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About Colorado River

Beginning at Grand Lake in Colorado, below the snow-covered peaks and forested slopes of the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado River flows some 1,450 miles through the deserts and mountains of the southwest into Mexico and the Gulf of California. It carved the Grand Canyon, the canyons of Canyonlands National Park, Glen Canyon, and many other impressive and scenic gorges.

The Colorado River is the major source of irrigation and culinary water for many areas of the arid southwest, especially Las Vegas and the Imperial Valley. Numerous Dams have been built along the river to store the water, including the famous Hoover Dam, Glen Canyon Dam, Parker Dam, and the Imperial Dam. So much water is used for irrigation now that no water has flowed into the Gulf of Mexico for decades. The lower part of the river is a dry streambed, and the marshlands which surrounded it are desiccated.

Early explorers were overwhelmed by the desolation of the terrain which the Colorado River passes through. In 1858, Lt. Joseph C. Ives of the Army Engineers wrote of his expedition into this territory that, "Ours has been the first and will doubtless be the last party of whites to visit this profitless locality. The Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed."

The lure of exploring this unknown chasm outweighed Ives' prediction, and in the few years before and after 1870, Major Wesley Powell successfully led two expeditions through the canyon. Others followed, and still today adventurers brave the cliff-lined rapids of this formidable river for recreation. Frederick Dellenbaugh, a member of Powell's second expedition wrote a detailed and authoratative book chronicling the history of the exploration of the river, highlighted by his own experiences in the gorge, in the classic, The Romance of the Colorado River.

Today millions of people flock to the Grand Canyon alone each year, and vast sums of money are spent fighting over rights to the river's water. Once barren deserts now produce more food than we know what to do with, and the resulting leisure time can be spent cruising above the waters of the reservoirs. It is difficult to behold the opulence of Las Vegas without wondering how such a tremendous city could possibly sustain itself in such an unyielding climate.

The Colorado River carries an average of 15 million acre-feet of water per year, and before the dams were built, an average of 380,000 tons of sediment per day. It is one of the saltiest rivers, carrying nine million tons of salt per year.

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