Imagine a country of the size of the USA and a river cutting through it from northeast to the southwest. The river is in a deep gorge most of the time with high cliffs on either side and at some points flows through a maze of buttes that tower 1.000 meters high. To find a path to cross this mighty river from East to West and back is crucial and yet there is only a single point in an extension of more than 1.000 kilometers.
This scenario is not imaginary, but real and is named Colorado River, Grand Canyon, Glen Canyon and Lee’s Ferry, which is the only crossing of the Colorado River for hundreds of miles. It was already known to the Native Americans for centuries and yet they only crossed it when the water was low. With the white men entering the Southwest this changed slowly and finally, quite dramatically in 1929 with the building of the Navajo Bridge spanning Marble Canyon. The second bridge was built 1994 and is open to cars, while the old historic bridge is open to pedestrians only.
The name Lee’s Ferry is now a historic one dating back to December 1871 when John D. Lee built his ranch called Lonely Dell at the mouth of the Paria River to operate the very first ferry leading over the Colorado River. The first crossing was January 18, 1872 when Indians wanted Lee to help them across.
The entire area around Lee’s Ferry still gives that feeling of remoteness and it is hard to understand how people survived in that area in the end of the 19th century. The landscape is rough and dry and full of interesting geologic features that can make a feast for any photographer.
Getting to Lee’s Ferry:
This is fairly easy and doesn’t require any further explanation other than looking into the map below. Once you cross the bridge heading west you will see an interpretation center with a big parking lot. I recommend stopping there and reading the information regarding the area as well as scouting the area for some interesting images of the two bridges. Once done, you should head to Lee’s Ferry. Drive all the way to the end of the road.
The attractions in the area are multiple. First, the two Navajo Bridges (young and old). Personally I prefer to shoot them from the east looking west. If you walk north along the east rim you might discover some interesting points of views. I am sure that the same might be applicable to other vantage points that I have not explored so far.
The next thing that should be on your list is Cathedral Wash. This is a short, moderate and uncrowded 2.5 mile round-trip hike inside an unusual canyon leading to the Colorado River. The canyon has some interesting narrows and is quite fun to hike and photograph. From the pull-out, cross the Lee’s Ferry road and enter the wash toward east, close to the concrete drainpipe. After walking inside the wash for about 15 minutes you will come to an impressive drop-off. You can bypass it by descending on its right side. As you progress now the canyon gets deeper and narrower. You will encounter a series of pour-offs that you will bypass for the most part by following ledges on the left side. Eventually, the canyon widens and you start hearing the rumble of the Colorado River, which you reach a few minutes later at a rocky beach.
The Cathedral Wash narrows are quite wide and receive a lot of light around midday. Do this hike preferably in mid-morning or mid afternoon to avoid high contrast areas and get some nice reflected light. Generally speaking you will do best with a wide-angle lens. Don’t forget your tripod!
Another fun feature in this area is the Balanced Rock. A little bit after the pull-out for Cathedral Wash you will see to your left a couple of massive hoodoos. There is no way to miss them. The bigger one is Balanced Rock and using a person as reference and scale is almost mandatory.
Finally, at the end of the road you will reach the ranch Lonely Dell as well as the not so anymore lonely Lee’s Ferry. This is nowadays THE launching point for virtually all Grand Canoyn rafting trips. This is during Summer a VERY busy place and allows you to take interesting images of all the rafting groups. A mid-range lens or even a 200mm lens would be the right tool to get your images.
Last, but not least, the Vermilion Cliffs, which surround Marble Canyon and the whole Lee’s Ferry area, take on beautiful red and orange hues from early evenning till sunset. If your desire is to stay in the area overnight you will find some cheap and descent motel rooms in Marble Canoyn or Cliff Dwellers which is located a little bit more west along Highway 89-A.
Last update: Dec. 29, 2010