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The Sunken Fleet of Lake Powell Ghost Ships

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

The Sunken Fleet of Lake Powell Ghost Ships

(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.

The Sunken Fleet of Lake

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 emerged from their watery grave.

My wife was the first to see it and said, "I want to look at that."

Almost on cue, the dogs latched on to the direction of her pointing finger and launched full gallop toward the ghostly apparition climbing from the depths.

At first, it appeared to be a rock or maybe just another abandoned engine block, but as we approached, it was clear that this was something much more sinister.

The jagged rim of the hull had the appearance of burned paper that is doused too quickly with a garden hose, but the angled peak of the bow was unmistakable. This was a boat that sank.

Powell Ghost Ships

It sank in fifty feet of water and settled on the bottom, untouched for fifty years by air or human hands. It seemed almost frozen in time, with the sole of a converse sneaker still sitting in the bilge and the remnants of a bimini hanging from its low side in the mud.

Invariably I supposed, that if I dug through the mud I might find the wrappers of sandwiches and bottles of soda or beer from the day that the fire started and burned this boat to the waterline, sending it to its grave.

Just standing beside it, I could hear the screams of its passengers as they jumped overboard and swam to the safety of a fellow boat or maybe the shoreline. I could feel the panic in the skipper's hands as he slammed the throttle down and the sounds of the inboard as it screamed trying to outpace the pounding of the sound of skippers own heartbeat in the skipper's ears as he frantically made way for the shallows in the hopes that he might save his most prized vessel.

I saw the family standing on the shore, shivering and crying, as they watched their boat slip beneath the sparkling surface and see the steam rise above as the flames of the burning vessel were doused, locking the day their boat caught fire permanently in their memories.

What would they say, if they were still alive, if they saw the ghost of that day now sitting covered in mud and mussels on the ebbing waterline of Lake Powell? Would they be surprised that the bilge grates were still in place, or that the shape and form of the motor that no doubt sparked the vessel's demise was still evident?

How many years ago did the National Park Service officer who filled out the form about the sunken vessel and the stricken family, retire from the service, thinking that someday the water would lower enough that this vessel might be raised and disposed of properly?

Was I the only one who knew that this vessel was here and wondered about the people it once carried?

By June, this ghost would be returned to the depths and join with its brethren of ghosts, who sit at the bottom of Lake Powell, collecting the falling sunglasses and waterlogged cell phones.

Do they know about the world that has changed, since they died, and what a cell phone even was? Or would this lucky soul who once brought such joy to the family who watched it burn so many years ago, who for a few weeks got to be seen and visit the surface world, tell the members of The Sunken Fleet of Lake Powell Ghost Ships, what he saw and what life was now like in the land of the living?

sailing, under the Powell Ghost Ships

Did you like that? Maybe you would like to read my other works including Whither We Tend, a novel about America and our current state of politics. What happens when we stop blaming them and start worrying about us?

Available in Print, Ebook and AudioBook at

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