206 Colorado River Ribbon Map
The Colorado River
Originally named Rio Colorado, the Colorado River is the fifth longest river in the U.S. and the most important river in the American Southwest. It drains mainly from the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and makes its way from the mountains and ends in the Gulf of California in Mexico. The river and its many tributaries drains portions of seven U.S. states including Wyoming, New Mexico, California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado.
Along most of the river’s course, the landscape is carved into spectacular gorges and canyons by the flow of the river over the centuries. Controlled by an extensive system of dams, reservoirs, and aqueducts, the Colorado River is a vital irrigation source for agricultural lands in the southwestern U.S. and a source of water supply and hydroelectric power for communities that depend on the river.
As far back as 8000 years ago, Native Americans have occupied the region as nomadic hunter-gatherers. In the 16th century, Europeans, beginning with Spanish explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, entered the Colorado River basin seeking treasure and claimed the Colorado Territory for Spain. Although limited in nature, sometimes these explorers engaged in the fur trade with the native peoples in the lower river region.
Throughout the decades, the Colorado River has endured being dammed extensively, over allocated to cities and farmlands, and affected by climate change and outdated management, all of which halted the river's flow to the sea. The Colorado River runs so low that by the time it reaches the Gulf of California in Mexico the river runs dry. The demand for more water and the diminishing supply is an issue that will shape the future of the Colorado River. Still, the river is a place of adventure where rafting, boating, jet skiing, kayaking, and fly fishing are enjoyed.
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