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DANGLING ROPE A WATERY OASIS

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The best way to get here is by boat.

You can also turn south at Escalante, Utah, follow the Kaiparowits Plateau to its southernmost point, and lower yourself to the canyon floor, the last hundred feet or so by way of a rope. Which is the way prospectors used to arrive in the days when Lake Powell didn't exist and gold fever did.But the route from Escalante offers no services and, worse than that, no road. Far preferable is the 41-mile cruise up Lake Powell from its origin at Glen Canyon Dam. After passing through Wahweap Bay, Warm Creek Bay, Last Chance Bay and, finally, Rock Creek Bay, you arrive at a canyon that not only features red-rock cliffs that rise dramatically up to Navajo Point, but also a true convenience store.

If it weren't for the Dangling Rope Marina, store, and ice cream stand, there would be no place to get gas and provisions along the 100-mile stretch of Lake Powell from Glen Canyon Dam to the Bullfrog Marina in Bullfrog Bay. Dangling Rope is an oasis in the lake. People flock here from miles around.

As a result, Dangling Rope, its remoteness notwithstanding, has become the largest retail marina fuel outlet west of the Mississippi River. Each year it dispenses slightly more than a million gallons of gasoline. On a typical summer day it pumps more than 10,000 gallons into more than 350 boats. This past July 4th it pumped 36,000 gallons in a single 24-hour period. The Arabs send their regards.

The marina also does a brisk business selling groceries, ice, suntan lotion, soft ice cream, fishing lures, water ski ropes, T-bone steaks (brought in frozen from Kanab), T-shirts, and boat repairs. "We're as good as any 7-Eleven anywhere," says marina manager Wally Foster, who manages a staff of 28 employees, all of whom live on location in trailers located on the bluff above the floating marina, "and we also offer a towing service."

Such success stands as a monument of chagrin to the Dangling Rope prospectors of earlier eras, who knew there was a fortune to be made in the canyon, they just didn't realize they needed a 10,000-gallon Chevron barge to haul in the oil.

Miners in search of gold descended (literally) on the area around the turn of the century, and miners in search of uranium civilized Dangling Rope Canyon, to a point, in the 1950s. Neither venture, as it turned out, was successful. For three reasons. There was hardly any gold. There was hardly any uranium. And the access was terrible.

Back in those pre-Lake Powell days, you either had to get to Dangling Rope Canyon by the aforementioned overland route from Escalante, or by putting your raft in at Hite, almost 100 miles to the north, and floating down the nearby Colorado River. (It was the miners who came overland who lowered themselves and their supplies to their campsites by ropes, which they left there for the next guy. Hence the canyon's name, which, according to legend, was first "Hanging Rope," but was later changed because of the possible negative connotation.)

As with the rest of the greater Glen Canyon area, tales of gold, uranium and other riches at the bottom of the dangling ropes far exceeded reality. The gold in the hills tended to be too fine to separate from the rock it was in, and uranium, as the people of Moab will tell you, was a short-lived craze.

Much more lasting has been the Lake Powell craze, dating from March 13, 1963, when Glen Canyon Dam was completed and the Colorado River was backed up to create the meandering lake and its 1,900 miles of shoreline.

The National Park Service first established their midway-between-Wahweap-and-Bullfrog marina near Rainbow Bridge, about eight miles north of Dangling Rope Canyon. But in 1984, due to increased traffic and sewage demands, the marina site was switched to Dangling Rope.

Less than a boat's gas tank from Dangling Rope are the otherwise remote wonders of Lake Powell - the San Juan River, the Escalante River, Hole in the Rock, Cathedral Canyon, and, of course, Rainbow Bridge. And in the nearby bays and side canyons, there is still the opportunity to camp and ski and fish and feel about as far from civilization as you can feel in a speedboat - oblivious that not far away is the world's largest floating gas station . . . oblivious until you're running on the reserve tank.

"Once people are out on the lake playing, we become the place. Our business comes from all over," says Foster. He speaks like a man who's sitting on a gold mine. Or at least an oil well.