Skip to main content area Skip to sub-navigation
Skip to main content

Lake Powell to Lake Powell: Portraits of the Upper Colorado River

By Zak Podmore

John Wesley Powell: The Man of Two Lakes

Lake Powell. You may have heard of it. It’s a picturesque, alpine lake nestled in the craggy peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park. Fed by snowmelt and seated in a bowl of exposed granite, the lake lies cold and clear well above 11,000 feet. Lake Powell is the Rocky Mountains at their best: rugged, wild, and remote. No trail makes its way down from the lake-- but a creek does. It flows out of Powell over a series of waterfalls, which pour down a giant staircase of rock ledges. In the alpine meadows below, the stream meanders through swampy grass where moose abound.

If you follow that creek 500 miles and nearly 8,000 vertical feet downstream, you’ll end up in the middle of another, more famous Lake Powell that stretches across much of southern Utah. The two lakes don’t have much in common save the name and their shared waters. One Powell is the second largest reservoir in the country, filling the sandstone walls of Glen Canyon; the other is about as close to a perfect source of the Colorado River as you can get. Situated well above tree line, this Powell marks the beginning of the North Inlet Creek, which feeds Grand Lake below. Both the lakes take their name from John Wesley Powell, the one-armed civil war veteran who was the first known explorer to climb Longs Peak in Colorado and to navigate much of the Colorado River, including Glen Canyon and the Grand Canyon.

Click here for the full section in the 2013 Report Card