• Friends: Please double-check the email address you have on file. Make sure that it is current and able to receive email. When our emails are rejected it can damage our ratings and slow down future deliveries.
    Thanks!

Cathedral in the Desert - what will it look like when the lake drops?

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
For years, there's been a tug of war about the fate of the Cathedral in the Desert, whether it's a lost paradise, when it might re-emerge, or for some, whether it's actually a better place with water in it. The last time it re-emerged was in the spring of 2005, when the lake was hovering around 3555-3560, bottoming out on April 8 that year at 3555. It's never been the low since, but this year, it could slide back to close to that depth, and depending on how the snowpack shapes up for the rest of the season (and next), it might actually drop below 3555. So what are we going to find? It's an exciting prospect.

So I did a little investigative photo interpretation, using both my own and a few historical photos. From that, I created an overlay diagram, using a 1964 photo of the Cathedral taken by Walter Edwards. On that photo I projected the water depth at different times, using some of my own photos from different years, and also most crucially, a photo from April 13, 2005 taken by Deborah Soltesz (found online). It's all pretty revealing.

From my own photos (and the Soltesz photo), I knew the exact lake levels, and by lining them up with visible features on the wall on the 1964 photo, could easily plot a rough approximation of the lake level at those times... and by extrapolation, what the lake level was in the 1964 photo, which I estimate to have been at 3545. Now what's interesting is looking at the 2005 photo, taken at roughly the same angle as the 1964 shot. It's clear first of all that the "re-emergence" in 2005 came at a big price--lots of siltation since 1964. In fact, I'm guessing it was about 10 feet of silt at the base of the falls, plus whatever silt was needed to fill the pool that existed there in 1964. From there, a big silt bar had formed, probably nearly 20 feet high, and you can see people standing on that in the 2005 photo. So while the Cathedral had re-emerged in 2005, it wasn't the same place as before, because the whole place was raised anywhere from 10-30 feet by deposited silt. Now it's true that if the Cathedral stayed visible long enough, a lot of that silt would flush downstream in floods, and it would eventually return to what it had once been. But the fact is, there was a lot of silt in 2005, and the only reason anybody was able to get there on foot.

What will it look like in 2021 or 2022? That remains to be seen. But it's been 16 years since we've seen it empty, and a lot of deposition can happen in that time. The Cathedral was first flooded for good in about 1969-70, so it had been about 35 years since it briefly re-emerged in 2005. Based on that, my guess is that another 5 feet of silt may have accumulated below the falls since then, with more along the edges of the stream. We might start seeing some bars emerge soon, as it drops to the 3570 range.

My own take is that the place is undoubtedly different with water in it, but every bit as majestic.

I'll let the photos tell the rest of the story, and you can make your own case.... see the file names on the photos for the dates and depths, noting that my convention is to list the year fist, then the month, then day.... (thus, 05-03-18 is March 18, 2005)...
 

Attachments

  • 05-04-13 Clear Creek 3 3556 - Deborah Soltesz.jpg
    05-04-13 Clear Creek 3 3556 - Deborah Soltesz.jpg
    369.2 KB · Views: 166
  • 13-08-29 Clear Creek landing 1 3590.jpg
    13-08-29 Clear Creek landing 1 3590.jpg
    442.2 KB · Views: 154
  • 19-08-10 Clear Creek landing 1 3621.jpg
    19-08-10 Clear Creek landing 1 3621.jpg
    560.4 KB · Views: 152
  • 18-08-19 Clear Creek landing 2 3600.jpg
    18-08-19 Clear Creek landing 2 3600.jpg
    550.5 KB · Views: 153
  • 05-03-18 Clear Creek 1 3557 - GCI.jpg
    05-03-18 Clear Creek 1 3557 - GCI.jpg
    281.8 KB · Views: 163
  • Cathedral 1964 - with historic depths.jpg
    Cathedral 1964 - with historic depths.jpg
    492 KB · Views: 100
Last edited:

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
Here's a couple from 2014. The second shows the top of the sand bar. The pool at the falls is deep as water digs down through the silt a bit.
Great shots!! Pretty good proof that there's a lot of new silt in there. When in 2014? I'm guessing March or April because the lake was down around 3575 or so at that time... I know it jumped up fast that summer to about 3610...

