Aerial shots of the Grand Canyon provide a great view and can really give you an idea of the scope and size of this massive creation of Mother Nature’s, but what about the waterways that make up a good portion of the Canyon floor?
Most Grand Canyon tour guides will tell you about the Colorado River and how it is responsible for the formation of the gorge, but do you know anything about the lakes, dams, reservoirs, and tributaries that are connected to that river? The Colorado drains 242,000 square miles of land and goes through the states of Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, California, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada.
The headwaters of the Colorado River are in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, an elevation of 9,010 feet. It flows west from there and eventually empties into the Pacific Ocean in the Gulf of California. By the time it reaches the Grand Canyon the elevation has dropped to 3,110 feet and it goes down even further to under 1,000 feet when it reaches the end of the Canyon at Grand Wash Cliffs. The distance from the beginning of the Grand Canyon to the end is 277 miles.
The rapid decrease in elevation creates rapids and waterfalls that are breathtaking to see and a lot of fun to ride with the proper equipment and guidance. There are a number of white water Grand Canyon tours available that will take you down river. There are also calmer portions of the waterway where you can swim, but the water is generally cold. Since the building of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1963 the water rarely gets above 42 degrees Fahrenheit.
There are two dams in the Grand Canyon. One is the aforementioned Glen Canyon Dam, which has created a body of water called Lake Powell, named after Major John Wesley Powell, the first western man to successfully travel from one end of the Colorado River to the other, the original Grand Canyon tour odyssey. The second dam is pretty well known and considered one of the seven man-made wonders of the world, the Hoover Dam. The body of water created by the Hoover Dam is called Lake Mead.
The 277 mile stretch of the Colorado River that flows from the base of the Glen Canyon Dam to the shores of Lake Mead is one of the most beautiful spots on earth. The journey, if you are able to take it, is a once in a lifetime experience that you will not soon forget. You can fly over, walk through, or camp above the Grand Canyon, but nothing compares to seeing it from surface of the waterway that created it.