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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
National Park Service Arrowhead


The Colorado River Basin is one of the outstanding recreational regions in the United States because of its great variety of natural scenery, climatic conditions, areas and objects of scientific interest, abundant evidence of prehistoric occupation, and present Indian, Spanish, and Anglo cultures. Here one may enjoy a large amount of sunshine and find perfect climates and settings for various types of outdoor recreation the year around. The basin embraces latitudes from Mexico almost to Yellowstone National Park and altitudes ranging from 248 feet below sea level to 14,431 feet above sea level. All of the life zones of the United States are present except the Tropical Life Zone of southern Florida.

Geologic features.—An unusual feature of the basin is the peculiar alinement and local setting of the drainage channels, glaringly out of accord with the topography, exemplified by the mile-deep Grand Canyon through the Kaibab Plateau and Split Mountain Canyon. The central part of the Colorado Basin is unique in geologic history, topographic form, and scenic grandeur. Within it are displayed the oldest and youngest rocks exposed on the North American Continent. Major subdivisions of the geologic time scale are represented in orderly succession.

The Uinta Mountains and Uinta Basin are unique in the United States in that they trend east-west in contrast with the general north-south alinement of similar features elsewhere. The Uinta Basin is a famous source of fossils, and derives additional interest from its scattered outcrops of solid hydrocarbons, including rare forms, some of them unique and little understood. The outstanding features of the Colorado Plateau are the widespread Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous strata in approximately horizontal position; the gigantic cliffs of different geological ages and marked by distinctive colors; and the multitude of canyons that carry the perennial, intermittent, and ephemeral run-off. In places, the surface has been roughened by folding, faulting, the building of volcanoes, and the intrusion of igneous rocks.

Bordering the Colorado Plateau on the east is a belt of tangled topography developed on rocks complex in structure, composition and relationships. The landscape is characteristic of the Rocky Mountains rather than the plateau country.

The Prescott, Ariz., area is significant in that great ore bodies have been brought up by faulting. Many mines have been developed in this region. The asbestos deposits that appear as conspicuous white lines from a distance are an outstanding geologic feature of the Sierra Ancha Mountains in central Arizona. Similar asbestos deposits are found in the Salt River Canyon.

The Verde Hot Springs, Soda Springs, fossil trackways of prehistoric mammals, salt deposits, prehistoric salt mines, and lake deposits with mollusks are important features of the Verde Valley.

The San Francisco Mountains, the White Mountains, and, to a lesser extent, the Mount Trumbull region are areas of geologically recent volcanic activity which have so modified both the appearance and character of the country as to merit special attention.

The lower portion of the basin, below the great plateau region, is totally different from that to the north. Rugged mountain ranges rise out of broad, flat valleys like islands in the sea. The mountains contain rocks of many geologic ages and their structural histories are complex.

The delta of the Colorado River is formed in, and is controlled by, one of the most remarkable and unique structural troughs in the earth's surface. It is a depression comparable to the trough of the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley in Palestine.

Events representing the history of the earth undoubtedly are more closely and simply illustrated by the record of the rocks in the Colorado Plateau than anywhere else in the world. In order that this history may be skillfully presented to visitors, emphasis must be placed on original materials. Facts must be dealt with and presented in a way that will guide people's thoughts toward a realization of the principles. The task is to lead people to the best possible illustrations through the skillful development of roads and trails and to make available data necessary to a correct interpretation and correlation of facts.

Plants and animals.—Plants and animals are dependent upon one another in a manner so complex and far reaching that they cannot be fully enjoyed or protected separately. Without plants there can be no cool, clear trout streams; no shady camping spots; no fertile, humus-bearing soil; no food for other forms of life. Recreational enjoyment of plants ranges from subconscious appreciation of their beauty and shade to active interest and wonderment at the marvelous diversity of plant forms which results from their adaptation to extremes of climate and environment. The recreational value of animals is indicated by the fact that by 1945, in spite of wartime restrictions, 20 million anglers and hunters spent 2 billion dollars per year in pursuit of their sport. But fishing and hunting are only two of the many recreational values of wildlife.

Originally the basin had a much greater wealth of vegetation and wildlife than at present. Many desert watercourses that present generations are accustomed to think of as dry washes or as intermittent streams once flowed the year around. The more luxuriant vegetation of those days checked the run off from the storms more efficiently than it is checked at present. After 1870, cattle increased greatly in the desert regions and the forage thinned and disappeared. Trampling hoofs stripped the thin protecting layer of decaying plant materials from the surface of the soil and as a result plant growth changed or disappeared and animal life was starved out. Animal life in the mountains has undergone a corresponding decrease as a result of direct persecution, as well as from forage and habitat depletion.

Another cause of depletion of wildlife has been the occupancy of most of the choice, fertile regions by cities and farms. Elk, deer, beaver, turkeys, and many wild creatures, today considered to be almost exclusively mountain dwellers, originally had their centers of abundance, particularly during the winters, in the lower hills and adjacent valleys.

