Lee’s Ferry and Lonely Dell

Entrance to Lonely Dell. WhiskeyBristles (Atlas Obscura User)

For much of the history of the United States, crossing the Colorado River proved a near insurmountable challenge. Impassable canyon cliffs lined the river for hundreds of miles, and in places where one was able to get down to the river’s shore there were usually formidable rapids or cliffs awaiting on the opposite side. At one spot however, where the Paria River meets the Colorado River in what’s now northern Arizona, there’s a relatively calm section of river with lower banks. It was here, in the far corner of Mormon country, that Mormon president and Utah territorial governor Brigham Young dispatched John D. Lee to operate a ferry to allow the crossing of the Colorado River.

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Lee arrived in the area that would come to bear his name in 1870, bringing two of his wives and many of his children with him. Although a prominent and influential early Mormon pioneer, Lee was sent to this faraway posting in an attempt to hide him from the federal government, which was working to prosecute the perpetrators of the…

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