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A Survey of the Recreational Resources of the Colorado River Basin







The Colorado River Basin


Plant and Animal Life

Prehistory of Man

Recreational Benefits of Reservoirs

Potential Reservoirs

The Grand Canyon

Canyon Lands of Southeastern Utah

Dinosaur National Monument

Conservation of Recreational Resources

Life Zone Map


A Survey of the Recreational Resources of the Colorado River Basin
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Chapter VI:


Of all portions of the Colorado River Basin, the Grand and San Juan divisions have the best natural water areas and the least need for artificial lakes. However, with the great number of tourists attracted to the region, additional water bodies that do not interfere with or eliminate existing recreational resources should be of considerable benefit. The McPhee and Dewey Reservoir sites are well located to provide new recreation areas. A number of other sites might provide opportunities for local use such as Castle Creek, Gurley, Rabbit Ears, East Troublesome, Barbers Basin, Fourmile No. 4, Rifle Gap, Tomichi, McDonough, Grand View, Finch, Cottonwood, Miramonte, Buckeye, Mill Creek, Coyote, East Canyon, Owens Creek, Vega, Castle, and Gorsuch. The last four sites, however, will have to compete with the lakes and reservoirs on top of Grand Mesa for attendance and use.

The Dewey Reservoir site is on the Colorado River, in eastern Utah and western Colorado and about midway between the north and south boundaries of the two States. By far the greater part of the reservoir site, which is more than 40 miles in length, lies in Utah. Only a small portion of it extends into Colorado. The tentative dam site is about 30 miles upstream from Moab, Utah, at the upstream end of the spectacular Red Canyon of the Colorado River that lies between the dam site and United States Highway 160 near Moab.

The purpose of the proposed project is the development of hydroelectric power. Preliminary studies by the Bureau of Reclamation indicate a water surface of about 66,000 acres at full reservoir and about 21,000 acres at dead storage. Maximum drawdown, which normally would occur during the winter months, would be about 106 feet.

Lands involved include State school lands, privately owned lands, and public domain. The greater part of the area is semi-desert grazing land having little scenic or recreational value. However, in the vicinity of the Dewey Bridge there are distinctive sandstone cliffs and box canyons, and the canyon of the Dolores River which enters the Colorado River about a mile and half above the dam site is colorful and interesting. The Westwater Canyon of the Colorado River, the principal scenic feature of the reservoir area, is about 12 miles long and several hundred feet deep. Deep tributary canyons enter on its easterly side, and both the main and tributary canyons are characterized by sandstones that have a pleasant reddish hue. Views from the west rim are good, particularly in the Big Hole section, and from the air the Westwater Canyon and the numerous and intricate side canyons on the east form a notable scene. When compared, however, with some other areas on or near the Colorado River in the same general region of eastern Utah and western Colorado, such as the Colorado and Arches National Monuments, the canyon of the Colorado River between Dewey Bridge and Moab, and the amazing landscapes near the junction of the Green and Colorado Rivers, the Westwater Canyon is clearly of secondary scenic importance.

The proposed reservoir would be a large lake of very irregular shore line, and because most of the area it would cover slopes somewhat gently toward the Colorado River, drawdowns would expose considerable amounts of unsightly bottom. In the locality of the Dewey Bridge, where at full reservoir the water would be approximately 290 feet deep, a good deal of the colorful sandstone would be submerged. In the vicinity of the Big Hole portion of Westwater Canyon, the reservoir at high-water level would be about 200 feet deep, materially altering the appearance of the canyon by reducing its apparent depth and substituting a still body of water for the rapidly flowing river. Nevertheless, the canyon would retain some of its scenic value, and recreational resources would be addled, because the lake would offer opportunities for boat trips, fishing, swimming, and camping.

Castle Creek Reservoir site
Figure 55.—Castle Creek Reservoir site north of Gunnison, Colo.

