Little Colorado River
The Little Colorado River is a tributary of the Colorado River in the U. S. state of Arizona, providing the principal drainage from the Painted Desert region. Together with its major tributary, the Puerco River, it drains an area of about 26,500 square miles in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. Although it stretches 340 miles, only the headwaters and the lowermost reaches flow year-round. Between St. Johns and Cameron, most of the river is a wide, braided wash, only containing water after heavy snowmelt or flash flooding; the lower 57.2 miles is known as the Little Colorado River Gorge and forms one of the largest arms of the Grand Canyon, at over 3,000 feet deep where it joins the Colorado near Desert View in Grand Canyon National Park. The river rises in Apache County; the West Fork starts in a valley on the north flank of Mount Baldy at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet, while the East Fork starts nearby. The forks meet in a canyon near the town of Greer, it flows into River Reservoir leaves the canyon near Eagar.
The river turns north, meandering through Richville Valley, before emptying into Lyman Lake, impounded by an irrigation dam built in 1912. From there the river continues north, past the town of St. Johns. Shortly afterwards, the river transforms from a perennial stream to an ephemeral wash as it travels northwestwards through Hunt Valley, where it receives the Zuni River receiving Silver Creek and the Puerco River—its main tributaries—near the town of Holbrook as it flows into the Painted Desert; the Little Colorado passes Joseph City and crosses the Southern Transcon route of the BNSF Railway, now winding north into Coconino County. The river enters the Navajo Nation, drops over the 185-foot Grand Falls of the Little Colorado shortly after. Below Grand Falls, the river flows through a rugged canyon for about 15 miles. Emerging into the desert again, the Little Colorado skirts the eastern edge of Wupatki National Monument and passes the town of Cameron, where it is bridged by U. S. Highway 89.
From Cameron, the Little Colorado River carves an steep and narrow gorge into the Colorado Plateau achieving a maximum depth of about 3,200 feet. The depth of the canyon is such that groundwater is forced to the surface, forming numerous springs that restore a perennial river flow, it joins the Colorado deep inside miles from any major settlement. The confluence marks the end of the Marble Canyon segment of the Grand Canyon and the beginning of Upper Granite Gorge; the Little Colorado River is one of the two major tributaries of the Colorado River in Arizona, the other being the Gila River. Runoff peaks twice a year, first in the early spring from snow melt and highland rain; the annual runoff is variable with the possibility of no flow occurring due to a weak snow pack or lack of summer rain. Conversely, years such as 1949, 1973, 1979, 1983 and 1993 have seen massive volumes of spring snowmelt while large monsoon runoff has occurred in 1955, 1964, 1984 and 2006. Monthly average flows in the springtime average several hundred cfs and can reach 2,000 to 3,000 cubic feet per second.
Only the upper reaches of the river above St. Johns, the lowermost stretch below Cameron, flow year round. According to a streamflow gauge near Cameron, before the river enters the Grand Canyon, the river's average annual flow was 367.2 cubic feet per second from 1948 to present. The highest annual average was 1,127 cubic feet per second in 1973, the lowest was 14.1 cubic feet per second in 2000. The river's peak flows can be far higher than its average flow, because of quick desert runoff from cloudbursts. At the same gauge, peak flows were recorded from 1923 to 2008, with spotty data from 1924 to 1947; the highest recorded peak was 120,000 cubic feet per second on September 20, 1923, while the lowest was 1,590 cubic feet per second in 1974. Human activity in the Little Colorado River watershed dates back to the early Holocene epoch, in the last glacial period. Nomadic hunter-gatherers inhabited the water-rich and diverse upper basin of the Little Colorado for 8,000 years before the Navajo and Hopi tribes populated the area.
Many of these people practiced small-scale irrigation in riverside villages, located in sheltered canyons and cliffs that provided defense. Early Spanish explorers exploring the Grand Canyon area were most the first Europeans to see the Little Colorado River, they called it the Little Colorado. Other than fur trappers and mountain men, one of the first organized expeditions into the area of the Little Colorado River was led by Amiel Weeks Whipple in 1853–54 during one of the expeditions to map out a route for a transcontinental railroad. Called The Great Railroad Expeditions, or Pacific Railroad Surveys, Whipple's expedition consisted of several teams going along the 35th parallel from Albuquerque to the Pacific, following the Santa Fe Trail route; the Little Colorado River known as the Flax River, the first Rio Chiquito, is depicted and labelled as such on a map compiled by Lt. Joseph C. Ives and published in the official volumes of those expeditions. Ives would again return to the area in 1858 after navigating a steamboat named the Explorer up the Colorado from south of Yuma northwards to Black Canyon, at which point his party went