Geographers can tell you that the one thing that most rivers and their adjacent flood plains in the world have in common is that they have rich histories associated with human settlement and development. This especially true in arid regions which are very dependent upon water. Two excellent examples are the Nile and the Tigris-Euphrates rivers which show use the relationship between rivers and concentrations of people. However, the Colorado River is not such a good example along most segments of its course. There is no continuous transportation system that parallels the rivers course, and settlements are clustered. The rugged terrain and entrenched river channels are the major reasons for sparse human settlement. We ask ourselves, did the Colorado River help or hinder settlement in the Western United States? As settlers began to move westward, the Southwest was considered to be a place to avoid. Few considered it a place to traverse, to spread Christianity, and a possible source of furs or mineral wealth. Finding a reliable or accessible water source, and timber for building was difficult to find. There was a lack of land that could be irrigated easily.
By the turn of the century, most present day cities and towns were already established. Trails, roads, and railroads linked several areas with neighboring regions. Although the Colorado River drainage system was still not integrated. In the mid 1900's many dams had been built to harness and use the water. A new phase of development occurred at the end of the second World War. There was a large emphasis on recreation, tourism, and environmental preservation.
The terrain of the Colorado River is very unique. It consists of Wet Upper Slopes, Irregular Transition Plains and Hills, Deep Canyonlands, and the Dry Lower Plains.
Wet Upper Slopes: Consist of numerous streams that feed into the Colorado River from stream cut canyons, small flat floored valleys often occupied by alpine lakes and adjacent steep walled mountain peaks. These areas are heavily forested and contain swiftly flowing streams, rapids, and waterfalls. These areas have little commercial value except as watershed, wildlife habitat, forest land, and destinations for hikers, fishermen, and mountaineers. Irregular Transition Plains and Hills: These areas are favorable for traditional economic development. It consists of river valleys with adequate flat land to support farms and ranches. Due to the rolling hills, low plateaus, and mountain slopes, livestock grazing is common. The largest cities of the whole drainage system are found here.
Deep Canyonlands: Definitely the most spectacular and least developed area along the Colorado River. These deep gorges are primarily covered by horizontal layers of sedimentary rocks, of which sand stone is the most abundant. The Grand Canyon does not only display spectacular beauty, but numerous other features such as mesas, buttes, spires, balancing rocks, natural arches and bridges, sand dunes, massive sandstone walls, and pottholed cliffs. Dry Lower Plains: These consist of the arid desert areas. These areas encounter hot summers and mild winters. Early settlement was limited because most of the land next to the river was not well suited for irrigation agriculture. The area is characterized by limited flat land, poor soils, poor drainage, and too hot of conditions for most traditional crops. The Colorado River was first navigated by John Wesley Powell, in his 1869 exploration through the Marble and Grand Canyons. The Colorado River begins high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The water begins from melting snow and rain, and is then supplemented by the Gunnison, Green, San Juan, Little Colorado, Virgin, and Gila Rivers. Before any dams were built, the Colorado River carried 380,000 million tons of silt to the Sea of Cortez. Along it's path, it carves...