Crossing the Colorado in 1929

Twin Marble Canyon bridges, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Twin Marble Canyon bridges, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

(excerpted from U.S. Highway 89: the Scenic Route to Seven Western National Parks)

The Navajo Bridge, opened to traffic in 1929, eliminated the worst danger on the highway: the Lee’s Ferry crossing. Sandwiched between
sheer vertical cliffs, it was barely possible to construct dugways down to the river from the surrounding plateaus. Sharlot Hall* wrote, “The
road looked as if it had been cut out of the red clay mountains with a pocket knife; sometimes it hung out over the river so we seemed
sliding into the muddy current and again the cliffs above hung over till one grew dizzy to look.”

No one could cross the Colorado River at the height of spring runoff when 100,000 cubic feet of water blasted by each second. In
drought years, the river could be waded; some travelers would risk a crossing on foot if the winter ice was thick. Eleven people lost their
lives in the nearly 60 years of ferry service, which closed for good in 1928 when the boat capsized, washing away a Model T and drowning three passengers.

Six miles downstream, Navajo Bridge rises 67 feet above the river, the world’s highest highway span when it was built. The bridge
formed an essential link for the residents of the Arizona Strip, isolated from the rest of the state, including their county seat in Flagstaff. In
1995, vehicular traffic shifted to a wider bridge installed a few yards to the south. The old structure remains open to foot traffic, serving
visitors to an interpretive center hosted by the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

* Sharlot Hall wrote one of the earliest travel guides to the Colorado Plateau region. Hall never married, but ran her aging parents’ ranch
near Prescott while working as a contributor and editor for a Los Angeles magazine. A political appointee as Arizona’s territorial historian, Hall wrote about her remarkable trip to the Kaibab Plateau and Arizona Strip in 1911, in which she and a hired guide traveled more than 1,000 miles by wagon to collect first-person pioneer histories.

Where I eat on Highway 89

Originally posted on at, updated here in 2009.

One of my favorite things about a roadtrip is eating in new places. High-brow, low-country, I’ll try them all. I’ve driven the entire historic route of U.S. Highway 89 for my project, a lot of miles, a lot of meals. I want good food after a hard day’s photography, and I have found some great places to eat. Here are some of my favorite places:

Tucson El Charro Cafe There are four locations, but I prefer the original restaurant in the central district, which has been there longer than the Highway itself. Mole, carne seca, and they will ship tamales.
Phoenix my Mom’s My Mom makes the best lasagne.
Yarnell Cornerstone Bakery Once on a scouting trip Mom and I stopped here for a coffee warm-up. I now have a standing order to bring her eclairs if I am driving through Yarnell.
Flagstaff Beaver Street Brewery After a full day drive from SLC to Flagstaff (I probably stop more than most), I’m glad to know that this place will be serving good food until at least 11 pm.
Page Strombolli’s Restaurant and Pizzeria I get the Strombolli Calzone, large enough that I eat half and pack the rest for lunch the next day. Strombolli’s closes in the winter.
Kanab The Rocking V Cafe The last thing I’d expect in a rural Utah restaurant is an extensive vegetarian menu. It looked good, but I had the elk. I’d stay in Kanab on the way to Zion NP so I could eat here again. Full bar too, not always easy to find in Southern Utah.
Springdale The
Spotted Dog Cafe and Pub
Springdale isn’t on Highway 89, but it is the main gateway to Zion. The chef at the Spotted Dog is sourcing scallops, salmon, and other gourmet items, and he knows what to do with them.
An “eat your fancy food in fleece and flannel” kind of place, one where I feel comfortable eating alone.
Panguitch The Flying M Restaurant A real coffee shop, full American breakfast. And a full liquor license. Hopefully you won’t need both at the same time.
Salina Mom’s Cafe Save room for pie.
Salt Lake City Coffee Garden Two locations, one in Sam Weller’s Bookstore on Main Street. I’m not a coffee drinker, but my husband says the Coffee Garden staff can make the best latte on the planet. (There’s one other place in Auckland, but it’s not on Highway 89.) If I’m in town, I’ll be having one of their pastries for breakfast on Saturday morning. And free wireless.
Salt Lake City Bambara Restaurant This is our household’s special occasion restaurant. Actually, there is a lot of fine dining in SLC, but this is my choice for my birthday and my husband’s choice for business dinners.
Perry Maddox Ranch House People drive an hour from SLC for the chicken-fried steak. It’s a must-drive-by in the evening to see the spinning neon creation.
Garden City Hometown Drive In Highway 89 is lined with shake shacks, but the Hometown Drive In is one of the few open on Sundays.
Alpine Yankee Doodles Cafe Everything, EVERYTHING in the place is red, white and blue. Must have been a huge After-the-4th sale at decorating time. Burgers, freedom fries, and plenty of flags.
Jackson Virginian Restaurant Jackson is a foodie town, but sometimes what I want is an honest American breakfast. You can get it here.
Jackson Jackson Whole Grocer I’ll stop here for a sandwich and snacks on my way into the park. The deli is full-stocked with takeaway foods for the road.
Grand Teton National Park Mural Room, Jackson Lake Lodge There are several classic national park lodge dining rooms on the Highway 89 tour, like El Tovar and the Old Faithful Lodge. I enjoy the dining experience in all of them, but I like the food at the Mural Room best.
Livingston 2nd Street Bistro Drive the hour north of Mammoth Hot Springs to eat here. I might move to Livingston just so I could eat here. This one is “better than it has to be.”
Great Falls Mackenzie River Pizza Company A small chain of Montana restaurants that doesn’t feel like it. The Great Falls location is next to the Missouri River, the patio lovely, the staff charming.
Choteau Log Cabin Cafe Another fabulous pie place, if you get there early enough.
Babb Cattle Baron Supper Club Don’t be misled by the simple exterior – winters are hard in Montana. The food is inside, big beautiful pieces of beef. This is not a place for light appetites or vegetarians. The waiter tried to interest us in dessert, a comical proposition considering the steak I had eaten.

These are my recommendations, but keep in mind that I haven’t eaten everywhere (yet). If I missed your favorite road food spot on Highway 89, won’t you please leave a comment with the details?

Welcome to US89


The original route of US89 arcs beneath the Vermilion Cliffs. In 1957, after the completion of the Glen Canyon bridge, traffic on US89 was retoured through Page, AZ. The original section was renumbered as US89A

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