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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 VIII:


Broadly speaking, the region considered is the portion of the Colorado River Basin between Lees Ferry, Ariz., the Dewey Dam site on the Colorado, and the town of Green River, Utah, on the Green River, excluding the San Juan River Basin above Bluff, Utah, and the high plateaus along the west side of the basin.

The region is roughly bounded on the east by State Highway 47 and United States Highway 160; on the north by United States Highway 50; on the west by State Highways 10, 72, 24, the road through the Dixie National Forest from Torrey to Boulder, the county road from Boulder to Escalante, Utah, State Highways 23, 22, and 12, and United States Highway 89; and on the south by United States Highway 89, and the road through the Indian reservations from Tuba City, Ariz., to the Utah State line where it connects with Utah State Highway 47.

This report is especially concerned with the vast, colorful land of deserts, mountains, canyons, plateaus, and buttes that lie within the fringe of settlements and the connecting roads more than 20,000 square miles, in which probably less than 200 people have their permanent residence, exclusive of the Indians on the Navajo Reservation. Men running cattle and sheep in the area live in the bordering settlements and go out to their stock occasionally by truck and horseback. The sheepherders camp here during the winter and move to higher mountain pastures for the summer. (Plate 9 in pocket.)


This region is part of the largest section in the United States in which there are no improved roads. Within the belt there are no improved roads except the short spur to Henrieville, the road in Bryce Canyon National Park, and in the settled section around Price. Two hundred and ninety miles of the 800 miles of roads forming the belt are unimproved.

State Highway 24 crossing the northwest portion of the area from Green River to Fruita in Capitol Reef National Monument is only a fair-weather trail, as is State Highway 95 from Blanding to Natural Bridges National Monument. The remaining roads in the area are truck trails constructed by the Grazing Service (now the Bureau of Land Management) or the local people to give access to cattle and sheep camps, mines, and oil prospects. Between Lees Ferry and Moab on the Colorado and the mouth of the San Rafael River on the Green River there is only one place where it is possible to drive to the rivers without extreme difficulty. The old trail down North Wash Canyon and up White Canyon to Blanding has been improved. The lower end of the trail from Escalante to Hole in Rock, a distance of about 6 miles, has not been used since the Hole in Rock pilgrimage in 1939, except by men on horseback. There has been a trail from Notom on State Highway 24, down Halls Creek to within a few miles of the river, but this was not passable in 1943 beyond a point 18 miles from the river. In the spring of 1943, trucks were driven from Kanab to the site of the old town of Paria, thence southeast to Lone Rock on Wahweap Creek, about 8 miles west of the point where the Colorado River crosses the Utah-Arizona State line.

On the east side of the Colorado it is reported that an automobile has been driven to a point west of the Clay Hills on the old Mormon Trail which runs from near Natural Bridges National Monument southwest toward Hole in Rock.

Fourteen miles north of Monticello there is an unimproved road leaving United States Highway 160 which gives access to the north side of the Abajo Mountains and Indian Creek Valley. Following this road down Indian Creek and around the north side of North Six-Shooter Peak, it is possible to drive, under favorable conditions, to the northeast edge of the spectacular Needles area, about 7 miles air line southeast of the junction of the Colorado and Green Rivers.

Half way between Moab and United States Highway 50 there is a truck trail leading to the west which gives access to the high plateau between the Green and Colorado Rivers. It is possible to drive to within 1 mile of the southern tip of the plateau. This point is about 3 miles from both rivers, approximately 2,400 feet above them, and 8 miles almost due north of their junction. Branch trails lead to Upheaval Dome on the west side of the plateau overlooking the Green River Canyon, and Dead Horse Point on the east side. Dead Horse Point is within a mile horizontally of the Colorado River and approximately 2,000 feet above it. Unquestionably the most spectacular and far-reaching views of the Colorado and Green River Canyons obtainable by automobile at the present time are from these trails on the plateau between the rivers. The only other point, now accessible by automobile, which rivals these, is Lands End at the southeast edge of the plateau between the Green and Dirty Devil Rivers. Excellent views of the canyon country are obtained along the last few miles of the trail from Hanksville to Lands End and it is about a mile walk from the end of the trail to Lands End, a high point on the rim of the plateau, only 5 miles from the Colorado River and more than 3,000 feet above it.


