Flaming Gorge, which had been named by John Wesley Powell during his 1869 journey down the Green River, is one of the many recreational opportunities made possible by development of the Colorado River and its tributaries. There are many who consider the Green River to be the mainstem of the Colorado River. Most, however, view the Green River as a major tributary. Flaming Gorge's 91-mile-long lake, has 375 miles of shoreline, with seemingly endless bays and coves to explore. It seemed a vacationer's paradise, offering just about anything anyone could want: more than 600 camping and picnic spaces, several visitors centers, two lodges, a variety of food services, nine boat ramps, three marinas with boat rentals, water skiing, fishing, swimming, bicycle paths and more than 120 miles of hiking trails.
The scenery was not just terrific, but varied and complete with big game animals, including moose, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep. The views from Red Canyon Visitors Center and Dowd Mountain Overlook are incredible.
Zion Canyon is a spectacular gorge carved out by the Virgin River on its way to meet the Colorado, emptying into Lake Mead in Nevada. Zion has been described as a "rich tapestry of life woven onto the landscape". Cactus and cottonwoods, primrose and peregrines, deserts and canyons and forests and everything in between can be found. The 5,000-foot-range in elevation within the park fascinates the visitor. State Road 9 climbing a cliff and necessitating six switchbacks just before entering a 5,607-foot tunnel through which it continues to ascend on a five-percent grade, is nothing short of incredible. Campgrounds are just outside the south entrance. Visitors may backpack, bicycle, rock climb, picnic, swim or simply wade in the river.
The rock colors that haven't been used up in Zion, are found in Bryce Canyon. The Paria River is Bryce's link with the Colorado, emptying into the river near Lee Ferry, just below Lake Powell. Though the park's main features can be viewed from the north-south road running the length of the canyon's ridge, hiking trails take the more adventurous down and then along the plateau's somewhat precipitous face. There are many aptly named vantage points at the roadside stops: Rainbow Point, Natural Bridge, Paria View, Bryce Point, Sunset Point, Sunrise Point, and the one common to most scenic attractions nationwide, Inspiration Point.
Canyonlands is 527 square miles of colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches and spires at the heart of the Colorado Plateau. The Green River and Colorado River, moving southwest from its headwaters in the state of Colorado, join forces within park boundaries. This scenic wonderland offers hiking and backpacking, boating, four-wheeling, mountain biking, rock climbing, horseback riding and various interpretive activities. There are no gasoline, food, lodging or concession facilities available.
Canyonlands is divided into four districts: (1) Island in the Sky, a high, level mesa wedged between the Green and Colorado rivers, the place for those with limited time to visit for awe-inspiring views of the other park districts and for short walks; (2) The Maze, the most remote of the four districts, attracting self-reliant visitors in search of solitude, silence and challenge who value four-wheel-drive roads, foot trails and a complex jumble of canyons, but also containing Indian pictograph panels considered to be among the finest in North America; (3) The Needles, a hodgepodge of colorful rock formations that provide a fascinating setting for longer day hikes and great backpacking; and (4) The Rivers, where below the confluence of the Green and the Colorado lies Cataract Canyon, a 14-mile stretch of treacherous whitewater.
Only a handful of miles further down Highway 191 from the road north of Moab that leads southwest to Canyonlands is the entrance to Arches National Park, leading northeast above the point where the Colorado River crosses the highway to meet the Green in Canyonlands.
Arches contains just that, the largest number of natural stone arches in the country, more than 200, to be specific. Like Canyonlands, there are no food or lodging facilities in the park. The Devils Garden area, however, does have a campground for tents and trailers, from which the Devils Garden Trail provides a tremendously rewarding 2-mile walk from the trailhead to Double O Arch. Other popular park features include Park Avenue, balanced rocks, spires and eroded fins that resemble a city skyline; Courthouse Towers, photographic mecca that boasts huge monoliths; world-famous Balanced Rock; the Windows section, four large arches seen from the roadway; Panorama Point, vista of Salt Valley and of the Fiery Furnace, sometimes illuminated by sunset; Wolfe Ranch, an old log cabin and ranch; Delicate Arch; Salt Valley Overlook, collapsed salt dome; Fiery Furnace Viewpoint, a dramatic overview of exposed sandstone fins, the starting point for daily two-hour guided walks in season; Skyline Arch, doubled in size in the 1940s; and Broken and Sand Dune Arches, where short trails lead to a curiously eroded arch and to an arch beside a sand dune where children delight to romp.
