Colorado River, Information and Characteristics (with Photos)

Colorado River - It is one of the main rivers in the United States and North America. Over more than 6 million years, its flow of water carved the rock and created spectacular shapes and a deep gorge known as the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. Today, it is one of the most important rivers in the United States and North America.

Colorado River
Colorado River


The Colorado River gushes out in the Rocky Mountain region, specifically in the mountain pass known as La poudre pass, where the river begins as a stream in the middle of a small wet meadow. The site is located in the north-central part of the state of Colorado, and from there it begins to flow towards the southwest through Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, Baja California and Sonora; the latter two in Mexico. In total, it travels about 2,334 kilometers to its mouth in the Sea of ​​Cortez and drains a basin of approximately 637,137 km2, (including part of Wyoming and New Mexico) which represents 7 percent of the surface of the United States.

The course of the river is winding, and has the effect of undermining the terrain it passes through and creating meanders and canyons. Just 1.5 kilometers away from its source, he created the first: the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, shallow and narrow. However, its middle course passes through deep canyons, most with steep walls, and widens as it passes through the desert areas of the Lower Colorado River Valley. Its lower course, unfortunately, flows like a stream, sometimes almost completely dry, into the Sea of ​​Cortez. However, its delta is still a habitat area for many species.

The river has more than 25 tributaries that provide it with a continuous flow of water. Some of the main rivers that feed it are the Green, the Gila, the San Juan, the Gunnison, the Azul, the Dolores, the Escalante and the Paria.

Colorado River
Horseshoe Bend Colorado River


This river is relatively old; still in the Cretaceous part of North America was still under the Pacific Ocean. The Colorado could begin as a stream that flowed southwest, until about 5 million years ago its current course was established, with its mouth in the Sea of ​​Cortez. The entire river basin developed during the last 40 million years.

The Grand Canyon of the Colorado appears to be around 17 million years old, but much of the carving occurred during the last 6 million years.

Flora and fauna

The river drains mainly arid and semi-arid areas, but supports various forms of life adapted to the environment. In deserts, the riverbanks are the greenest areas. Some fish in the basin are the humpbacked matalot ( Xyrauchen texanus ), the Colorado squaw ( Ptychocheilus lucius ), the desert pup ( Cyprinodon macularius ), the white springfish ( Crenichthys baileyi ), Gila elegans, Gila cypha, Catostomus insignis, Catostomus clarkii, Lepidomeda vittata, and Rhinichthys osculus. Ptychocheilus lucius and Xyrauchen texanusthey are endemic to the basin, that is, they are not found anywhere else in the world, like the gastropod mollusks Fluminicola avernalis and Fluminicola merriami. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the basin is home to some 14 endemic species of fish.

In addition, the region is home to and visiting area for non-aquatic species, such as the willow flycatcher ( Empidonax traillii ), a bird that nests in North America, as well as coyotes, bats, frogs, mice, turtles, salamanders and beavers, among many others. The delta, meanwhile, is home to herons, grebes and more waterfowl.

The flora is represented, for the most part, by low plants. The riverbanks are home to grasses, and plants of the genera Potamogeton and Typha float or emerge in the water. The entire basin contains more species, such as the governor ( Larrea tridentata ), the saguaro ( Carnegiea gigantea ), the Joshua tree ( Yucca brevifolia ), the biznaga llavina ( Mammillaria dioica ), the tesota ( Senegalia greggii ) and the tobacco o palán palán ( Nicotiana glauca ). Desert areas lack leafy trees or lush plants; many cacti grow in their place.

Colorado River
Colorado River

Economic importance

Since before the arrival of the colonizers, the native peoples of the basin depended on the river for food and drink. Without a doubt, the presence of the river is key in one of the driest regions of North America.

At present, part of the course of the Colorado is interrupted by several dams that divert the water; almost 90 percent of this water is used to irrigate crops. Another part is used to provide drinking water to the populations that surround the river. It is estimated that the Colorado and its tributaries supply water to about 40 million people, and nearly 5.5 million acres of land are irrigated with its fluid.

Some lakes have been formed by dams, and are now useful for generating hydroelectric power. The Hoover Dam is the largest of the power generators.

The Colorado and its tributaries are estimated to supply about 40 million people with water.


The Colorado River is not in its prime. Pollution, extraction and diversion of water and introduced species that affect native species, degrade the quantity and quality of the liquid, destroy habitats and cause the disappearance of many animals and plants. It is a consequence of the development of cities, which, increasingly populated, need more resources from the river. Part of the course, especially the lower one, is heavily altered. In fact, since 1998 the river has not flowed into the Sea of ​​Cortez, but its delta remains (albeit degraded).

One of the most worrying problems in recent years is the increase in the salinity of the water, since when it evaporates naturally and is extracted or diverted, only salts remain.

Colorado River Map