Monument Valley has been referred to as "The land of room enough and time enough." To this could be added beauty and thrills, and mystery enough, all of which are applicable to the Colorado River country of southeastern Utah. It is stark realism and mystical surrealism. Trying to make a living raising cattle on the Green River Desert or driving an automobile across its deep sandy wastes on a hot afternoon, one suffers the torments of hell, and curses the country and the reasons that brought him there. However, as the purple shadows begin to lengthen across the gold and red sands, as the towering buttes take on a rosy hue, and distant purple mountains are silhouetted against a royal blue sky, it becomes a dream world of marvelous beauty. Searching across barren rocks for a water hole in summer, or climbing a steep, rocky, snow-covered trail up a canyon wall in winter, you realize why no humans and few animals make their homes there; and yet, standing on Horse Mountain, or Dead Horse Point, or Lands End, or camping near a spring on the Kaiparowits Bench with the canyon of the Colorado below, and Navajo Mountain rising from its fluffy sandstone base across the way, you wonder why so few people have made their way to these places. You are exalted spiritually, but dwarfed by the scale of the scene. Your eye is attracted quickly from the nearby rocks to the mountaintops 40 to 70 miles away; across miles of bare, pink, red, buff, and white sandstone; down canyons 2,000 feet deep; and up buttes 1,000 feet high. All is yours—20,000 square miles or more and yet, to approach on foot or horseback even one of the nearby canyons is a giant's task.

Monument Valley
Figure 77.—Monument Valley.

It is a land of the unusual in color and form, of great natural bridges, monuments, spires, intricately twisting canyons, mammoth terraces with sheer walls a thousand or more feet high, and rock forms that resemble castles and cathedrals. But the most impressive feature is that of space. Not the monotonous space of the Great Plains, but dramatic, colorful space accentuated by these varied land forms and the high mountains to the east and west and the broad sweeps of unfenced range.

From high points the region appears as a great, deeply eroded plain from which rise three beautiful mountain masses. The LaSals to the northeast rise to 13,089 feet above sea level; the Abajos in the east central part rise to 11,445 feet; and the Henrys in the west central part rise to 11,485 feet. To the southwest, the Kaiparowits Plateau stretches southeast from the high plateaus for 50 miles, at the 7,000-foot level, as far as Navajo Mountain (elevation 10,416 feet) which stands alone on the south side of the Colorado River. East of Navajo Mountain, the monuments of Monument Valley standing against the sky may be seen from great distances. To the north the Book Cliffs, with the Roan Cliffs above, form the skyline. To the northwest the San Rafael Swell, and beyond and above it the Wasatch and Fish Lake Plateaus, end the view. West of the Henrys, Boulder Mountain and the Aquarius Plateau, elevations 10,000 to 12,250 feet, respectively, blend into the western end of the Kaiparowits Plateau to form the distant skyline. To the south and southeast is a horizon less definite and broken by great mesas and mountain peaks. From the south end of Elk Ridge, which lies to the west of the Abajo Mountains, may be seen the Carrizo Mountains, Pastora and Zilbetod Peaks just south of the four corners, and Ute Peak southwest of Cortez, Colo. East of the Abajo Mountains, the great sage plain stretches on and on to the snow-covered peaks of the La Plata and San Miguel Mountains in Colorado. East of the La Sal Mountains is a jumble of canyons and mesas terminated by the Uncompahgre Plateau.

