Marble Canyon, Arizona

Marble Canyon, Arizona is a majestic destination for adventure seekers and nature lovers. The limestone of this canyon appears smooth and polished that people often mistake the material to be marble. At times, the rocks showcase an array of colors such as gray, pinks, purples, whites, and golden hues.

It may not be as popular as its neighboring Grand Canyon, but Marble Canyon offers the same intensity of ethereal beauty. The Marble Canyon is located along the Colorado River and spans from Lees Ferry to the junction with the Little Colorado River. Its length is approximately 61 miles and is brimming with many attractions that are waiting to be explored. Its gigantic lime and sandstone walls are gleaming as marble by waterfalls produced by seasonal rainfalls. It's also only 5 miles away from Lee's Ferry.

Despite the glassy and smooth appearance of the natural stones that make up a vast majority of its landscape, Marble is a misleading term. In fact, the topography is made from a variety of natural stones including sandstone and limestones. It got its name due when pioneer explorer and renowned Civil War Veteran, Major John Wesley Powell and his team witnessed the marble-like appearance of sand and limestone a thousand feet in thickness in the upper portion of the canyon. 


History of Marble Canyon

Bordered on the east by the Navajo Indian Reservation and by House Rock Valley and Kaibab Plateau on the west, this canyon heads endlessly to the southwest for more than sixty miles. It may not be as impressive as the Rims of Grand Canyon, but its beauty is best to take in down at its river level. It’s also at the lower end of the Marble Canyon that one can truly appreciate its natural beauty and natural history. 

Although considered as one of the most captivating sights in the country, locals did not place too much regard or appreciation for Marble Canyon as we do today. In 1863, there were construction projects that proposed to convert some areas of Marble Canyon into a dam as an integral element of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Pacific Southwest Water Plan initiative. After its announcement, the public showed little to no opposition. The reaction is not due to their lack of concern for Marble Canyon, but during this time the majority of communities were not even aware of its existence. Furthermore, the canyon never received any protection label from local and national organizations. The Grand Canyon National Park did not show any interest to include Marble Canyon in its right for preservation.  

As news spread of plans to dam and the drill numerous tunnels in sheer limestone cliffs, as well as analyze rock characteristics, an increasing number of people started to express their opposition to stop the dam project. It was the Sierra Club that fought vehemently to stop the project by The Bureau of Reclamation under the leadership of then-commissioner, Floyd Dominy. A notable and well-respected member of the Sierra Club who went by the name of Martin Litton led a nationwide anti-dam lobby, which eventually prohibited Dominy’s proposal altogether. Although the Sierra Club’s tax-exemption privileges were dropped, it amassed a large number of supporters over time.  

There were more organizations and companies that took interest in developing some parts of Marble Canyon after this; from bringing the waters of the Colorado River to communities all over Arizona by building a canal through Marble Dam to building a railroad that goes through Marble Canyon as an extension of the Grand Canyon, all failed due to political and public oppositions. 

Marble Canyon Flora and Fauna

Marble Canyon is indeed a national treasure to behold. It showcases some of the most awe-inspiring archeological wonders, including split-twig animal figurines that date back from 4,000 years ago and storage granaries at Nankoweap Canyon that tells a story of the rich culture of early desert life. Another treasure discovered in Marble Canyon is 12,000 remains of the now-extinct Harrington Mountain Goat specie. Marble Canyon is also home to beautiful wildlife including the Pale Townsend’s Big Eared-Bat and the now-endangered Kanab Ambersnail. 

At the foot of the canyon lies one of the last homes of Humpback Chubs, which is also now considered an endangered species. The last population of Humpback Chubs gets their source of food from the Paria River, located at the front-end of the canyon, teeming nourishment primarily sourced from river sediments and silt. 

The sharp and steep rock cliffs of Marble Canyon make it inaccessible to the outside world, but its remote location has successfully protected its landscape and wildlife- both of which are considered national treasures. That beauty continues through Lee's Ferry as well.

Finally, on January 3, 1975, President Ford signed the Grand Canyon Enlargement Act, which abolished its national monument status and incorporating Marble Canyon as a part of Grand Canyon National Park. With the signing of this law, the park’s territory expanded to 1.2 million acres. 

FAQ: Marble Canyon, Arizona