Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

“…..and a river runs through it”

Colorado River from Navajo Bridge (Arizona)

A few miles downstream from Lee’s Ferry you’ll find Navajo Bridge.  Actually, there’s two bridges – one is an old bridge that is now used by picture taking pedestrians (like me) and the other is the bridge that replaced it for vehicular traffic.  They sit side by side, about 470 feet above the Colorado River.

Actually, not all that high as far as bridges go.  The new bridge that takes Route 93 across the Colorado just below Hoover Dam (featured in a recent post) is nearly twice as high at about 900 feet.  Having stood on both of them, I can say without hesitation that the difference is very real.  The Hoover Dam bridge is downright spooky.  Some woman, by the way, became the first recorded suicide on that bridge this past Saturday.  Unlike many tall bridges, there isn’t much to stop you from going over the rail, if that’s your wish.  Heck, I was nervous just standing by the railing.  900 feet is a long way to fall.  You have to wonder if she had second thoughts on the way down.

For me, though, the Navajo Bridge was much more interesting (and still a bit spooky).  For one thing, the river “falls” a good distance between this point and the entrance to The Grand Canyon.  That’s why people raft from Lee’s Ferry into the canyon – it’s the white water that’s the attraction.  By the time they hit the area just below Desert View, the cliffs are rising thousands of feet above them.

What’s more interesting to me, however, is the change in water color.  From Glen Canyon Dam (at Page) to Navajo Bridge, the water tends to be a bluish green color – just like you see in this image.  But somewhere between here and the Grand Canyon, it turns a reddish brown.  I suppose it could be because of the white water churning things up.  Or maybe it’s because the Little Colorado River joins the Colorado about 30 miles downstream from Navajo Bridge.  I can attest to the fact that that river was running “brown” on the same day I took this picture.  I don’t know why.  In my opinion, neither river was running at a particularly high volume.  For this time of year, in fact, I thought they were both running a bit low.  One looking bluish green, the other looking like it was full of red sandstone.  Well, because it is red sandstone.  That stuff erodes so easily that it’s like pouring red powder into the river.  Which is kind of what happens during and after a heavy rain.  I’ve seen the Colorado go from green to red overnight near Moab, Utah.  Right after a heavy rain.

Anyway, I’m still faced with this “mystery”.  Green water here, red water there.  I’d love to see where it actually changes color.  Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of roads that follow the river into the Grand Canyon.  I guess you’d need to go on one of those overnight boat trips.  Or maybe I can find something on Wikipedia………


4 Responses to ““…..and a river runs through it””

  1. Steve Weeks

    From my experience fishing that part of the river, the water comes from the lower portion of the dam. Clear, cold, little sediment and a fairly constant flow. Occasionally they will up the flow to flush out the sand for better trout breeding areas. Because of our dry and warm winter they might be holding back more water than last spring.

    You should find the same below Hoover Dam.

    • Paul Maxim

      Yes, I remember that from our little water rafting experience from the base of Glen Canyon dam. The water there is very cold and very greenish-blue. I know it’s not very important in the overall scheme of things, but I’d still like to know where the color changes as it flows into the Grand Canyon. Obviously it’s not a constant – it’s going to depend on flow levels and weather. And then, of course, it changes color again as it flows into Lake Meade behind Hoover Dam.

      • Steve Weeks

        Like you said if the flows are up, the Paria and San Juan rivers will add the brown/red along with the Little Colorado. And the white water rapids will stir up their own goop. Kind of like the different color of the Virgin in Zion compared to the gorge NE of Mesquite, NV.

        If you can find a picture of the Green and Colorado confluence in spring it shows the mixing of colors very well.

  2. Paul Maxim

    Thanks for emailing the website showing the confluence of the Green and Colorado in Canyonlands. If it wasn’t for the 11-mile hike, it’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing.


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