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Lees Ferry Review

About 5 miles northeast of the town of Marble Canyon, where Echo Cliffs and Vermilion Cliffs intersect, is Lees Ferry. Considered "mile zero" of the river—the point from which all distances on the rivers system in the Grand Canyon are measured—Lees Ferry is where most of the Grand Canyon river rafts put into the water. Huge trout lurk in the river near here, and there are several places in the area to pick up angling gear and a guide.

This spot, one of the last areas in the mainland United States to be completely charted, was first visited by non–Native Americans in 1776, when Spanish priests Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Fray Silvestre Velez de Escalante tried, but failed, to cross the Colorado. In March of 1864, Mormon frontiersman and missionary Jacob Hamblin made the first crossing by raft. The site was named after John Doyle Lee, who constructed the first ferry to cross the Colorado here in 1872 (and who later was arrested and executed in connection with the Mountain Meadows massacre in Utah). Mormon efforts to establish colonies in the area generated high ferry traffic through the 1890s. It became part of the Honeymoon Trail, a gateway to Utah for young couples who wanted their Arizona civil marriages sanctified at the Latter-day Saints temple in St. George. The place was a ferry crossing until 1928, when the first Navajo Bridge was built over Marble Canyon.

After Lees Ferry, there isn't another vehicle crossing point on the Colorado River until you reach the Hoover Dam (although two footbridges cross the river near Phantom Ranch). Lees Ferry, at the junction Pariah Canyon just 15 miles below Glen Canyon Dam, has for thousands of years offered one of the best places to cross the deep gash of the Grand Canyon. Today, the town, the Lonely Dell Ranch Historic District, a small, sad cemetery, and a scattering of historic buildings offer a glimpse of frontier life. But most people journey to Lees Ferry to get onto the river. Commercial raft trips take off from the boat ramps, and fly-fishing guides regularly shuttle people upstream to the base of Glen Canyon Dam.

Updated: 03-25-2013

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