For more than two hundred river miles, no road crosses the Grand Canyon (plus another hundred miles to Lake Mead). Navajo Bridge near Lee's Ferry is at one end, and Pat Tilman Bridge near Lake Mead is at the other. In between in the depths of Grand Canyon there is a single road that reaches the river. It's called Diamond Creek Road, and it starts on Hualapai Nation lands at Peach Springs. It's a marvelous adventure.
Without even considering the philosophical objections to building roads through the wilderness world of the Grand Canyon (objections I completely agree with), there are staggering engineering barriers. There are a series of formations, including the Redwall Limestone and the Coconino Sandstone that form sheer cliffs. The locations of trails in the Grand Canyon are controlled almost entirely by the few locations where they can surmount the cliffs of these two layers.
At Diamond Creek, the Hurricane Fault has offset the formations in just such a way that the cliffs can be avoided entirely. For the entire twenty mile length of the road, there is nary a cliff to worry about, as the road follows the bottoms of desert arroyos and washes. The biggest worry is flash floods and mudflows, which can easily shut down the road in July and August during the monsoons (and badly inconvenience river rafters who plan to take out at Diamond Creek).
That last sentence needs a bit more explanation. The boundary between the Tapeats and the Granite Gorge rocks is a profound unconformity representing a gap of more than a billion years. This unconformity is actually called the "Great Unconformity", and is an erosional surface that was witness to not one, but two major mountain-building events. The metamorphic rocks were once the core of a vast mountain range that formed 1.7 billion years ago when the North American continent collided with a set of two exotic terranes, the Yavapai block and the Mazatzal block. Imagine an island the size of California or New Zealand grinding into the edge of a continent along a subduction zone and you will get the picture. This massive mountain range eroded to a flat low-relief surface over the next few hundred million years.
|Photo by Mrs. Geotripper|
Diamond Creek is a fascinating excursion. It is entirely on Hualapai lands, and they charge a fee of around $25 per person for permission to drive the road. I never mind paying the fee, because the tribe doesn't have many sources of income or all that many jobs on the reservation. The town of Peach Springs where the road starts has a very nice motel and restaurant (and not much else), and if you are a train lover, you'll be able to listen to them all night long. The rails are amongst the busiest you'll ever see.The town is on one of the last remaining stretches of the original Route 66.