Visitors know Capitol Reef for its reef-like cliffs capped by white sandstone formations that resemble the U.S. Capitol. The park contains a spectacular section of the Waterpocket Fold. It extends some 100 miles southeastward from Thousand Lake Mountain to Lake Powell and graphically illustrates the way the earth's surface was built up, folded and eroded in this region. Near the visitor center, brightly colored, tiered cliffs rise 1,000 feet above the Fremont River. Pre-Columbian Indian petroglyphs can be seen on the surrounding canyon walls. The park has campgrounds and unlike any of the other national parks, visitors can pick fruit when in season. Apple, cherry, peach and apricot orchards are located in the historic Fruita area.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area/Lake Powell
The second largest reservoir in North America, 186-mile-long Lake Powell has an incredible 2,000 miles of twisting and turning, finger-shape-laden shoreline. There is a visitor center adjacent to Glen Canyon Dam along with nearby hotels, lodges and campgrounds. The city of Page, Arizona, is across the river from Glen Canyon Dam. Page was the government construction camp during the building of the dam and power plant. There are marinas and launch ramps and fueling docks and more kinds of boat rentals and tours and rentals of things needed to water ski or kneeboard or run waves than most anyone would anticipate. And if you want to go on downstream below the dam, there's everything from half-day Colorado River float trips to two-week "exhilarating" whitewater-rafting adventures that will take visitors right on through the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon National Park
The massive rock formations somehow take on the ambience of a cathedral sheltering the ribbon of water that weaves its way across the canyon floor more than a mile below, truly attesting to the power of the Colorado River. Each stratum of rock in this natural mural distinctly marks a period of the earth's history from 2 billion years ago to the most recent formations, a mere 250 million years old.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Lake Mead National Recreation Area is twice the size of Rhode Island. It stretches west and then south along the Colorado from the western outskirts of Grand Canyon National Park to the southernmost tip of 67-mile-long Lake Mohave, with 110-mile-long Lake Mead covering most of the area in between. The latter is the biggest single magnet pulling people into the Colorado River recreation system, with some 10 million visitors every year. The two huge lakes in this national recreation area cater to boaters, swimmers, sunbathers and fishermen, while its desert rewards hikers, wildlife photographers and roadside sightseers.
These jeweled bodies of water sparkle in contrast to the parched desert that surrounds them. Tanned and muscled water-skiers churn blue waves into white wakes. Bright sails billow as sailors catch shifting breezes and pilot the plentiful waters. At other times, both lakes appear as empty as the desert. Sailboats, fishing boats, ski boats and houseboats all share the lakes' 290 square miles and any one of them often has no clue any of the others are even there. For the best sightseeing, boating is often the only way to go. Boaters find that they can see and reach many scenic areas that are inaccessible by car. Boats can easily make their way up the narrow, steep-walled gorge of Iceberg Canyon in Lake Mead or up the equally spectacular Black Canyon in Lake Mohave, which retains much of the character of the historic Colorado. Many secluded coves with their own sandy beaches can be reached only by boat.
There are six major recreational centers on Lake Mead from which to pick: Temple Bar, Overton Beach, Echo Bay, Callville Bay, Las Vegas Bay and, finally, Boulder Beach. Smaller, less developed areas such as Bonelli Landing, South Cove and Pearce Ferry are easily accessible. These areas are also generally less-crowded than the major recreational centers. On the even less developed Lake Mohave, Willow Beach, Cottonwood Cove, and Katherine are the major recreation access points.
One of the reasons to visit Lake Havasu is to see London Bridge. The bridge was brought to Lake Havasu City from London after it had been dismantled, stone by stone, transported from England to America and then reassembled, stone by stone. There is a lot of history sitting there in the Arizona desert. An English Village and restaurants, shops and boutiques surround the bridge today.
The Strip. To thousands of glamour-seekers, that means Las Vegas and its multitude of glittering lights. To Southern Californians, it means a section of Sunset Boulevard, a once famous movie colony haunt turned renowned hippie hangout, an area still trying to recover its former status. But to the vacationer, the outdoorsman, the avid sportsman, it means that 17-mile stretch of the Colorado winding south from Parker Dam to Headgate Rock Dam, just one mile north of the town of Parker, Arizona. On this controlled stretch of the Colorado, recreational possibilities include jet skiing, boating, water skiing, fishing and desert exploring. Vacation resorts grace both shores of the river, as do public and private campgrounds, restaurants, stores, and homes. The strip seems to offer extra excitement. As dawn breaks and the river is calm, the shorelines slowly come alive. Bronzed fun-seekers carrying water skis or inner tubes and shirt-sleeved anglers, heads covered to ward off the blistering sun, carrying fishing gear, seem to appear out of nowhere. Ignition switches on, boat engines catch, and soon the rumble of many fills the air. Instantly the calm waters are split by racing boats and weaving skiers. Lively and exciting, casual and carefree, with the evenings as fun-filled as the days, the Parker Strip can indeed be a highlight of any visit to the Colorado River.
The Colorado River is a mecca for recreationalists from Parker downstream to Yuma, Arizona. Fishing, boating, waterskiing, camping - all of this and more is available to those who enjoy the outdoors. Reclamation has also created or rehabilitated numerous backwaters along the lower river; these backwaters provide recreational opportunities as well as habitat for many species of fish and wildlife.