Sunday, 20 April 2014

Open Water Swimming in Arizona

To understand the beauty of swimming in the water of Lake Powell in April see this YouTube video:
Crystal Clear water of Lake Powell

I went along to the H2Open Day in 2012 and was so blown away by a photo taken by Strel Swimming of open water swimmers enjoying the water and breathtaking scenery of Lake Powell in Arizona/Utah that I had to see and experience it for myself. I was also inspired by some of the blogs written by Watergirl (as previewed in H2Open magazine) who has documented swimming in some of the lakes in Arizona whose blog I have linked here (ensure to scroll down once this opens in another window)

I've just got back & been fortunate enough to have almost 2 weeks checking out a few lakes around Arizona and wanted to share some intel in the hope that it might inspire others to go....

We started (and ended) the holiday in Las Vegas given location and frequency of flights (i don't gamble). We got an unreal rate of £100 per night for a 2 Queen Bed Suite at The Palazzo which we considered to be one of the best hotels in town - it has 9 small pools & a really magnificent gym if you are into pumping iron. Plus it's only 10 blocks due east to train at Desert Breeze swimming pool which is a 50m pool and split into lanes so you end up with a 25 yard single lane width of the pool all to yourself for the grand total of $3!!! No fighting for space like at  the public pool at Sevenoaks....

Anyway, after recovering from our jet lag, it took 5 hours to drive to Page, Arizona thru Utah to get to Lake Powell....

Lake Powell
Lake Powell is one of the remotest locations I have been to on earth. The air is unpolluted, the water is crystal clear and the sunsets & star-filled skies are just breathtaking. We didn't see a car, a street light or barely a person for 4 days. There is almost no phone reception so you have to unwind. That was part of the escape...

This is a huge lake created by the Glen Canyon dam which is arguably one of the most beautiful swim locations on earth. The Lake is fed by the snow melt of the rockies and other mountains but is certainly do-able without a wetsuit in April but expect it to be below 12 degrees celsius.

We were lucky enough to rent a boat from Antelope Point Marina but if you are on a tight budget you can park up and swim in a few locations > we swam at the beaches at Wahweap Bay and Antelope Point. If you can spare the money, save up and hire a boat (even if its a day boat) as the really amazing landscape is better (and more dramatic) the further away from the Glen Canyon Dam that you go....The smaller the boat you hire, the further up some of the canyons and creeks you will be able to venture > when we were there, they were still expecting another 40 foot of water to enter the lake as the snow melt of the rockies had not taken place. Heading here in the summer would be ideal in terms of water temperatures but expect air temps well over 100 farenheit and for it to be much busier. We saw fewer than 4 houseboats on the water all 4 days we were out.....when we turned up we got a massive free upgrade to a 60ft instead of 50ft boat as I mentioned that I was training for the English Channel and they only had 3 boats booked out as all of the US schools were not out.

Out of the 180 photos I snapped with my iPad over the 4 days, this one above was my favourite picture and could almost double as a postcard. The picture above is of Camel Rock and Gregory Butte which is ca. 28 miles into the lake from the Dam. There is a really good beach here and the water is crystal clear. Whilst at Lake Powell in the 2nd week of April the air temperature was usually around 80 degrees (ca. 26 celsius) and the water was around 53 Farenheit which is around 11 celsius but was colder first thing in the morning.

The first evening we moored up near Boundary Butte and I was able to swim for an hour at a time without getting too cold. We had our own private bay all to ourselves with a ladder going into the water (and slide!) from the stern of the boat....

This location reminded me of the small bays/inlets I swam in at Malta but enjoying fresh (not salty) water and NO jellies! - in the picture above you can just about make out Gunsight Butte in the background which is in Lake Powell's biggest body of water called Padre Bay just round the corner from where we were moored up.

The setting sun was something to behold and we moored up the second night at this amazing spot above which is at a small inlet near Mountain Sheep Canyon (that's 45 miles of motoring from where we started from). I swam here for an hour in the evening and morning and it was refreshingly clear and (like everywhere) teeming with fish (I assume bass).

