Grand Canyon History

(From: Standing Up Country, the Canyon Lands of Utah & Arizona, C. Gregory Crampton, 1964)

West of the hundredth meridian there is much less rainfall than east of it. In SE Utah and NE Arizona, it often rains no more than 10 inches/year.

Lee’s Ferry

Silvestre Dominguez and Silvestre Escalante explored much of the region around the Grand Canyon, looking for a route from Santa Fe to Monterey. On their trip back to Santa Fe, the attempted to ford the Colorado at what is now Lee’s Ferry, and were unsuccessful. Getting desperate, they moved upstream (west), and found one of the few places where there is open country next to the river, and were able to ford. This is now called The Crossing of the Fathers, which is under Lake Powell.

In 1870, Powell and Jacob Hamblin returned with lumber on mule back to build the first ferry. In 1871 Powell ended his run for the year there, and continued from there in 1872.

John Doyle Lee arrived there in December, 1871, with his wife Emma, in hiding for complicity in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. His wife is reported to have exclaimed, "oh, what a lonely dell," and it was called Lonely Dell for years after. His first ferry was a crude raft, after which he used the Nellie, a boat abandoned by Powell as unseaworthy.

Formal service started on January 11, 1873, when the Colorado, built on the spot, was christened.

Jacob Hamblin opened the road to Moa Ave-Tuba City-Moenkopi Oasis, and to the San Francisco Mountains. Mormons in the 1870’s trekked from Utah to settle the valley of the Little Colorado.

Gold was first discovered in the area by Cass Hite. Along the river it was generally found from the Dirty Devil River to Lee’s Ferry. Lee’s Ferry was the departure point for mines upstream.

The placer gold was very fine, and would float on the surface of the water, making it hard to extract by panning or sluicing. Prospectors began looking for the source of the gold back in the Henry Mountains, even though Grove K. Gilbert, in his geological study of those mountains for the Powell Survey, was pessimistic about finding paying quantities of the mineral.

Jack Sumner returned to Glen Canyon after 1883, and in 1889 he and Jack Butler discovered gold in the Henry mountains. There was a brief rush, and the boom town of Eagle City sprang up, but the gold was soon played out.

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