Most visitors to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area focus their attention on the magnificent Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell above the dam. Certainly these are both worth a visit. But what many people do not realize is how much of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is below the dam, including Lee’s Ferry, Horseshoe Bend and Navajo Bridge.
Driving towards Page on highway 89, many people will stop at Horseshoe Bend. There is a paid parking lot and a 3/4 mile hike to the overlook. It is absolutely gorgeous… you look down 1100 feet to the Colorado River as it makes a 270 degree curve around a huge sandstone escarpment. The colors are magnificent; the brilliant blue of the river up against the red rock face. Visited by some 2 million people a year, this is certainly one of the highlights of the area.
Paddling Horseshoe Bend
A totally different perspective is from the river level. There are several outfitters who will take you and your kayak (or canoe or paddle board) from Lee’s Ferry up the Colorado River. They will drop you anywhere along the river to start the paddle. The longest distance is starting about 1 mile from the base of the Glen Canyon dam; that’s about 17 miles away from the launch point with lots of clean pit toilets along the way.
There are couple stops you must make. The first is to see the ancient petroglyphs. It’s just a couple hundred yards from the beach, but worth the walk to see the famous “descending sheep” panel, estimated to be between 3,000 and 6,000 years old.
The other interesting stop is at a small beach where you can leave your gear and hike up a slot canyon. We went about a mile along a sandy trail before it turned to be a bit more technical. The carved sandstone is really cool and it gives you a really different look at the canyon.
The paddling is pretty easy, much of the time you can simply float along with the 3-5 mph current. The water is so clear, if you look carefully you can see the fish swimming by. No wonder this is such a great destination for trout fishing.
As you make your way towards the landing at Lee’s Ferry, you can see the cables from the original ferry. There are also wild horses that graze along the river bank, and if you are lucky you might see mountain sheep.
Lee’s Ferry is more than just the launch point for Colorado River trips. There is a ton of history there. Originally established by the Mormons to help emigrant wagon trains cross the Colorado River, this location had been used for centuries by Native Americans for river crossings.
The Lee’s established an outpost here – now called the Lonely Dell Ranch. Several families over the years made this their home, planting alfalfa and hay, and living off the land with lush gardens watered by the nearby Paria River. You can visit the remains and see the original orchard with plums, quince, pears, peach, nectarine, figs, almonds, apricots and apples. In season, you can even pick and eat the fruit. We had a fresh peach right off the tree. Yum!!!
There is lots of other history at this location. There are remains of an old fort built in 1874.
Walk along the Spencer Trail and you will see the remains of a failed gold mining operation and a steamship that didn’t quite work out. There are also remains of some small buildings that travelers used for shelter, right near the terminus of the ferry.
As you turn off the highway to go to Lee’s Ferry, you will see Navajo Bridge. If you have ever wanted to walk across the Grand Canyon – here’s your chance. Up until 1927 when the original bridge was built, the only way across the river was the ferry. But as more and more automobiles needed to make the crossing, a bridge was required.
In 1993, the old bridge was replaced but kept open for foot traffic. Now you can stop at a parking lot on either side and walk across the old bridge. The bridge is 834 feet long and 467 feet high above the river, with a 616 foot arch. It is a pretty amazing structure, at the time it was built considered by some as one of the world’s wonders.
When you visit Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, don’t miss this part of the adventure.
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