But it all depends on the weather.
In February, the water level stood at 3,561 feet, just 71 feet above the lowest point at which the dam can generate electricity. "If it drops below that, we're out of business until the lake comes back up," said Tom Ryan, a hydrologist for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which built and operates the dam.
Despite heavy winter snowfall in southwest Utah, Ryan said, it looked like an average year for runoff, which routinely plumps the level of Lake Powell in July. He expects the reservoir to rise about 40 to 45 feet by then, though at that rate it still would take years for the lake to refill.
"And if we have a hot, dry spring, that estimate will be eroded. There's still a lot of uncertainty," he said.
From the dam, John and I drove five miles north to Wahweap Marina, the winter nesting place of huge, luxurious houseboats, some with DVDs, staterooms and fireplaces. There we claimed the far more modest 18-foot powerboat I had reserved for the trip up the reservoir.
Opponents of the man-made reservoir call it "Lac Latrine" and "Lake Foul," but I can't agree with their aesthetic evaluation. It's majestic, with tucked-away coves and beaches backed by surrealistically shaped mesas and buttes.
On the way north we saw Lake Powell's bathtub ring, a white calcium carbonate deposit left by the receding water, distinct in some places but already wearing away in others.
At Dangling Rope Marina, we stopped for a $100 fill-up. The attendant, who hadn't seen any visitors in days, told us about a good place to camp in Oak Canyon, a few miles up on the east side of the lake.
While tying up the boat there, I got caught in some Lake Powell quicksand, which has the consistency of cellulite and is sticky enough to suck a short person, like me, in to the thighs.
John and I pitched our tents, cooked up one of those wretched, dehydrated backpackers' dinners and went to bed. Unfortunately, it snowed that night and my rented tent leaked, leaving me with stiff joints, a sour mood and a wet sleeping bag. I was ready to abort the trip in the morning, but John thought we should at least try to make our scheduled rendezvous with Wolverton at noon in Davis Gulch.
So I went on to Lake Powell's confluence with the Escalante. Along the way, we passed Hole-in-the-Rock Arch, where Mormon pioneers cut a treacherously steep wagon trail from the plateau above to the river in 1880, and the mouth of the San Juan River on the east side.
We went astray a few times but finally found the Escalante and turned into it. Between periods of drizzle, the sun came out, revealing bright blue skies and scudding clouds. But the river's meeting at Davis Gulch was an ugly scene, choked with flood-strangled cottonwood trees.
Then I saw what I assumed to be a hallucination: a man in a blue shirt, picking his way across the quicksand.
It was Wolverton. He had kindled a campfire up the gulch, where I warmed my feet and hands, dried out my sleeping bag and decided that, having come this far, it would be folly not to continue.
Exploring the depths
As the only backcountry ranger in the Escalante River region of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Wolverton has been keeping a close watch on sinking water levels in area tributaries. But the last time he climbed down into Davis Gulch and Fiftymile Canyon was last summer. Like us, he was eager to see what new glories the drought had revealed.
La Gorce Arch came first, a triangular window on the sky framed in lustrous sandstone, 100 feet wide and 75 feet high. Just a few years ago when Davis Gulch was fuller, it could be reached only by kayak. Now, as nature intended, you have to crane your neck to see it from the creek bed.
Hiking up the gulch was sloppy, so we exchanged our boots for rubber sandals and neoprene socks. Sometimes the walls of the canyon narrowed, forcing us to wade in the cold water. Then they'd open back up, flooding the chasm with warming sunlight from the plateau hundreds of feet above.