“He called the place Lonely Dell, and it was not a misnomer”

Lee's Ferry, 1921

Lee's Ferry, 1921, courtesy USBR

Lee’s Ferry is a storyteller’s delight, one of those connect-the-dots places that is simply irresistible. On the Colorado River just downstream from Glen Canyon Dam, it is where John D. Lee was sent into hiding (exile?) following the Mountain Meadows Massacre, where John Wesley Powell split his second Grand Canyon trip in two, where the Colorado River Compact splits upper and lower basin water, where the USGS today measures the great river’s flow.

A delightful gift arrived in the mail yesterday, the two-volume collection of essays from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s centennial symposium in 2002. It’s full of mineable treasure. For today, there’s this wonderful little bit of business. Before the big dams, John D. Lee made little ones:

In addition to constructing lodging, Lee quickly turned his attention to the establishment of a garden patch. One of his first tasks was to complete a dam on the Paria River to impound water for irrigation. Thus began a continual battle to maintain the dam in the face of frequent floods and to keep the crops watered during times of drought.

It’s a battle that, on a larger scale, is in some sense still going on. From Lee’s Ferry, the Colorado River and the Development of the Bureau of Reclamation, by Douglas E. Kupel.

One Comment

  1. My grandmother told a tale about a memorable trip from Rifle, Colorado to Phoenix in 1926. It took 6 weeks because, for one thing, the Model T broke down on the trip and my grandpa had to get a job and work for a week to buy a new one. I always thought she crossed at Lee’s Ferry, but when I examined my interview transcript in more detail, it turns out that they crossed at a different ferry, the name of which escapes me now and which I can’t find even on this 1926 Arizona Highway map: http://www.aaroads.com/west/maps/1926-az.html. Since it was 1926, there’s a chance that they took Lee’s Ferry on the trip back, but she doesn’t specifically say that. The main interest of the story for me was that she talked about her huge romantic expectations for the crossing, but when they got there, it was just a dumpy ferry and a boring trip across. If you’re interested, email me and when I run across the transcript of the story, I’ll send you a copy.

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