The decline of wildlife reached a low in the late 1920's. Since then, vigorous conservation efforts have partially restored some species. The viewpoint that wildlife is a direct product of the land, to be increased by restoring the appropriate environment and growing conditions, and, where desired, to be harvested according to a definite plan, with a definite financial return like any other crop, was first emphasized during the early 1930's. This concept had wide appeal and has enlisted support for conservation efforts. Restoration has commenced but lags behind knowledge. Today millions of tons of soil continue to wash away needlessly. In the Southwest proper, grazing capacity has long since been exceeded and vegetation is far from adequate to protect the surface against erosive forces.

Grazing is a major basin industry that needs stabilization.

The problem of determining the proper uses of the Colorado River Basin is largely one of conserving its basic soil and water. In general, the present economic use pattern seems well adapted to the land. The principal need is to replace destructive methods by up-to-date ones with respect to existing land uses. The public is uninformed regarding basic conservation issues largely because conservation education has lacked focus. More support is needed for conservation education.

Archeologic features.—The Colorado River Basin contains abundant evidence of prehistoric occupation and use by man. Exploring the ruins and learning the dramatic story of these early peoples is one of the important recreational activities in the basin. The evidence of prehistoric settlement and use of the lands and waters constitute a resource of recreational and historical significance of unique and irreplaceable value to the Nation.

A considerable part of the archeological wealth of the Southwest is concentrated in valleys adjacent to adequate water supply and tillable fields. The construction of dams and flooding of river valleys will destroy thousands of these prehistoric and historic ruins. To offset this potential loss, there is a definite and immediate need for a well-planned and coordinated archeological program that will include specific recovery measures. The program should include (1) a careful archeological survey of each dam and reservoir site; (2) excavation of important archeological sites; and (3) thorough laboratory study and adequate publication of the scientific data.

Factors determining the recreational values of reservoirs.—In the arid portions of the basin, the creation of large artificial lakes on reservoirs is of great recreational importance. The higher portions of the basin are fairly well supplied with clear streams and small lakes. The recreational value of a reservoir is dependent to a large extent upon its location, accessibility, the population of the area served, the nature of the reservoir site, and the plan of operation of the dam. The amount of fluctuation of water-surface area and elevation are major factors determining the recreational value of reservoirs, although water temperatures and the fertility of the reservoir sites have an important bearing on aquatic life within them.

Potential reservoir sites.—The survey covered about 135 potential reservoir sites. The recreational potentialities of these sites will be considerably increased in a number of cases particularly the smaller reservoirs if a dead storage or conservation pool can be assured. A number of reservoirs are proposed in locations where the existing natural features are of greater recreational value than can be expected of the proposed reservoirs. The majority of the proposed reservoirs, however, will create new recreational resources benefiting the basin.

Grand Canyon region.—The proposed Bridge Canyon Dam in the Grand Canyon will create a lake 93 miles long at a maximum surface elevation of 1,876 feet. Construction of the dam at the proposed elevation would amount to virtual disestablishment of Grand Canyon National Monument and, in addition, would back up water into Grand Canyon National Park for a distance of about 18 miles. The National Park Service deplores this proposal because for an exclusively economic gain it would substantially alter natural conditions and injuriously affect the natural scenery along the Colorado River as far as the backed-up water would extend. At the same time it is recognized that, even under the present plans for Bridge Canyon Dam, the major portion of Grand Canyon National Park would remain in its natural state. It is realized also that some persons will regard the damage to the natural features partially mitigated by the water recreational opportunities that will accrue. The National Park Service does not believe that these recreational benefits are sufficient to compensate for the loss of natural values and has urged that any dam constructed be at a lower level.

A dam at the Marble Gorge site might not be objectionable from the scenic and recreational view point. In fact, a high dam at that site, which would eliminate a dam at the Glen Canyon site, might create a reservoir more adaptable for recreational development and use than a low dam at the Marble Gorge site and a high dam at the Glen Canyon site. On the other hand, the proposed diversion of Colorado River water around Grand Canyon National Park, by a tunnel through the Kaibab Plateau, in order to obtain the benefit of the fall of the Colorado River through the park would be extremely objectionable because it would eliminate the flow of the Colorado River through the most spectacular portion of the Grand Canyon which it formed.

All sections of the Grand Canyon are parts of one great physiographic unit. Man-made boundaries mean little as to the relative value of different portions. From the standpoint of the American people as a whole, it is important that the entire Grand Canyon and the bordering portions of plateaus be protected and that appropriate sites be developed for recreation, primarily of the inspirational type. The extension of opportunities to use Grand Canyon, especially the little-known western part, would greatly help in solving the future problem of adequate space for meeting the recreational needs of an increasingly large group. If water-control facilities are constructed in the Bridge Canyon area, the Peach Spring-Diamond Creek area, Granite Park, and the Toroweap-Whitmore Wash area, it appears that they will be suitable places for future major recreational centers in the Grand Canyon.