While the Dewey Reservoir would not be of special recreational importance to the immediate vicinity since the local population is very sparse, the lower portion would be of some recreational usefulness to residents of Moab, and the Westwater Canyon would be of interest to travelers using United States Highway 50 and to residents of the Grand Junction area, provided it were made reasonably accessible.

It has been indicated by the Bureau of Reclamation that a road for construction purposes would have to be built from United States Highway 50 and the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad to the dam site. It is recommended that this be built as a permanent road, to connect with the unsubmerged portion of Utah State Highway 128 between the dam site and United States Highway 160 near Moab. This would, in effect, retain the present route from Moab through the spectacular Red Canyon of the Colorado River to United States Highway 50, which not only is used as a short cut from Moab to Grand Junction, but affords access to the remarkable spires and buttes of this part of the Colorado River Canyon.

Consideration should also be given to providing access by automobile from United States Highway 50 to a limited recreational development at the Big Hole. Provision for boat trips in the canyon would be desirable. Public control of the reservoir shores and of the Big Hole would also be desirable.

The area to be inundated is reported to contain several archeological sites and exposures of fossilized dinosaur bones. Fragments of petrified wood are abundant. While it seems doubtful that any unmolested archeological sites remain to be discovered, it is recommended that an archeologist investigate the area well in advance of reservoir construction in order to record any important sites that would be inundated. It is also recommended that the paleontology of the area be similarly investigated.

Lake San Cristobal
Figure 56.—Lake San Cristobal near Lake City, Colo.

The McPhee Reservoir site is in the beautiful Dolores River Valley, a short distance downstream from the town of Dolores, Colo. The natural conditions are ideal for creating an artificial lake of considerable beauty and recreational value. Fishing is good in the upper sections of the Dolores River and should be good in the reservoir. This section of the Dolores Valley is now used for picnicking, camping, and fishing, and with the reservoir these uses should increase. There were 12,421 people living within easy access of the site in 1940. It is recommended that plans for development of the area include acquisition of all the shoreland and the provision of recreational facilities for public enjoyment of the reservoir including boat docks, swimming beach, picnic areas, camping areas, and the relocation of the present road through the proposed reservoir area to maintain the scenic drive down the Dolores Valley.

Dewey Reservoir area
Figure 57.—Dewey Reservoir area—typical terrain of east side north of Dolores River.

Westwater Canyon
Figure 58.—Westwater Canyon of Colorado River at Big Hole—Dewey Reservoir area.

Canyon of Colorado River
Figure 59.—Canyon of Colorado River near Colorado-Utah State line. (Air photo)

McPhee Dam site
Figure 60.—McPhee Dam site—looking down Dolores River Valley.

McPhee Reservoir site
Figure 61.—McPhee Reservoir site—all the lowland in picture would be flooded.

Other reservoir sites.—Among the sites in the Grand Division that are probably more valuable for recreation as they exist than if dams were constructed are the attractive Eggleston Lake, Lake Brennan, and Lake San Cristobal, and the scenic locations in which Beaver and Banana Ranch Reservoir sites are situated. Missouri Heights Reservoir, as it exists, offers some possibilities for recreation that would not be increased if it were enlarged. The Sapinero Dam would flood a 20-mile section of the extremely popular Gunnison River fishing area and substitute a still-water area which probably would not compensate for the loss of the stream. A dam at the Moab site, just above the Moab Highway Bridge, would eliminate the only scenic drive through one of the impressive canyons of the Colorado River in Utah. The present character of the canyon is undoubtedly more of a recreational asset than reservoirs would be in this location. Several other sites in the Grand Division may not create new values or interfere with existing values. In general, the transmountain diversion projects in Colorado probably will be to the detriment of the recreational values of the region in which they are located. The necessary canals in most cases will cut into attractive mountainsides, and water diverted from the natural channels will decrease the amount available for fishing and other uses downstream.

Special studies should be made of the recreational possibilities of areas like Whitewater during the planning stages to insure the maximum benefits.

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Last Modified: Mon, Sep 6 2004 10:00:00 pm PDT

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