Canyon. Water that once flowed freely to naturally irrigate Navajo crops and bring water to nearby communities was radically diverted through the damming of nearby Glen Canyon—now Lake Powell.
There are no pictures here of the enormous sandstone basin often referred to as a “giant evaporating bathtub” by environmentalists, but a quick internet search will give you an idea. A shimmering destination in the desert, Lake Powell is a broad expanse littered with houseboats and jet skis. Its shores are lined with resorts and mooring docks. The area now submerged under water is said to be home to the highest density of ancient petroglyphs and pictographs in the United States. It was also considered to be one of the largest canyons in the US before it was filled—a title now reserved for the Grand Canyon. It seems appropriate that this glittery manmade “lake” is generating power for other desert mirages. Its power feeds cities built on the premise of defying and conquering mother nature—cities such as Phoenix, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada.
These red rocks are situated largely within the gigantic swath of land that is The Navajo Nation. Marble Canyon’s bright formations, cavernous canyons and sub canyons compose only part of the over 17 million acres that spans three states and encompasses the Navajo Nation. From Northern Arizona, the drama of the Nation’s landscape expands with grace and grandeur across the thresholds of Arizona and Utah, comprising the largest uninterrupted Native American reservation in the US.