Condors at Navajo Bridge

The two Navajo Bridges. In the 1870s one of the only ways for settlers to cross the Colorado River with their wagons was by Lees Ferry at the mouth of Glen Canyon in Arizona. By the 1920s automobiles started using the ferry and it became evident that a safer more reliable way to cross the river was needed. A bridge was built 5 miles downstream from the ferry site across Marble Canyon and dedicated with much fanfare in June 1929. Since prohibition was in effect the bridge was christened with a bottle of ginger ale. After automobiles and trucks became larger, wider, and heavier another solution was needed. The original bridge remained as a pedestrian walkway and in September 1995 a new identical bridge was christened with a bucket of Colorado River water.

October 25.

I heard that there were birds at Navajo Bridge. Not just any birds, California Condors, one of the world’s largest and rarest birds.

Now I never really expect to see advertised wildlife. I mean there were supposed to be moose in Montana and Wyoming yet we spent almost the whole summer there and didn’t see even a glimpse of an antler. So I was rather skeptical that we would actually see one of these extremely rare birds.

I approached the bridge with an eagle eye, peering at the walls of Marble Canyon that descended down into the banks of the Colorado River. And there she was, L3, just hanging about in the morning sun. Before long, I was seeing condors everywhere, hanging out on the walls of the canyon and on the rafters of the bridge.

They didn’t seem to mind the tourists walking across the bridge, snapping pictures, and taking in the view of the river that leads down to the Grand Canyon. In fact, I think they liked being seen. After enough tourists gathered, just like the flying Voladores (Mexican Native American acrobats) in Mexico they took to the air.

California Condors

Before the extinction of many late Pleistocene large mammals, condors ranged across southern North America where they fed on carrion (dead animals). They became limited to the Pacific coast from Canada to Mexico when their food sources became extinct.

Condors returned to the southwest in the 1700s with the introduction of cattle, horses, and sheep. But their population began to decline again in the 1900s because of carrion poisoning meant to eradicate predators, as well as illegal collection of condors and their eggs.

Concern for the species led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list it as endangered in 1967. By the early 1980s, the range of the species was limited to a small area of Southern California. Destruction of habitat, lead poisoning, and poaching reduced the California condor population to 22 in 1982.

Eggs from the wild were collected for captive hatching and eventually all wild condors were captured for captive breeding as the population continued to decline. The last wild condor was captured in 1987. The first captive California condors were released in California in 1992.

California condors were reintroduced to the Glen Canyon area in 1996. In 2008, for the first time since the reintroduction program began, more California condors were flying free in the wild than in captivity. Today there are over 500—more than half of them flying free in Arizona, Utah, California, and Baja Mexico.

The first California Condor was seen in Sequoia NP in late May the first time in nearly 50 years.

Condors feed on carrion (dead animals). Their bald heads and necks keep the rotting meat from sticking to them.
XO, a 2-year-old male condor hangs out on the rafters of Navajo Bridge.
California Condors can have a wingspan of 9 to 10 feet and can weigh up to 25 pounds.
54 (top-most condor) was hatched June 13, 2004, at the World Center for Birds of Prey but flying below him, 4, was born in the wild in 2014.
California Condors are monogamous and generally pair for life. The top-most condor, 54, and the one in the middle, H9, are mated. How thrilling is must be to fly with your partner.
X9 comes in for a landing. He was born April 23 2018 at the World Center for Birds of Prey

If you are interested in visiting Navajo Bridge and want to know a little bit more about the individual California Condors you look them up at Condor Spotter.

And, of course, there were other birds at the bridge too.

Chipping Sparrow.
House Sparrow.

Lees Ferry

After our visit to Navajo Bridge, we headed to Lees Ferry, part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. We have visited Glen Canyon a few times in the past but this was our first trip to the historical Lees Ferry.

Lees Ferry is full of colorful stories of people seeking riches, explorers and scientists, Mormon pioneers, and a few outlaws. Named after John D. Lee who settled along the Colorado River with his wife Emma, Lee established ferry service in 1873. This ferry was the only crossing place along 600 miles of canyon until the construction of Navajo Bridge in the late 1920s.

