On The Road To The Colorado River

The Colorado River stretches over 2300 kilometres, touching seven states of the USA – Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and California before ending up in the Gulf of Mexico. It makes its way through eleven National Parks and is the the main source of water for forty million people. Along the route are impressive dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, hydroelectric power plant, and it is used agriculturally and domestically. It is the home for different fauna and flora, a diamond for scientists to study and a massive attraction for tourists (now the Colorado river’s waters are highly protected by strict laws). The reasons I just mentioned made us spend a day to see the waters of this impressive pearl of nature.

But still to drive over 270 miles one way just to see the river sounds a little bit crazy, so we looked a bit into how we could make the trip more exciting by passing some more interesting sites. One of the possibilities was to go to the Grand Canyon Village (the main spot to visit the canyon), in case you don’t know the Colorado flows through the famous Grand Canyon. Another option was that maybe we could drive further north which would give us a chance to see a little bit of Utah, in addition to Nevada and Arizona, as well as to avoid massive groups of tourists. We chose the second and picked up a couple of places to visit giving us a route of around 600 miles full of stunning views.

Grand Canyon – The North Rim

It would be a crime not to see a piece of the Grand Canyon while we were so near and we didn’t want to be criminals so we did go to see. Less busy, and with less facilities, than the South Rim but the same stunning vistas with many hiking trails and colorful rocks is the view point at the North Rim. We used all our cameras to take pictures, but still it is just not possible to share the feeling that we had being there and the powerful beauty of nature we experienced. Different rock colors, shapes, curves. There is a short track maybe 10-15 minutes from the car park to Bright Angel Point which is perhaps the best place to look around from.

North Rim, Grand Canyon
North Rim, Grand Canyon

If we would have more time for sure we would go to different places around the Grand Canyon, explore more and maybe we would even do a couple of hiking tours. We didn’t pay the fee for visiting this canyon, probably we needed, but we felt like it would be to expensive just for a small tour. Our recommendation is to spend 2-3 days so in this case for sure it makes sense to pay it and not to break the rules.

The Vermilion Cliffs

It’s a long way to drive but passing through national parks, different landscapes, along wide and narrow roads surrounded by massive cliffs made our long driving hours interesting. Our eyes were occupied all the time looking at the scenery outside our windows. We could not stop everywhere just because it would take days and probably we wouldn’t reach our real aim – The Colorado River. But there was one place that we couldn’t pass without stopping and taking some instant pictures.

On the left side of road 89A we caught a view of some impressive hills. As we found out later, this was the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. It is an easy place to access by car and worthy of attention.

Vermilion Cliff National Monument
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

Blanche Russell’s Rock House Ruins

The rock houses are very fascinating constructions to see. You might think that using rocks to build houses died out many centuries ago, but that is not true. The houses we saw were built under the overhangs of fallen rocks by Blanche Russell in the 1930s. Less than 100 years ago, so they are really not so old, but they are impressive!

The place is named after Blanche Russell, who was a successful dancer in a series of sophisticated theatrical productions called The Ziegfeld Follies. After her husband got sick with Tuberculosis they decided to move somewhere with a better climate. Along the way, it looks like their car broke down here in 1927 and the beauty of the landscape made them decide to buy the property and stay longer. With time the couple built their rock houses and started a small business serving food to travellers, at one point they were running a restaurant as well as trading post and selling gasoline. The place became popular, but after many years they sold it and moved on.

Nowadays we can still enjoy the beauty of the place that we can’t describe by words or even photographs. There are some people selling local handcrafts and some snacks during the day as well.

Rock houses
Rock houses

Marble Canyon

Probably less that 10 minutes drive before we actually reached the Colorado River we decided to take a small sightseeing ride through Marble Canyon. It is not a massive canyon but worth to see especially the imposing Cathedral Rock, I guess it is named like this because of the shape. When you look at it for a minute you could imagine Notre Dame in Paris (before it caught fire, or after they rebuild it), so it is a rock that transports you back to Europe and the French Gothic style 😀 . The canyon name suggests that there is marble here, but don’t be mistaken there is not. John Wesley Powell named the place like this because he thought the polished limestone looked like marble.

It takes about 15 minutes slow drive to Lee’s Ferry. It was an important river crossing and started in the middle of the 19th century. It was the only one place for hundreds of kilometres where it was possible to access both sides of the Colorado River, taking the name from it’s founder John Doyle Lee.

Marble Canyon
Marble Canyon & Cathedral Rock

The Colorado River and Navajo Bridge

Finally we reached our goal – The Colorado River. To actually see it we needed to step on the original, or let’s say the first constructed, Navajo Bridge and look down. At this point the stream from above looked strong and powerful, I was imagining how it was in the old times as the river served as a road with boats full of goods going to Mexico.

The interesting thing about the Navajo Bridge, that at first was titled Grand Canyon Bridge, is that actually there are two almost identical steel spandrel bridges across the Colorado river. The first was designed and constructed by the Kansas City Structural Steel Company and opened for transportation in 1929. The original bridge is 254 metres long and now is used as viewing point for tourists. The second one was built in 1995 and is a little bit longer at 277 metres. The reason to build a new bridge was because the traffic flow was too high and the original designs width and load capacity specifications couldn’t keep up with it. Today it is a great place to visit.

Navajo Bridge
Navajo Bridge

We wanted to reach Horseshoe Bend and so drove on, around some amazing roads but the sun had already set by the time we got there and it didn’t make sense to park and walk further, so we just had some burritos in the nearby town of Page, refilled the tank, got some drinks and got back on the road. Sadly we couldn’t enjoy the views again, but needed to stay focused because the roads were curved and in places narrow.

It was a lovely day and one more adventure in our lives. Now we are waiting to develop our pictures, which we took with our old Zenit camera! Actually while I was writing this article we realized that we don’t have many pictures to share with you because digital pictures are not so common in our lives anymore, but we will try to fix it in the future! 🙂

Leave a comment