The flat, open land south of Lees Ferry
, between the Echo and Vermilion Cliffs, conceals the ever deepening canyon of the Colorado River as well as its many fascinating tributaries, which offer hiking routes to the river with varying degrees of difficulty. All are quite narrow in parts and most have dryfalls, some of which require ropes to overcome. Access is simple, the rocks are colorful and varied, the area is not often visited and the canyons are excellent places to explore. The northernmost eight tributaries are described below.
MapArea map of Lees Ferry and nearby canyons
Photographs27 views of narrow canyons near Lees Ferry
A short, curving, multi-layered side canyon with a pretty section of limestone narrows. See the slot canyon section
Half a mile south of Navajo Bridge on the east side of the Colorado, another short drainage cuts into the Kaibab limestone layers, forming flat terraces and small dryfalls before meeting the river after two sheer drops. It makes for a nice walk of about one hour round trip, past a mixture of crumbling strata and vertical cliffs, ending still high above the river with a good view of the bridge and upper Marble Canyon.
Sevenmile is the first canyon south of Navajo Bridge on the west side. Its main (middle) branch crosses US 89A at mile 540.3, descends with a few small falls and narrow parts then meets the south fork at a vertical pour off, which can be climbed but progress is soon blocked by a much deeper drop. The canyon opens out a lot soon after here, and the Colorado River is not far beyond.
US 89A bridges the main branch of Badger Canyon at mile 543.5, where the canyon is already 20 feet deep and sheer sided, so entry requires walking upstream a little way. The early part of the drainage has red mudstone walls with white speckled inclusions, like the upper parts of Cathedral Wash
, then has a pour off of 50 feet or so, just before the junction with a smaller south fork. It is possible to pass the fall by climbing down this branch but after a few more downward steps there is another impassable dryfall with a rather higher drop beyond. Viewing the canyon above by walking along the canyon rim (north side) suggests there are no narrow parts and the canyon seems to remain quite wide between the last dryfall and the Colorado. Limestone rocks along the canyon rim form stepped south-facing terraces, ideal cactus habitat, and one of the species found here is the very small, rare and endangered Brady pincushion cactus (pediocactus bradyi
), which forms clumps only 1 - 2 cm across. One patch has about 150 specimens identified by small labels, this being a BLM monitoring site - they are difficult to spot otherwise. The very end of the rim (reachable along a vehicle track) is a good campsite, overlooking the river, the Badger Creek Rapids and the far end of Jackass Creek.
A rugged, rock-strewn gorge with
many colorful sandstone strata, smooth water-carved channels, pools and narrow passages. See the slot canyon section
Soap is a moderately interesting tributary, not very narrow, that provides an easy route to the Colorado, joining the river beside an impressive series of rapids. The canyon is well enough known to have an official BLM trailhead and trail register, located close to an old corral and two disused wooden shacks at the end of a half mile side track that leaves US 89A at mile 548.2, in an area good for camping. From the register a short path leads to the end of a side branch of the south fork of Soap Creek and drops over the rim, from where it is 4.5 miles to the river. The downwards gradient is gentle at first then the canyon deepens more quickly over several large boulders that may have pools beneath, before joining the north fork, after which the combined canyon, now rather wide, continues eastwards with many scattered boulders, occasional flat terraces and only one drop of significance, 25 feet over a dryfall. A rope is usually left in place here but the obstruction can also be passed by climbing down ledges on the left side, or avoided entirely by a path along the cliffs on the right. The creek opens out after a few more bends and meets the Colorado at the fast moving Soap Creek Rapids, just upstream of the junction with Salt Water Wash on the opposite side of Marble Canyon.
Salt Water Wash
Another long drainage, south of Jackass Creek, with a similar narrowish upper section that here widens more gradually and less spectacularly as it descends to the Colorado, joining it a short distance downstream of Soap Creek.
A deep canyon with unusual narrows through thin-layered sandstone. See the slot canyon section