Mushroom rock on the road to Lees Ferry. Large boulders like these fell from a nearby hill. The ground surface around them has been eroded away. But the rocks tightly compressed sand beneath them and acted as umbrellas, shielding their bases from rain.
The Lees Ferry beach on the Colorado River.
In 1874 a fort was built at Lees Ferry due to the rising tensions between Mormon missionaries and the Navajo. The fort was never attacked and was eventually converted into a trading post welcoming travelers. It also later served as a residence, a school, and a mess hall.
This ruin overlooking the Colorado River was once a small cabin used to house travelers and ferry operators.
A little farther inland from the Colorado near the banks of the Paria River sits the Lonely Dell Ranch. This cabin was built by Jerry Johnson, son of a former ferryman, as a haven to practice his religion which included polygamy. At the time during the 1920s polygamy was no longer accepted by his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Another view of Dell Ranch.
The grounds of Lonely Dell Ranch were well maintained and full of birds. We saw a Dark-eyed Junko,
a Northern Flicker,
and a Western Meadowlark.
White-crowned Sparrow in the orchard at Lonely Dell Ranch. The ranch was so isolated an orchard was planted so the families working at Lees Ferry could be self-sufficient. The orchard still bears fruit today. In season visitors may collect 5 gallons of fruit per person per day for personal consumption.

Cathedral Wash Hike

Before we left the Lees Ferry and Navajo Bridge area we decided to take a leisurely hike down Cathedral Canyon. It wasn’t as leisurely as we would have liked but the canyon was stunning.

The start of the Cathedral Wash Hike through Cathedral Canyon.
This hike is moderate or a 3 on a scale from 1 to 5. But when we got to this point we saw people turning around.
Sometimes we had to think a good bit about the best side to walk on.
There were obstacles we had to figure out how to get around.
At the end of the trail, we had a good sense of accomplishment, were glad to not be injured, and a lovely view of the Colorado River.

This week I will be sharing this post on  My Corner of the World, Travel Tuesday, Wild Bird Wednesday, Through My Lens, and Sharon’s Souvenirs. Check out these links to see what other people are doing all over the world.

17 thoughts on “Condors at Navajo Bridge

  1. I saw Condors in CA quite a bit in the early 70s. There was a back road I could take to get up to some property I had at the head of the Cuyama Valley. At the top of a pass were some tall trees and the condors had their nests at the top of the trees. You could usually see one or more nesting, but occasionally you could see them coming in to land and taking off. Great sight!

    1. That is so cool! Sometimes I almost feel like I’m cheating going to these easy to get to spots where birds are known to be. It was so easy to see them. I love that you have a Condor story!

    1. The west is so vast. It is hard enough now to get to some of these out of the way places, it is amazing that anyone ever went to those places at all. And then there were those people who decided to stay.

      It is cool that they mate for life! What I didn’t mention is that sometimes it doesn’t work out and they do find another mate. So I guess they have divorce too but probably fewer than people these days.

  2. Love the pictures of the birds you’ve met. I especially like looking at the “sanitation crew”! They have a majestic wingspan. The meadowlark pic is pretty too. You really are a talented photographer.

  3. What a fabulous place for a hike! I’m so glad you share these awesome photos with us. The condors are not pretty but look quite stunning in flight.

    A lovely addition to ‘My Corner of the World’ this week! Thanks for linking!

    1. No, they’re not pretty but I think they are very interesting birds. And it was fun getting to see them enjoy themselves.

      Thanks for giving me a great place to share my posts and thanks for being a great host!

  4. We enjoyed our stops at the Navajo Bridge and Lees Ferry as well, but only saw a few condors and didn’t realize they were tagged and identifiable. A fascinating and interesting post, Duwan. I’m sure those binoculars and that camera were indispensable on the bridge. Your photos are stunning. I can’t believe that you managed to capture three birds with one stone, I mean, one shot!

    1. I’ve seen tagged birds before but never thought about looking them up until someone looked up and posted about a picture pelican with a tag I postedvon iNaturalist. So interesting to learn a little about individual birds.

      The Condors all started flying all at once so it was actually not so hard to get multiple birds flying together. The three with one stone was pretty good, though.

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