Grand Canyon river runners completing their river trips at Lake Mead National Recreation Area will see red surveyors ribbon along the banks of the Colorado River at about river mile 279.5 just a half mile above a major rapid.
Called Pearce Ferry Rapid, the rapid is the result of the Colorado River heading full force into a gravel hillside and making a hard right turn. As the continuing drought draws down the waters of the reservoir behind Hoover Dam, the Colorado River now travels over silt beds far removed from the pre-reservoir channel. In this case the river now runs over a ridge and into a hillside.
Since October of last year, a new feature has developed in the rapid. A large recirculating wave has formed mid-channel, adjacent to a gravel island in the center right side of the rapid. This wave can be passed on the left, and then river runners can complete the run by pulling back away from the left shore and exiting to the smooth water below the rapid. A large campsite and sandy beach is immediately below the rapid.
While many recent river trip reports indicate no problems navigating the rapid, Grand Canyon National Park officials did report receiving one letter from a group of river runners who had difficulty running the rapid, with one member fracturing a tibia.
Grand Canyon National Park is presently updating the river runner orientation DVD to include a section on Pearce Ferry Rapid. Grand Canyon officials noted that this major rapid, while no worse than rapids already navigated upstream, will be the first rapid encountered after over 40 miles of flat-water, and may challenge river runners unaware of the rapid’s existence. Rangers at the Grand Canyon put-in at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, are also now advising river trips going all the way to the reservoir, to be prepared to scout the rapid. The rapid’s location is clearly marked only on one Grand Canyon river guide, Guide to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon by Tom Martin and Duwain Whitis.
Recent photos of the rapid can be viewed at the River Runners for Wilderness web site photo gallery here:
Meanwhile, design and development of a plan to build a take-out road out to the Colorado River above the rapid continues. The proposed route, marked by survey ribbon, would extend from the end of the present Pearce Ferry road.
The concept of pushing a road to the Colorado River at Pearce Ferry was originally considered in 2004. At that time, the receding waters of the reservoir required commercial and self-guided river trips alike to add an additional sixteen miles to their river trip, traveling past the inaccessible Pearce Ferry take-out to the next take-out at South Cove.
At Pearce Ferry in August 2004, Lake Mead National Recreation Area officials met with members of the Hualapai Tribe and various Grand Canyon river concessionaires to discuss building a road to the river at Pearce Ferry. A Pearce Ferry take-out would shorten the last day of the commercial river trip by as much as two and a half hours.
Also that year, a Department of Transportation study was conducted, looking at three options, two going straight to the river, while another option would follow the shoreline east almost a mile, then traverse over to the river channel for an estimated road length of 8,900 feet.
The projected cost estimates at the time the study was completed for the 24 feet wide public road routes varied from $1.4 to $2.5 million. Additional ongoing ramp and road maintenance costs were also calculated to be as high as $279,000 annually. Not included in these estimates were the costs of frequent re-grading of the roadway along with possible increased costs associated with providing adequate road fill.
According to Lake Mead officials, the National Park Service decided at that time that the road would be too cost prohibitive, with concerns over the stability of the road fill and the potential for a return to pre-drought conditions which would inundate and completely destroy the road work.
Last year, with the development of Pearce Ferry Rapid making jet-boat takeouts and downstream river travel more difficult, the Hualapai Tribe and river concessionaires approached the Park Service, offering to provide private funding for the project, to be overseen by the Park Service.
As of this writing, surveyors have flagged the intended road route, the eastern option previously studied in 2004, but no construction has begun. According to Lake Mead officials, there is no firm commitment to build the road at this time, though updated soils analysis has been completed. Park Service officials also noted they do not anticipate the road construction, should it begin, to be completed prior to the start of the commercial river running season.
To see photos of the flagged road route, visit the River Runners for Wilderness web site gallery here:
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