Down through the center of all this, majestically flows the Colorado River in its great canyon that starts just below the mouth of the Dolores River and continues almost unbroken to the Grand Wash Cliffs, a distance of 590 miles, the first 285 miles of which are in Utah. From Moab to the junction with Green River, the Colorado flows along a fairly smooth bed, easily navigable by small boats. From the junction to Mille Crag Bend are 40 miles of some of the roughest water of the entire canyon section of the river, hence, Powell's name for this section Cataract Canyon. From Mille Crag Bend to Lees Ferry the river flows quietly between monumental walls. The beauty of the scenery and quiet waters suggested to Powell the name Glen Canyon. Because of the depth of the canyon, little is seen from the river, except the immediate canyon walls. Powell and other river adventurers had to be continually scaling the canyon walls in order to get an idea of the country they were passing through. From the tops of the river canyon walls the scene is quite different from that obtained from the higher observation points on the plateau. For example, standing on the rim of the river canyon 1,200 feet directly above the junction of the Green and the Colorado, the great mountain masses and the plains are not visible; instead, there are the thousands of little mountains, buttes, spires, domes, and walls formed by the erosion of the great plain that forms the skyline. You are down in another world surrounded by a complicated jumble of pink, buff, and red sandstone formations, fantastic and beautiful. To the west, north, and east above the general level of this land of standing rocks, two great irregularly shaped terraces rise about 2,000 feet. Here and there, rising from the dark red lower terrace, are huge buttes and smaller walls and spires of the same color. The face of the upper terrace is sheer and of an orange-brown tone, which has given it the name, Orange Cliffs. To the south, on the east side of the river, an intricate system of parallel faults and erosion have created the unique Needles area which blends into formations similar to the Standing Rocks. These in turn build up gradually to Elk Ridge which runs generally north and south at an average elevation of 8,600 feet. Horse Mountain, the high point at the north end of Elk Ridge, rises 5,587 feet above the Colorado River to an elevation of 9,202 feet above sea level.

Junction of Green and Colorado Rivers
Figure 78.—Junction of Green and Colorado Rivers—the Colorado River flows from right to left. (Air photo)

Below Cataract Canyon the scene changes; great side canyons run back into the mountains on the east and west. The terracing is more broken and disappears entirely in some sections. From the river at Hite can be seen Mount Holmes, 6.5 miles away rising 4,500 feet above the river to an elevation of 8,000 feet above sea level, and Mount Ellsworth, 9 miles away, rising 5,800 feet above the river to an elevation of 8,250 feet above sea level. From the Escalante River to below Hole in Rock the Navajo sandstone forms a ridge along the west side of the river canyon. Climbing up from the river to this ridge one finds remarkable views in all directions. The Red Rock Plateau of apparently limitless barren sandstone obscures the view of the Abajo Mountains and the country to the east. But to the north, over the deeply carved back of the Waterpocket Fold, loom the peaks of the Henry Mountains and the rim of the plateau between the Colorado and Dirty Devil Rivers almost 70 miles away. To the northwest for 50 miles stretches the Escalante Valley, walled on the southwest side by the Straight Cliffs of the Kaiparowits Plateau. From the base of the Straight Cliffs the desert rises gradually to the northeast to the Waterpocket Fold and the Circle Cliffs. In the long twisting gash in the bare sandstone along the southwest side of the Waterpocket Fold is the Escalante River. Beyond the upper end of the desert can be seen the highland of the Aquarius Plateau, 70 miles away. To the south the lone peak, Navajo Mountain, dominates the view.

After the river winds down between the Kaiparowits Plateau and Navajo Mountain it comes out into more open country. The immediate canyon walls are lower and the land steps up gradually in great wide benches. This continues until the river reaches the Paria Plateau and swings around the east end of the plateau in a deep narrow canyon. It is in this more open stretch of the river that Escalante [1] found the Old Indian Crossing. If the Glen Canyon Dam raised the water to the elevation suggested by the Bureau of Reclamation, the widest expanses of water would be in the vicinity of the Crossing of the Fathers. Barry Goldwater of Phoenix, Ariz., stated in an article which appeared in Desert Magazine describing a trip down the river from Green River, Utah, to Hoover Dam: "Glen Canyon has always been synonymous in my mind with the unusual, the beautiful and the historic."

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