Navajo Bridge and Zion National Park
I enjoy my final breakfast at the Bright Angel Lodge on a cool and breezy morning before driving east on Desert View Drive, through the Grand Canyon east entrance, and then west on Hwy 89A. Near the village of Marble Canyon, I stop at the Navajo Bridge which crosses a narrow stretch near the beginning of the Grand Canyon.
In the 1870s, Mormon pioneers from Utah were discouraged from expanding their settlements into Arizona by nearly 600 miles of deep canyons along the Colorado River. Established in 1873, Lee’s Ferry was the sole, important route for settlers and local traffic. When automobiles began to use the ferry in the 1920′s it became obvious a method, more reliable than relying on the unpredictable moods of the Colorado River, was desperately needed.
A bridge site was selected 5 river miles south across Marble Canyon. Construction for the 800 foot span, 467 feet above the river, began in June of 1927. Lee’s Ferry was used to transport workers and material whenever possible. On June 7, 1928 the ferry sank in an accident which killed 3 men and, with the bridge nearing completion, the ferry was not replaced. For many months there was no direct link between Utah and Arizona so people had to travel 800 miles around the canyon to get to the other side. On January 12, 1929 the historic bridge was opened to traffic.
At the time it was the highest, steel arch bridge in the world. On June 14 – 15, 1929, nearly 7,000 people and 1,217 cars attended the gala dedication in this isolated location. Reportedly, planes flew under the span. Since prohibition was in effect, the Grand Canyon Bridge was christened with a bottle of ginger-ale. In 1934, the name of the structure was changed to Navajo Bridge and it served the area for 66 years until the 18 foot wide bridge could no longer handle exponentially increasing loads. Safety was also an issue and over one 13 year period 72 accidents were recorded including 8 fatalities. Construction of the new bridge, beside the old one, began in May, 1993. Great effort went into making them appear virtually identical. On May 2, 1995, traffic was diverted onto the new bridge and the historic bridge was allocated to pedestrian traffic. Again, the dedication was well attended on September 14, 1995 when the new Navajo Bridge was christened with a bucket of water from the Colorado River. The old west side rest area was expanded to include the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center opened in April, 1997. On the east side of the bridge, there is an area reserved for Native American craft vendors. The artistry is amazing.
For the next 20 miles of straight level highway I parallel the rich, red cliffs of the southern edge of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument before climbing on twisting road west to Kanab, Utah. Driving north on Hwy 9 will take me through Zion National Park, which like the Red Canyon, Bryce, and the Glen Canyon, is through a land of ancient, desert sand dunes which bordered the edge of prehistoric seas. Over millions of years, the thousands of square miles of compressed sand have been carved by weather into fascinating and colourful formations. At least one layer of the Zion sandstone dunes was blown in from the northern Rocky Mountains as violent storms roared across newly forming continents. Many of the deposits were formed by volcanic activity as the earth cooled.
The 229 square mile Zion National Park was established in 1909 as the Mukuntuweap National Monument before expansion to become Zion National Park in 1919. It is one of the best examples of the inheritance from this tumultuous period of time. Zion, named by the Mormons in the 1860s, is interpreted as a place of safety or refuge. The north-west Kolob section, which I will not visit on this trip, was added in 1937. Kolob, in Mormon theology, is a heavenly place close to God.
Just past the park’s east entrance, the Checker Board Mesa looms large overhead and subsequently I am immersed in spectacular desert sandstone terrain of mountains, valleys and red pavement. There is a month of hiking in this incredible area that might cover the highlights but I will be here for only a couple of hours as a sight-seeing refresher to previous trips. After travelling through a small, rock tunnel I arrive at a great engineering achievement; the 5,607-foot-long Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel completed in 1930. It is narrow, snug and carved through the base of a large mountain. The tunnel has the occasional small opening in the side for ventilation and light. The 1.1 mile tunnel links the east and west side of the park. Exiting the tunnel begins the dizzying descent on 6 steep and severe switchbacks through awesome desert terrain where huge, sculpted rock formations coexist with hanging gardens, brilliantly coloured mountains and rugged valleys. A rest break at the west, crowded entrance to Zion Canyon Visitor Center is over-shadowed by the 6,545 foot summit of the Watchman rising 2,555 feet above the canyon floor.
Passing Rockville and Virgin, I hang a right at La Verkin onto highway 17 through Toquerville to I-15. Making quick time north on I-15, I pass the Hurricane Cliffs on my right and 10,365 ft Signal Peak on my left, and at Cedar City I can see Cedar Breaks National Monument and Brian’s Head far off in the distance, where my trip began nearly two weeks prior. At 3:30 PM, I call it a day in Beaver, which you will recall is, the birthplace of Robert Leroy Parker, aka the outlaw, Butch Cassidy.
The Drive Home to Calgary – Day 1
I drive north on I-15 past Salt Lake City , Fillmore, and Provo, home of Brigham Young University. Continuing past Ogden and Brigham City, Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Dubois and Dillon, I cross the Continental Divide twice before arriving in Butte, Montana where I will finish my day.
The Drive Home to Calgary – Day 2 and Final
I am up early on a chilly 4 deg C morning and on the road at 7 AM. There is a 45 minute line-up at Canadian Customs. By mid afternoon, I am back in my Calgary apartment. This wilderness adventure is complete.
I do these journals, primarily for myself, but also for family, friends, acquaintances and fellow adventurers who might enjoy and benefit from my time. Some share my passion for the wilderness, my thirst for adventure and the ability to summon the inner child.
I have attempted to teach a few of the basics of desert survival and to give you a bit of the history surrounding the trails and photos.
In the final two days, I take only one picture of an early morning, clear-sky sunrise. In addition, I have included a photo of myself at home. The highly organized debris-field surrounding me is some of the research material I use to add history and commentary to places explored.
I hope you have enjoyed the journey.