18 Must-Read Books About Lake Powell And The Colorado River

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I’m keeping up my Lake Powell posts, apparently. I said I wasn’t going to do anymore book posts here, just on Hey, I’m Reading, but I lied. Books about Lake Powell fits perfectly here though so I’m going with it.

It’s not just Lake Powell books but books about the Colorado River and the water crisis in the American west. I’ve only read one so far, but am currently reading another and have a lot more of these on my TBR.

north lake powell
Somewhere north of Bullfrog, I think

There is a lot of controversy around Lake Powell and even though I’ve worked here since 2016, I still don’t feel all that qualified to write on that.

I do know that part of it is so much Navajo and Ancestral Puebloan history and culture was submerged when the lake was filled and another part is that it’s a pretty major environmental disaster.

Conservationists and environmentalists have been fighting against the Glen Canyon Dam since it’s inception and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.

south lake powell
Somewhere on North Lake Powell, between Bullfrog and Rainbow Bridge

While the lake may be a boating paradise, it’s main purpose is to meet water requirements downstream but it loses a ton of water to evaporation and a lot seeps into the sandstone.

As of writing this in July 2021, the lake is only 34% full (just three feet above the lowest point since it was filled which was in 2005), launch ramps are closed, and the water level is steadily declining (it’s down over two feet in the last two weeks) and for every foot it goes down, it loses ten feet of shoreline. (See more about water levels here.)

lake powell
The white line is the bathtub ring, the level it gets to when the lake is full pool, and rings the whole lake

While anything I’ve mentioned here just scratches the surface of any controversy over Lake Powell, you can read more about it here:

I’m often torn about how to feel about Lake Powell. I’m not a water person, so I don’t particularly care about the boating (though I have been and will go again in the future, I’m sure).

lake powell
Between Bullfrog and Rainbow Bridge somewhere

I think the lake is beautiful with the water but I would also love to see it returned to it’s former glory. I think I’ll feel more strongly about this after finishing Monkey Wrench Gang (and a lot of these books), which I’m finally reading.

It’s just so hard for me to wrap my head around what draining the lake would even entail. I just think of all the silt build up in canyons, which could be washed out with flash floods like mentioned in the fourth article listed above, and the trash, boats, and who knows what else that’s been lost to the lake.

glen canyon dam page arizona lake powell
Glen Canyon Dam by Page, Arizona

But then I also imagine what it would look like without the water every time I drive over the bridge into Page and see the lake to my left and the river hundreds of feet blow on my right, thinking of all the natural beauty and history of the area buried beneath the water and would love to see it in it’s former glory. Or as close as it can get.

I hope to read a lot of these over the next coupe of years. I’ve been more interested in the dark side of the lake and the western water crisis lately, especially since living out here. I’ll update this with thoughts of any that I read as I read them, too.

hiking to rainbow bridge
Rainbow Bridge, when the water level is higher water goes all the way under the bridge

I would love to hear your opinions on Lake Powell, positive or negative, and your reasonings. This is something I’m pretty interested recently and would love to learn more about if you have any suggestions on that as well. All I ask is that things are kept civil.

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Monkey Wrench Gang

George Hayduke, an ex-Green Beret, is back in the southwest desert and it’s being threatened by industrial development. He joins up with Bonnie Abzug, a feminist saboteur, Seldom Seen Smith, an outcast Mormon, and Doc Sarvis, a libertarian billboard torcher, to fight the power and take on everyone threatening the natural habitat.

This is a must-read if you’re spending any time out here, especially at Lake Powell. I’m finally reading this now after being here since 2016!

Hayduke Lives

This is the Monkey Wrench Gang sequel and Hayduke was last seen hanging from a cliff, but he’s back fighting against the despoilers of the Earth.

Where the Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River

This may be one of the prettiest book covers ever. I read this one a couple years ago and while it wasn’t the most thrilling, it was pretty interesting and I do recommend it!

David Owen follows the Colorado River from it’s headwaters to it’s dried up terminus. The water issues in the west may seem simple to solve but it’s far more complex and interesting than is let on.

You’ll learn about water usage, water rights, and more in this entertaining and informative book.

Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West

This is an exploration of the past, present, and future of water use in the west, starting at Lake Powell. Bathtub rings encircle the blue waters but a surplus of water that doesn’t exist is needed to refill it. Global warming and drought make the situation even more bleak.

In Dead Pool, you’ll see historic photos, find out why America built the Glen Canyon Dam, and why they allowed citizens to become dependent on it when it’s benefits were always temporary.

White Canyon: Remembering the Little Town at the Bottom of Lake Powell

This is a history of the upper Glen Canyon area in Utah, a first person account of the Uranium boom in the 1950s and the town of White Canyon that was buried by the waters of Lake Powell.

This area along Highway 95 along White Canyon is amazing and while I’m not huge on this topic, this one does sound pretty interesting to me.

