one day at a time…
Thursday, 27 June 2002

Pix of the Day: Twin Navajo Bridges

Twin Navajo Bridges © Ian Scott-ParkerBack into the heat! This picture is of the two Navajo Bridges: the old bridge on the left, the new one on the right. The old bridge is now a pedestrian-only monument to its builders. The new bridge carries Alternative Route-89, which runs from Flagstaff, Arizona into Southern Utah. The site is historically important because when it was established as Lees Ferry by the early Mormon Pioneers, it was the only crossing of the Colorado River for many miles in either direction. Nowadays Route-89 upper north and crosses the Colorado River on the Glen Canyon Bridge, opened in 1959 at Page, AZ beside the Glen Canyon Dam at the foot of Lake Powell.

The next crossing downstream from the Navajo Bridge is at the Hoover Dam not far from Las Vegas. For an Englishman used to twenty mile diversions to find a river crossing point, distances here are vast: Page, AZ to Las Vegas, NV keeping to main roads north of the Colorado River is 257 miles. After several tragic accidents to the ferry, culminating in the loss of three lives in 1928, the ferry service was ended while the first bridge was still under construction. With the ferry gone, contractors building the 800 foot bridge now had to make an 800 mile trip if they needed to truck equipment from one side of the incomplete bridge to the other.

The first bridge opened in 1929 as the 'Grand Canyon Bridge', but was renamed in 1934 as the 'Navajo Bridge' after controversy over the name. The new bridge was started in 1994 with completion in 1997, and there is a picture of the almost-joined spans on Traylor Bros. Inc. web site, the company that was the construction subcontractor. The contractors for the Glen Canyon Bridge had a somewhat easier time: trucking from one side of the incomplete bridge to the other was only a 200 mile trip via the Navajo Bridge.

There is a good overview of this area at AmericanSouthwest.net with a page on Lees Ferry, and a gallery of nearby sights, which also includes a particularly fine westward view (available for 800x600 and over monitors) of the dramatic location of the two bridges. Northern Arizona University have a Colorado Plateau web site in the LUHNA (Land Use History of North America) series, with a five page section detailing the history and growth of the Lees Ferry area through to modern times.

The most interesting piece of trivia hereabouts is that Zane Grey, the very popular author of western yarns who worked early in the last century, was almost caught in the cross fire of a wild west shoot-out while staying at Lees Ferry. I heard this at a lecture by our local 'Ranger' Bart Anderson, but have been unable to find a confirmation, which is not to question the accuracy of Ranger Bart's story.

There is an unusual 'picture biography' of Pearl Zane Gray (which was changed to P. Zane Grey when he qualified as a dentist, then dropping the initial when he began writing) by Jerry Wilkinson, and a more conventional discussion, by Kevin S. Blake on the Zane Grey's West Society web site, about the importance of place and geography in Grey's writing. Kevin's piece does mention Lees Ferry several times, and includes a reference to Grey having close connection with someone at Lees Ferry. There are even two museums concerned with Grey, one in Upper Delaware and the other in Ohio, both places that have Grey connections.

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Jules Laforgue (1860-1887)
"Ah! que la vie est quotidienne."
Oh, what a day-to-day business life is.
'Complainte sur certains ennuis' (1885)