Little Colorado River
A Sacred Site of the Epic of Evolution
The Grand Canyon is not only one of the wonders of the world but also a sacred site of the Epic of Evolution. Through the Grand Canyon flows the Colorado River, which downstream traces the boundary between the states of Arizona and California before entering Mexico and ending at the Gulf of California. The vast cities of Southern California are possible only because much of the Colorado River has been diverted west in aqueducts for human use. But how many of us know that were it not for a recent shift in topography, the Colorado River would still be draining into the Rio Grande, near Albuquerque?
The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River formed just 5 million years ago. Before then, the Colorado River flowed southeastwardly. At a spot at the east end of Grand Canyon National Park is where the shift westward occurred: where the Little Colorado River joins the main stem of the Colorado River. (See this junction at point A on the map.) Today, the Little Colorado River flows into the Colorado River via its own spectacular canyon. But as we today stand and admire the scenery (point B on map, and the two photos above), we can also use our "deep time eyes" to notice the now-elevated older and wider riverbed into which the Little Colorado cut its own canyon. That older riverbed used to carry the entire flow of the Colorado River southeasterly enroute to the Rio Grande. The old, raised riverbed now tilts to the southeast, and if you didn't otherwise know the direction of flow, you might assume that the Little Colorado is still flowing east. Not so!
From Grand Canyon Village, drive east toward Desert View and the South Rim's east entrance. Then continue east out of the park on Rte 64. When the canyon of the Little Colorado first becomes visible to the north, notice the broad elevated old river floodplain. Notice the tilt of the elevated plain eastward. You can verify for yourself that the Little Colorado is, in fact, flowing west instead of east when you arrive at the junction with Rte. 89 (at Cameron). Head north about a mile to where you can see the direction of flow (during the rainy season) at the bridge over the Little Colorado (photo below). You will be amazed!
The Little Colorado River is truly a sacred site of our continental story, especially for all residents of Southern California!
Little Colorado River near Cameron Bridge
flowing westward (leftward in photo) toward its junction
with the Colorado River at the Grand Canyon
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