All this to say, this must mean that silt bars should start showing up any day in there since were at about 3578 right now...
 

jayfromtexas

Active Member
Thanks JFR!, went back and checked and it looks like I forgot to set the date properly on my camera. It was a Samsung brand. But March or April sounds about right. Tried to get in there right around the low point. I remember there being a high silt bank at the back and a fairly deep pool in front of the falls with a shallow sand bar off to the left. The first is me on the edge of the silt bank (for reference I am about 5'-10", so almost 6'). The second shows my niece wading out across the shallow bar I was talking about.
 

Attachments

  • SAM_0186.JPG
    SAM_0186.JPG
    360.9 KB · Views: 83
  • SAM_0193.JPG
    SAM_0193.JPG
    335.9 KB · Views: 83

svivian

Well-Known Member
I7FDF3363-B78B-4C01-A2B1-D3B08D90C7F7.jpg
I dove this spot on Sept 19th this year. I believe the lake was at 3596ft and it was about 40ft deep at the entrance. Quite a bit of mud on the bottom.
 

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
Thanks for all the great input and photos Tiff and jayfromtexas, plus the dive report from svivian!

What all this seems to be confirming is that siltation is building up pretty fast (in the long view). Assuming the dry surface was at 3545 until the lake flooded the Cathedral for good in 1969, and then was at 3555 in spring 2005 (with the top of the silt bar near 3573), and then some of the silt bar looks like it's over 3575 in 2014, there's a steady measurable creep upward. I'm guessing the surface of the pool at the bottom of the fall now is probably about 3560, maybe a bit more? So let's call it 15 feet of new silt below the falls, and up to 30 feet on the bars around the edges since 1969, or a little over 50 years. At that rate, the waterfall would disappear completely in another 50+ years...assuming the lake remains abutting the falls in that time, a big assumption...
 

Dorado

Well-Known Member
The lower the reservoir level, the more sediment deposition at the lower elevations. Pretty interesting how the Fort Moqui, White Canyon and Farley areas didn’t have that much after 20 years (when most of the sediment was deposited at Hyte or above). But over the last 10 years they have become choked with it. The San Juan arm has even more extreme erosion and sedimentation. In the long term, lake Powell is just a blip on the geological history of this super dynamic area. I Just hope to be able to keep on fishing 😊
 

DeepVee

Well-Known Member
We went in in June or July 2007 & walked our boats over the first waterfall by hand to a really nice beach on the other side. The water depth over the waterfall was waist deep or maybe a little higher if I remember right. From there you could walk through the water back to the second waterfall. We went back in 2008 and were able to drive our boats all the way back to the second waterfall.
 

Attachments

  • DSC02940.JPG
    DSC02940.JPG
    423.3 KB · Views: 88
  • DSC02898.JPG
    DSC02898.JPG
    459.4 KB · Views: 89
  • 100_1234.jpg
    100_1234.jpg
    443.6 KB · Views: 90
Last edited:

jayfromtexas

Active Member
An older image below found on a Facebook page of a group I am in and a newer image from 2014 that shows the silt bars on the floor of the Cathedral of the Desert. I may, when I get a moment try to superimpose the images and see what I get, but still the images give a good idea of how much silt may be in there.


SAM_0235.JPGCathedral.jpg
 

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
Here is an interesting article from GCI from 2019 showing the sandbar for a bit under 3575.

They also have a nice picture of La Gorce Arch/Davis Gulch.
There's some nice photos in there, and it's a well-written article, but the GCI would immeasurably help their cause and powers of persuasion if they would just accurately and fairly describe what is actually there, instead of writing paragraphs like this:

“That night we camped in the Escalante Arm on the reservoir. The stories I had heard of the res were mostly all confirmed. The water had a ripe smell to it, and the slimy green color was not inviting to swim or wade in. Quagga mussels lined every inch of the little rocky beach we camped on. Between the broken glass, old fire pits, and the mussels it was hard to find a place to pitch my tent.”

