Those traveling across the country on Highway 89A between Bitter Springs and Jacob Lake, AZ arrive at two bridges similar in appearance spanning the Colorado River. These two bridges, one historic and one new, represent one of only seven land crossings of the Colorado River for 750 miles (1207 km).
In the 1870s, pioneers from Utah began to expand their settlements into northern Arizona. Nearly 600 miles (965 km) of deep canyons along the Colorado River stood in their way. One of the only places a wagon could reach the river from both north and south was at the mouth of Glen Canyon. Since the area was accessible and was a natural corridor between Utah and Arizona, a ferry was established there in 1873. Named after the first ferry operator, John D. Lee, Lees Ferry became an important route for pioneers, settlers and local traffic. In the 1920s, automobiles began using the ferry as a means to cross the Colorado River. It was recognized that it was time to find a safer, more reliable way for vehicles to cross. A bridge site was selected 5 miles (8km) downriver at Marble Canyon. Construction of the bridge began in June of 1927. This was rugged and remote country and it was difficult to get men, materials and equipment from one rim to the other, a distance of only 800 feet (244m). The ferry was used to transport materials when possible. However, on June 7, 1928, the ferry sank in an accident which killed three men. Since the bridge known then as Grand Canyon Bridge was nearing completion, the ferry was not replaced.
So, for the next several months, no direct route existed between Utah and Arizona. People had to travel 800 miles (1287km) around the canyon to reach the other side of the river. It was an historic day when, on January 12, 1929, the bridge was opened to traffic. At the time, it was the highest steel arch bridge in the world and made traveling between Utah and Arizona much easier. No longer did travelers have to contend with the moods of the Colorado River at Lees Ferry. The dedication of the bridge took place June 14-15, 1929. For such an isolated spot, it was an astounding event. Nearly 7,000 people in 1,217 automobiles arrived for the celebration. Speeches were given by the governors of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah and by the President of the Mormon Church. Bands, choral groups, and Native American dancers were also a part of the festivities. It was reported that airplanes flew under the bridge and as Prohibition was in effect, the bridge was christened with a bottle of ginger ale. The bridge was known as the Grand Canyon Bridge for five years following the dedication. In 1934, after great debate in the Arizona legislature, the official name was changed to Navajo Bridge.
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