Recreational Guide: The Colorado River

By: Ryan Hutchings
Colorado River GeographyThe Colorado River is the main river in southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.? The actual headwaters of the river are located in Rocky Mountain National Park. The river flows through Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico. The river is approximately 1,450 mi (2,330 km) long, draining a part of the arid regions on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains.? The Colorado River begins at an elevation of about 9,000 feet.? Many other rivers flow into the Colorado River, adding to its volume and size.? The river begins by flowing through Lake Granby along what is currently Highway 40.? Shortly after Kremmling, the Eagle River meets up with the Colorado River.? Then, after flowing through Glenwood Springs, the Roaring Fork River converges with the Colorado River.? Past Grand Junctions, CO, the Gunnision river meets the Colorado river and flows into Utah and Westwater Canyon.? After flowing through the Moab area, the Colorado River meets with the large Green River, forming a huge confluence of water.? From there, the river flows into Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam.? As the river flows down into Arizona, it is met by the Paria River and the Little Colorado River.? Once it meets the Little Colorado, the river begins its decent into the Grand Canyon.? Near Nevada, the river form another confluence with the Virgin River, flowing into Lake Mead.? Finally, continuing south the river meets the Gila River and flows through southern California, forming the border between Baja California and Sonora.? By then, the river has dwindled down to a small stream due to heavy irrigation usage in the southern regions.? By the end of the flow, it is at sea level.The Colorado River drains 242,900 sq mi (629,100 km?).? Total flows of the river range, depending on the season and rainfall.? The river levels can be anywhere from 20,000 cubic feet per second (570 m?/s) in droughts to 1,000,000 ft?/s (28,000 m?/s) in severe floods.

The average flow of the total river before diversion is 42,600 ft?/s (1206 m?/s).? Since dams have been put in place along the river, it is rare that extreme flooding occurs. The dams were constructed for making electricity and can control river flow.? It is interesting to note that at full flow, more runoff volume exists in the Colorado River than any other in North America except the Mississippi and the Columbia. Colorado River HistoryThe Colorado River was originally named Rio Colorado or "Red River" by the Spanish.? Originally, the river looked redish-brown from its natural flow through the deserts and mountain regions.? But with the addition of Glen Dam, the water comes from the bottom of the lake, and appears more blue-green color.?? Before the dam, the river would carry 500,000 tons of silt and sediment per day through the Grand Canyon. The river has constantly run from its natural headwater location in the Rocky Mountains down to the Gulf of Mexico for a very long time.? However, it had previously altered its course at various times, such as 1884 and 1891, where it abandoned its former course through Mexican territory to the Sea of Cortez. In 1904 it again diverted its course into a diversion canal just below Yuma, AZ.?? At this point the river re-created a large inland sea in the same area it had inundated before.? As a result, in 1907 it was effectively dammed and returned to its original course.Colorado River Rafting and RecreationThe Colorado River is so long and large that it offers plenty of opportunity for white water rafting and river trips.?? Most of the whitewater rafting opportunities are in Southern Utah and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.Moab, Utah rafting and surrounding regions are home to world famous rafting destinations such as Westwater Canyon and Cataract Canyon.? Cataract Canyon is where the Green River meets with the Colorado River and the river and rapid increase significantly in size.The most notable and popular stretch of the Colorado River is of course the Grand Canyon.? Rafting vacations in the Grand Canyon are truly unique experiences.? The large volume and colder temperature of the Colorado River lends toward larger pontoon style white water rafting, rather than rowing.? The larger boats can carry more people, have a small rear-mounted motorArticle Submission, and support more weight and gear.? Usually white water rafting trips on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon run anywhere from 2-7 days long.?

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