Hmm... Not exactly sure where he was camping, but it's not like any of the campsites I've chosen anywhere in the Escalante arm...
 

Dungee

Well-Known Member
There's some nice photos in there, and it's a well-written article, but the GCI would immeasurably help their cause and powers of persuasion if they would just accurately and fairly describe what is actually there, instead of writing paragraphs like this:

“That night we camped in the Escalante Arm on the reservoir. The stories I had heard of the res were mostly all confirmed. The water had a ripe smell to it, and the slimy green color was not inviting to swim or wade in. Quagga mussels lined every inch of the little rocky beach we camped on. Between the broken glass, old fire pits, and the mussels it was hard to find a place to pitch my tent.”

Hmm... Not exactly sure where he was camping, but it's not like any of the campsites I've chosen anywhere in the Escalante arm...

Really? Confirmation bias creek is just opposite clear creek and Indian creek.
 

nzaugg

Well-Known Member
There's some nice photos in there, and it's a well-written article, but the GCI would immeasurably help their cause and powers of persuasion if they would just accurately and fairly describe what is actually there, instead of writing paragraphs like this:

“That night we camped in the Escalante Arm on the reservoir. The stories I had heard of the res were mostly all confirmed. The water had a ripe smell to it, and the slimy green color was not inviting to swim or wade in. Quagga mussels lined every inch of the little rocky beach we camped on. Between the broken glass, old fire pits, and the mussels it was hard to find a place to pitch my tent.”

Hmm... Not exactly sure where he was camping, but it's not like any of the campsites I've chosen anywhere in the Escalante arm...
I didn't like their descriptions of the lake either. They always tend to comment on how dead the lake is and the eeriness of the environment as though it is completely unnatural. I saw another article by Jim Stiles from the 2005 emergence of the Cathedral, but Jim has always had a weird take on things and continually used the Lake Foul moniker that I have never found to be accurate or helpful. The running river also had many stinky backwater areas.
 

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
I didn't like their descriptions of the lake either. They always tend to comment on how dead the lake is and the eeriness of the environment as though it is completely unnatural. I saw another article by Jim Stiles from the 2005 emergence of the Cathedral, but Jim has always had a weird take on things and continually used the Lake Foul moniker that I have never found to be accurate or helpful. The running river also had many stinky backwater areas.
Back in 2002, I started a pretty good correspondence with the then-new director of the GCI at that time, named Deric Pamp. It was partly an introduction, and partly in response to the GCI's "Citizens Environmental Assessment", which was a sort of self-funded internal environmental review of what it would mean to drain Lake Powell. I read the whole thing, agreed with parts, disagreed with others, thought some things were conjecture, but some irrefutable. I read it critically, and wrote him a letter.

His response was very nice, quite thoughtful, even-handed. He disagreed with me on some things, mostly philosophically about what it meant to "restore" Glen Canyon (I asked "to what time? 1955? or 100 million BC?"), and that led to a nice discussion about that.

Anyway, the only parting shot I took that I think had any impact on his thinking was that I advised he and his group not use pejorative terms like "Lake Foul" or even "Reservoir Powell" in their official literature, which might play well internally, but if the goal is to persuade those who disagree with you, you don't start by alienating them through provocative terminology... And he actually agreed with that! I'm not sure it made a difference in how the GCI message was delivered over the years since, although in fairness to them I think it's become a more balanced approach to messaging, at least at the higher levels. Glad to see that. It's how you start a dialogue. Because it's clear to anyone who goes that Lake Powell is neither a "sewage lagoon" nor "a sterile, lifeless environment".... It is an altered environment, that much is true. Let's start there.

Deric Pamp didn't last long as the director of the GCI, not sure why, but I think his open-mindedness to long term solutions about Glen Canyon was refreshing to hear. And every time Cathedral in the Desert comes up in the context of draining Lake Powell, I think of that conversation...
 
Top