The Colorado River and Vermillion Cliffs

At Lees Ferry

The Colorado River starts as a tiny stream on the west side of the Rocky Mountains, high in Colorado. With snow melt, rainfall, and tributaries feeding it, it becomes the massive river that carved the Grand Canyon and many of the lesser-known canyons in Utah’s Canyonlands.

Once a free-flowing river, the Colorado has been dammed several times. The Hoover Dam not far from Las Vegas in the 1930s and the Glen Canyon Dam not far from Page in the 1960s created two of the world’s largest man-made lakes: Lake Mead and Lake Powell (my personal favorite). Other smaller dams downstream from Hoover created numerous smaller lakes for water storage and recreation. Sadly, very little (if any) water from the Colorado makes it to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico these days. The southwest’s need for water has seen to that.

The Colorado River and Vermillion Cliffs from Lees FerryThis photo was taken at Lees Ferry, which was once the site of a ferry service to cross the Colorado River. Before Navajo Bridge was built to cross the river at Marble Canyon nearby, this was the only river crossing for hundreds of miles in either direction. (The new Navajo Bridge is one of only two crossings for hundreds of miles; to the southwest, the next crossing is at the Hoover Dam, hundreds of miles downstream, on the other side of the Grand Canyon.) Situated several miles downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam, the site is a popular starting point for river runners on trips down the Colorado.

The water here, although fast moving, is relatively calm. The dam regulates water flow, changing the depth of the water on a daily cycle. The water is icy cold — I know, having taken a dip it in more than once — since it comes from the bottom of the dam. The area is also popular for fly fishing and for smooth-water boat trips between the dam and Lees Ferry.

The red cliffs you see in the photo are the Vermillion Cliffs north of Marble Canyon. Their beauty in early morning light cannot be understated. If you’re a pilot in the southwest, consider flying into its narrow strip. There’s a restaurant and lodge there. I wrote about it in my blog article, “Breakfast in Winslow — No, Page — No, Marble Canyon.”

One thought on “The Colorado River and Vermillion Cliffs

  1. That photo is beautiful! My family visited Vale Colorad0 back when I was a young child. After our stay in Vale we went camping on the Colorado River. The most vivid memory I have was when I stepped into the water. Even though it was the middle of the summer I think I froze the marrow in my bones! :-)

    Travis’s last blog post: A Good Fishing Story

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