On the 3rd and last night, we moored up  in a bay to the west of Camel Rock & Gregory Butte (picture below) and I could have a decent swim around the bay. It's just so hard to describe the vastness of this place but might get perspective when you consider that the boat below was 60ft!!

We will be rebooking a trip next April - we did 3 full nights (Tue 10am to Fri 2pm) but next time would want to do 4 or 5 nights. Not cheap to hire (or to pay for gas/petrol) but like nowhere else on earth and therefore priceless really.

After visiting the Grand Canyon for 2 days which is 2.5 hours south west of Page, Arizona we then drove 4 hours south east to stay in Mesa near Scottsdale, Arizona to check out the lakes that comprise the famous SCAR swim S.C.A.R Swim Challenge. If you don't know it, its a 41 mile challenge devised by legend Kent Nicholas comprising challenging swims over 4 consecutive days in Saguaro Lake (pronounced with a silent 'g'), Canyon Lake, Apache Lake and Finally Rossevelt Lake. I intend to do this in 2015 so wanted to check them out.
These lakes were far warmer than Lake Powell so make for terrific early-season open water swim locations. Water is clear and many of the lakes had areas marked by buoys so jet skis and boats could not enter - thus making the whole idea appealing & safe!

Saguaro Lake
You'll need a pass to park up at any of the lakes in the Tonto National Forest area. Passes cost $6 for the day and are available at local stores en-route or near the lakes. Saguaro lake is probably the most accessible to the north east of the Scottsdale area. There's a decent area on the left for swimmers but entry and exit involves some clambering over rocks unless you dive off a boat dock. There's easily a 1000 meter stretch were you can thump out a decent training session. When we went the water was over 16 degrees which for the 2nd week in April is unheard of in the UK and air was almost in the 90s. There were quite a lot of boats & jet skis blasting up-and-down the main body of water which would prevent you from straying far out of the main buoyed area on your own.

The picture below shows much clearer one of the buoys marking the safe swim area with stunning views in the background. The water was clearer than anything I've experienced in the UK but shelves off steeply into the water.

Canyon Lake
This was our favourite lake of the stay with a great beach area (which gently slopes into the water) very near to where you can park the car and a really safe and long swim area which is just about visible on the right hand side of the photo below. To find the swimmers area make sure to park your car at Acacia beach:

There's also areas set aside for BBQs (of course - it's the US!) and there's a marina at the end of the lake plus a couple of restaurants a few miles down the road. To read more about the lake click here

Apache Lake and Roosevelt Lake
We had a day driving the sandy track which is the Apache Trail. It starts at Roosevelt Lake and finishes after Apache Lake. We didn't swim at Roosevelt Lake as the main place to park close to the water didn't look too inviting with loads of reeds to wade through and seemed very popular for boats & jet ski's. We drove past the Roosevelt dam to one of our favourite swim locations in Arizona called 3 mile wash > you can swim out to (and around) this really cool island or swim up and down the salt river which was heavenly and water over 16 degrees.

The beach is excellent and slopes gently into the water and was quite popular with a few locals with boats....

We finally got to Apache Lake after a long slow drive down the sandy apache trail but the wait was worth it as we found another excellent beach at the main centre of Apache lake with stunning views. Another place teeming with large fish...bumped into a fisherman who had just hooked a 10lb bass and was getting it ready to go on the grill...

After leaving Scottsdale we made our back to Las Vegas and back to the UK. Over 1700 miles driven in the car, countless hours in stunning water in breathtaking locations. I'm definitely going back and intend to start as late as next April if not before. Can't think of a greater place on earth for fresh lake swimming so early in the season.
Interestingly, if you are on a budget I think you can still do this (or part of) this holiday. Flights direct to Phoenix are £350 single (if you were thinking of just doing the SCAR lakes). You can hire a car reasonably cheap with BA's partner Avis with all the insurances included. We stayed at a terrific holiday Inn at Mesa which was $105 per night or £60 for 4 of us (2 Queen beds) which included one of the best hotel pools I've seen (great for the kids) click here for hotel.

Please get in touch if you are thinking of heading out. There are plenty of lakes in the state that we didn't explore that I intend on adding to this post over time.