Only 15 miles of Glen Canyon
remain in a natural state, between Lees Ferry
and Glen Canyon Dam
, all the remainder being submerged beneath Lake Powell. In the intact section, the Colorado River flows beneath sheer, 1,000 foot cliffs and is joined by three significant tributaries: Water Holes Canyon
on the east side, a branched drainage with several long narrows sections, and two shorter ravines on the west side, of which one (Ferry Swale Canyon
) has an official name.
This canyon is enclosed for 2 miles but most is wide and sandy; only for only the last half mile does the streamway form a shallow but quite pretty slot, containing big rounded potholes, smooth chutes and undulating slickrock. But perhaps the best aspect of the canyon is the view from the end, looking up and down the Colorado River, which is still 300 feet below.
The approach to Ferry Swale Canyon is over flattish land covered by soft sand dunes, crossed by a network of jeep tracks; suitably equipped vehicles can drive most of the way down the streambed, right to the point where it becomes rocky, at the upper end of the shallow slot. Many tire marks suggests this is a relatively popular destination but it seems that very few people walk here. Regular cars can only drive a little way along the approach track, leaving a 4.6 mile walk to the Glen Canyon viewpoint, most of which is over the soft sand, and all is hot and exposed in summer.
The track to Ferry Swale Canyon starts on the west side of US 89 just south of the lower end of Wahweap Road, and 0.6 miles from Glen Canyon Dam. The main route veers right then left, up a hill and alongside some reddish pink slickrock mounds, where the surface changes abruptly from gravel to very soft sand, so non-4WD vehicles have to park here, 0.6 miles from the highway. The surroundings are a mix of smooth red dunes and weathered outcrops of sandstone, quite lightly vegetated. All the canyon and most of the approach is within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
apart from one section which crosses the adjacent Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
The track continues southwest, descending slightly, passes a gate and fence then rises to a little rocky knoll, where higher cliffs to the south first come into view including those around the mouth of the canyon. In dry weather walking is easiest alongside the track where the sand is slightly firmer. The route turns northwest for while, running beneath one of three parallel power lines, followed by a longer southwestwards stretch that eventually leads to the wide sandy wash at the entrance to the canyon. Various lesser tracks branch off along the way, but the main route is easy to identify, however it may be easier just to walk cross country from the vicinity of the fence, since the distance is half a mile less and the cliffs around the canyon mouth make an obvious point to aim for. When returning, the tallest pylon provides an equally good landmark.
For 1.6 miles the streambed is entirely filled with soft sand, so walking remains slow and tedious. The wide canyon floor is enclosed by creviced, red brown cliffs, steeply sloping but not sheer, containing a few short, not particularly narrow tributaries. The drainage curves slightly to the east then west, before bending more sharply, 90° to the east where the sand starts to give way to patches of slickrock. A shallow slot begins half a mile from the end, cutting through rich, red colored sandstone with some nice textures and thin layered patterns. The narrows have no significant obstacles, just a few potholes, maybe requiring a little wading or passing by on benches above. The canyon stays generally wide and can be followed at floor level almost as far as the Colorado River, climbing and descending a few times to avoid some dryfalls and bigger potholes. Benches on the south side lead to an overlook with excellent views of the river, upstream and downstream; directly opposite is a wide bushy sandbank, a popular base for boats to moor, though for most of the canyon the green waters flow close to the foot of the cliffs.