Canyon Lands of southeastern Utah.—The area comprising the Canyon Lands of southeastern Utah, part of the largest section in the United States without improved roads and one of the least known, is a region of the unusual in color and form: of great natural bridges, monuments, spires, deep twisting canyons, mammoth terraces with sheer walls a thousand or more feet high, and rock forms that resemble huge castles and cathedrals. It is a vast unoccupied area of great potential recreational value.

Two dams are proposed, one at the Dark Canyon site, the other possibly at the Glen Canyon site 4 miles above Lees Ferry in Arizona, or at an alternate site 15 miles above Lees Ferry. The combined length of both impoundments along the Colorado River would be 279 miles through the Canyon Lands. Although the reservoirs would eliminate for the few the thrills of boating down the untamed river and reduce the apparent depths of the river canyons, they would be confined in the canyon of the Colorado and Green Rivers and have little, if any, effect on the great recreational resources of the region. Instead, the reservoirs would provide a means of access for many to see the wonders of the canyons.

The area is large enough and varied enough to permit the continued use and development of its resources: water power, minerals, forage, and recreation. Except in certain limited sections where a single use is essential to obtain the greatest benefits, these resources can be developed and used simultaneously.

The most important recreational sections of the Canyon Lands of southeastern Utah are the Grays Pasture—Junction Butte area, the Elk Ridge—Needles area, the Lands End area, the Hole in Rock area, the Hite area, the Wahweap area, the Goosenecks of the San Juan River, the Arch Canyon area, and Fisher Towers. Certain parts of these areas which contain known features of national importance should be withdrawn to afford them proper protection.

Dinosaur National Monument.—This monument was established in 1915 to preserve a rich deposit of fossilized dinosaur bones. In 1938, it was extended to include other resources of scientific interest found in the adjoining canyons of the Green and Yampa Rivers. Functionally, the monument now consists of the Quarry Unit, comprising three or four thousand acres, and the Canyon Unit, consisting of about 206,000 acres.

Two dam sites for utilizing the water resources of the Green and Yampa Rivers the Echo Park and Split Mountain are located in the monument. Construction of dams at these sites would adversely alter the dominant geological and wilderness qualities and the relatively minor archeological and wildlife values of the Canyon Unit so that it would no longer possess national monument qualifications. The Echo Park project would not affect the Quarry Unit. At the time this report was prepared, data were not available to determine whether the proposed pressure tunnel from Split Mountain Dam to a power plant on the Green River would affect the Quarry Unit.

The policy of the National Park Service, as the administrative agency now responsible for Dinosaur National Monument, is to make the protection of the natural and archeological values of the area the controlling factor in administering it. Before authorization is given to develop the water resources of the monument and to recognize water use as the principal consideration in the administration of the Canyon Unit, it should be clearly shown (1) that the economic and social values of such development will exceed the costs of producing them; (2) that it would be more economical to develop the water resources of the monument rather than some other resources available for the same purpose within practicable reach; and (3) that it would be of greater benefit to the whole Nation to develop the area for water storage and power than to retain the monument in a natural state for the enjoyment of all the people.

Conservation of recreational resources.—The Colorado River Basin lies directly across all lines of travel between the rapidly increasing population of California and the densely populated eastern half of the United States. In the past the basin was to a large extent considered just a vast space that had to be crossed on the way to California. Now, with the Pacific Coast more fully developed, people seeking undeveloped, uncrowded areas are beginning to discover the basin. It is time for immediate action which will assure the preservation of its many and varied recreational features. It is also time to develop facilities which will enable people to see and enjoy the region. There are natural limitations on the amount of land that can be placed under cultivation. There is a limit, already reached in most sections, on the number of domestic animals that can be grazed. But the possibilities for the development of the recreational use of the basin are almost unlimited.

Some of the more important areas that should be preserved and made available for recreation are the western slope of the Wind River Range in Wyoming; the San Juan—San Miguel—Uncompahgre Mountain area, White River Plateau, the Elk Mountain area, and the Park Range in Colorado; the Uinta Mountains, the Aquarius Plateau—Boulder Mountain area, Monument Valley, and the Canyon Lands of southeastern Utah; the Gila primitive area and Manuelito area in New Mexico; Meteor Crater, Fort Bowie, the Blue Range area, Mount Baldy—White Mountains area, the San Franciscan volcanic field, the Mogollon Rim area, Travertine Bridge, and the Kofa Mountains in Arizona; and Palm Canyon in California. Nationally significant archeological sites that should be permanently preserved are Poncho House in Utah; and Kinishba Ruins, Clear Creek Ruins, Chaves Pass Ruins, and Awatovi in Arizona.

To preserve the great areas of open country free of scattered reminders of city life and to maintain and stimulate the economic life of existing communities, it is recommended that facilities for the accommodation of travelers and vacationists be concentrated near existing towns and villages. Many towns are now focal points for recreational use of the surrounding country. This condition should be encouraged and developed.

While it will be necessary, in developing the resources of the basin, to construct new roads and improve existing ones and to construct other facilities, it must not be forgotten that among the basin's greatest recreational assets are the large areas in which there are no roads or other developments. Some roadless areas have been established, others are needed.

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

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