Ghosts of Glen Canyon: History beneath Lake Powell

If you’re interested in a book about the history of Glen Canyon before Lake Powell, this is a must-read. Learn about the people and places that made Glen Canyon before the lake existed.

Gregory Crampton was in charge of historical investigations of Glen Canyon and the San Juan Canyons from 1957 to 1963 for National Park Service. This is the record of historical sites lost to the rising reservoir waters.

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition

This is a must-read book about water in the west. It’s a classic and one I’ve had on my TBR for a while that I would love to read this year.

This is the tale of the earliest settles of the west, lured by the promise of paradise, political corruption, billion dollar battles over water usage rights, bitter rivalry between the Bureau of Reclamation and the US Army Corps of Engineers, and more in this expose of an eden that may only be a mirage.

Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West

The Green River is the longest tributary of the Colorado River, 730 miles from Wyoming to Utah, running through cities and national parks but it’s also drying up and overused.

Heather decided to see the river issues firsthand, on a one-person inflatable pack raft from it’s source to the confluence to experience the river and meet the people that live along the way.

This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West

While this isn’t directly about Lake Powell and the Colorado River, it is about the American west and it sounds interesting, so I’m including it. It feels relevant.

This Land exposes the rot in American politics that is slowly selling out and destroying our national heritage. This takes us through the last wild places being threatened by capitalism and ranching, talking with ecologists, biologists, former government employees, whistleblowers and more.

Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River

This is an alarming reminder of the mismanagement of water in the southwest.. Erick and John delve into early studies, as early as the 1920s, that show the Colorado River couldn’t sustain cities and farms. They show that development boosters chose information to support their plans, ignoring inconvenient science. Today, water managers are struggling with mistakes of the past while the authors untangle the web that created the current crisis.

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West

Stegner recounts the expedition and struggles of John Wesley Powell through the Grand Canyon along the Colorado River. Powell warned about the possible economic exploitation of the west long ago. Only now do we recognize how accurate he was.

When the Rivers Run Dry, Fully Revised and Updated Edition: Water-The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century

Rivers have always been the primary source of fresh water throughout history but looming scarcity threatens global food production, causing conflict and unrest. While this isn’t specifically about the American west, I still think it’s relevant and fits. In this, we tour the world’s rivers to really see the world’s growing water crisis and the ramifications of that.

The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

In the winter of 1983, the largest El Nino event on record swept in from the pacific ocean. Government officials were worried about one of the most dramatic dam failures in history at the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River.

While this was happening, three river guides secretly launched a wooden boat named the Emerald Mile just below the dams base and headed downstream. Chaos was already underway and rangers were conducting the largest helicopter evacuation in the history of Grand Canyon National Park, but Kenton Grua, the Emerald Mile captain, was on his own mission through the canyon.

The Promise of the Grand Canyon: John Wesley Powell’s Perilous Journey and His Vision for the American West

When John Wesley Powell and his crew were spit out of the Grand Canyon at the end of their expedition, they finished one of the most dramatic explorations in American history.

This is the story of Powell’s path to become the nation’s foremost proponent of environmental stability with a powerful but controversial vision for developing the American west.

The West without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us about Tomorrow

This is the tale of past droughts, deluges, and predictions of the future climate in the American west. It looks at the current water crisis and whether this will continue into the future. The research presented from a wide variety of sources shows extended droughts and catastrophic floods have plagued the west regularly over the last 20 years and warn that it’s time to face the realities of the past and prepare for a future with less reliable fresh water.

Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization

This is an all too terrifying description of a world where access to fresh water replaces oil as the primary cause of global conflict from drought-ridden, overpopulated areas of the world.

The Secret Knowledge of Water: There Are Two Easy Ways to Die in the Desert: Thirst and Drowning

Craig Childs has tons of books on the southwest, desert, and Anasazi people and if you read one, you’ll probably want to read them all.

This is the account of his experiences with water in the southwest from searching for water holes to floods in the Grand Canyon and more. I’m actually really excited to read this one.

House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest

If you want to learn more about the Anasazi people that lived in the area, this is a great option and one on my TBR. Countless Anasazi sites have been buried beneath the waters of Lake Powell.

The disappearance of the Anasazi people is one of the greatest mysteries of the southwest. They built what has been called the Las Vegas of it’s time at Chaco Canyon, a flourishing cultural center.

But by the thirteenth century, they vanished from Chaco and this is Childs’ exploration into what really happened.

Have you read any of these books about Lake Powell? How about the Colorado River books? Are there any others I should check out? Are you team Lake Powell or Lake Foul and why?

One thought on “18 Must-Read Books About Lake Powell And The Colorado River

  1. I don’t really have any opinions on Lake Powell, mostly because I’ve never given it any thought. Now I’m curious to learn more about its history and the controversies.

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