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.

1 comment to Crossing the Colorado in 1929

  • While traveling from Southern Utah to Phoenix as a child I remember driving across the “old bridge” and seeing the new bridge being built. After driving across the new bridge every year it makes me wonder how the cars fit on the old one. This is a great story. Thanks for sharing.

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