History of Colorado River Essay

This essay has a total of 1182 words and 6 pages.

History of Colorado River



The Colorado River, one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, is a river of many
different extremes, from the barren deserts of Mexico to the huge mountains of Colorado.
This great river is born about 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and flows
southwest for 1,470 miles to the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) in Mexico. It is the
international boundary for 17 miles between Arizona and Mexico. Before the construction of
a number of dams along its route, it flowed 80 miles through Mexico to the Gulf of
California.

The 1,360 miles of its route in the United States makes it the nation's fifth longest
river. It drains a large portion of the North American continent covering 242,000 square
miles in the United States and 3,000 square miles in Mexico. The Colorado and its
tributaries drain southwestern Wyoming and western Colorado, parts of Utah, Nevada, New
Mexico and California, and almost all of Arizona. Three fourths of the basin is federal
land devoted to national forests and parks and Indian reservations.

For more than 1,000 miles, the upper and middle portions of the Colorado River and its
tributaries; the Virgin, Kanab, Paria, Escalante, Dirty Devil and Green rivers from the
west; the Little Colorado, San Juan, Dolores and Gunnison from the east, these cut a
spectacular labyrinth of deep gorges. The longest and most spectacular of these canyons is
the magnificent Grand Canyon, extending from the mouth of the Paria to Grand Wash Stream.
Canyonlands National Park encompasses another of these regions at the juncture of the
Green and Colorado rivers in southeastern Utah.

The lower Colorado River separates two great deserts, the Mojave on the California
(western) side and the Sonoran on the Arizona (eastern) side. The Gila River drains the
Sonoran. South of the Mojave Desert lies the Salton Basin, a large structural depression
235 feet below sea level, extending 150 miles northwest from the head of the Gulf of
California.

Ute and Southern Paiute Indian tribes, now living in reduced numbers on reservations,
hunted and gathered in the plateaus and canyonlands of the upper Colorado basin for
centuries. In the lower basin, the largest prehistoric canal irrigation system in the
American West was built by the Hohokam Indians on the Gila and Salt rivers. Yuman tribes
practiced more extensive patterns of floodplain farming and hunting on the Colorado, which
was too large and variable for canal irrigation. In the face of economic exploitation of
the region by whites, and the resultant ecological changes, Indian groups have struggled
to maintain vestiges of traditional lifeways with respect to the river.

Europeans in North America explored the Colorado River early on, but upon discovering that
it was practically useless for navigation, bothered with it very little. In 1539,
Francisco de Ulloa reached the Colorado from the Gulf of California; in 1540, Hernando de
Alarcon became the first European to sail up the river, while Garcia Lopez de Cardenas of
Coronado's expedition discovered the Grand Canyon. In 1776, Fathers Silvestre Velez de
Escalante and Francisco Atanasio Dominguez crossed the Colorado in Glen Canyon, while that
same year Father Francisco Garces named the river "Colorado" because of its red mud. In
1857, Lieutenant Joseph C. Ives navigated the Colorado from its mouth to Black Canyon. But
it wasn't until 1869 that Major John Wesley Powell made the first trip through the Grand
Canyon. He led an expedition by boat, recording and mapping his perilous journey. His
journals are still in print and provide exciting reading for modern adventurers ready to
rediscover the wonders of the desert Southwest.

In 1905, floodwaters caused a levee to break on the Colorado River near Yuma; its waters
rushed into the Salton Basin. This created the Salton Sea, about 70 feet deep, 50 miles
long, and 15 miles wide, with a total water area of some 300 square miles. Since the break
threatened the agriculturally rich Imperial Valley and a major railroad route, the levee
was finally repaired in 1907, but the Salton Sea remains.

The Colorado is also remarkable in its value for hydroelectric power and irrigation. Of
its 9 1/2 million potential horsepower, one-fifth has been developed. More than 20 dams
have been built on the Colorado and its tributaries. As a result, the river rarely reaches
the Gulf of California. The Morelos Diversion Dam, located on the Mexico-Arizona border is
the southernmost dam on the Colorado. It sends virtually all of the remaining water to
irrigation canals in the Mexicali Valley and to the towns of Mexicali and Tijuana.
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