The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area covers a vast territory in southeastern Utah and northeastern Arizona. There are practically endless scenic places to explore and plenty of fun things to do in this wilderness area. Boating and aquatic sports activities in Lake Powell reward participants with some of the most surrealistic landscapes on earth. Downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam, the Colorado River meanders through a maze of deep horseshoe shaped canyons on its way to the Grand Canyon. Some of the deep river canyon viewpoints are accessible by car and a short hike, while other spots can only be experienced by river rafters. The desolate nature of the southern section of the Glen Canyon Recreation Area appeals to those who want to escape the crowds, yet there is one place where signs of civilization can be found along the river. The historic Navajo Bridge spans the Colorado River in Marble Canyon and there are some old fashioned Arizona resorts nearby, so this destination definitely is a gateway to adventure!
The picturesque Marble Canyon is one of the few spots along this section of the Colorado River that can be accessed by car. There is ample parking at the Navajo Bridge and those who have mobility challenges will have no problem taking in the panoramic views, because the walkways are paved. These simple conveniences are taken for granted in modern times, but it was not too long ago when the only way to cross the river was by raft at Lee’s Ferry. The dangerous Colorado River ferry crossing was a limiting factor back in the old days and this is part of the reason why few pioneers settled in this beautiful region.
During the birth of the age of automobile travel back in the early 1920s, Lee’s Ferry was the only place to cross the Colorado River in this region. As can be imagined, there were plenty of perilous moments involved with floating cars across the river and as vehicular traffic increased a solution for the problem became necessary. One of the narrowest canyons along this section of the Colorado River just happened to be located a few miles downstream from Lee’s Ferry, so this spot was the perfect choice for a modern bridge crossing.
By the mid 1920s, the number of cars using the old Lee’s Ferry increased dramatically and disaster was inevitable. The dangerous Lee’s Ferry was permanently closed after several lives were lost during a disastrous river crossing. Lee's Ferry was then closed when the original Navajo Bridge construction began in 1927 and the project was completed in 1928. The decision to wait till the bridge was opened before allowing anymore crossings proved to be a wise one that motorists agreed with, especially if they valued their own lives.
As time progressed the vehicular traffic increased over the original Navajo Bridge. Cars and trucks also increased in size, so the narrow Navajo Bridge soon became outdated. Another factor that antiquated the original bridge was the lack of a pedestrian walkway. Crossing the original Navajo Bridge on foot was actually more dangerous than the old ferry crossing ever was and countless pedestrians were mowed down by speeding cars. A new Navajo Bridge with modern safety standards factored into the design was the solution for the problem. The new Navajo Bridge engineering project was completed in 1995.
There actually are steadfast bridge engineering fans around the globe that will eagerly travel a few extra miles just to see a marvelous bridge in a majestic setting! Just like music to the ears, the new Navajo Bridge certainly fits the bill of fare! The new Navajo Bridge is a twin span steel arch bridge that rests on nooks carved into the walls of both sides of Marble Canyon. The canyon walls actually are sheer vertical cliffs that tower over 450 feet above the river, so a simple steel arch design was the best choice from an environmental impact standpoint. The new Navajo Bridge is a minimalist design that does not detract from the natural beauty of the surroundings. This bridge looks like a scale model railroad hobbyist simply set the bridge in place on a canyon in a pristine western landscape diorama!
The new Navajo Bridge has all safety factors and modern conveniences figured into the design. There are ample size parking lots on either side of the bridge. The old original visitors center on the western side of the bridge was converted into an interpretive center and museum that offers an educational experience for visitors of all ages. The east side of the canyon is where the Navajo Nation set up the Antelope Trails Interpretive Marketplace. Visitors can definitely learn a little something from cultural exchange when shopping here! Everything from hand crafted baskets and horse hair pottery to kachina and artisan silver jewelry can be found in this outdoor market. Every item has a story to be told and this is part of the charm of the Antelope Trails Interpretive Marketplace shopping experience.
The best part of the Navajo Bridge experience is the majestic views of Marble Canyon and the Colorado River. Members of the John Wesley Powell expedition gave this canyon its name back in the 1800s. The name described how the river canyon looked like the sheer vertical rock walls of a marble quarry. The Colorado River is usually a deep green color in this section and this adds to the captivating visual experience. The views of the Colorado River running through Marble Canyon with the Vermilion Cliffs in the background is such a beautiful sight to see, that one simply must stop and stare for quite a spell!
The Navajo Bridge is located on Highway 89A just a few miles off of Highway 89 near Lee’s Ferry. Highway 89 is a major travel route that connects Glen Canyon and Page with the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, while Highway 89A heads west to the Vermilion Cliffs and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. If the vacation itinerary includes all of these destinations, then the Navajo Bridge will surely be traversed during the journey.
It is well worth taking the time to enjoy the views of Marble Canyon and the Navajo Bridge when touring the Glen Canyon region. Lee’s Ferry is close by and this is where all Grand Canyon whitewater rafting ventures begin, so this is reason enough to put this destination on the lifetime travel bucket list! Marble Canyon sure is a pretty sight to see and the Navajo Bridge offers the best views of this majestic place!
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