The boats fully loaded and with us all onboard, our departure eased out slowly from Lee’s Ferry. We gracefully slid under the Navaho Bridges (Between Mile Markers 4 and 5), watching the California Condors perch on the bridges’ substructures.
Transplanted here in an attempt to help seed their survival, Gymnogyps californianus, were slowly clawing their way back from the brink of extinction. About forty years ago, there were only twenty-two in existence. These magnificent birds, sporting wingspans of ten feet, glide effortlessly on the thermals. And their numbers have now rebounded to about 500 today, spread out in Arizona, Utah, California, and Baja Mexico.
But it wouldn’t be long before this incredible peacefulness would be interrupted with the rapids, with names like, Badger Creek, Soap Creek, Brown’s Riffle, Sheer Wall, Redneck, and North Canyon. Some were simply named for mile-markers, like 23-Mile Rapid and 23.5 Mile-Rapid.
Crossing the state from the Mexican border driving North, I traversed a number of different biomes. Ecological zones spanning lower desert and high desert, thornscrub, chaparral, grassland, woodland forest, riparian, and even alpine tundra at the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff. As I neared what would be our departure point on the Colorado, I came upon the Vermilion Cliffs at Marble Canyon, near Lee’s Ferry.
The Stone People
They carry the history of the Earth. These cliffs record the changing environment during the Mesozoic Era – some 248 to 65 million years ago.