The first time I saw Lonely Dell Ranch at Lee’s Ferry was at the end of a five-day backpack through Paria Canyon. It was a welcome sight, a green oasis among the red rocks. My fellow hikers and I sat at picnic tables in the shade of tall cottonwoods eating lunch and recalling the highlights of the adventure we had just completed.
John D. Lee was sent to this remote location (some say exiled) by Brigham Young in 1873 to establish a ferry across the Colorado River to transport Mormon pioneers between Utah and Arizona. Because it was so remote, Lee and his two wives had to be self-sufficient. They found the ideal place to settle just upstream from where the Paria River empties into the Colorado. They built cabins and set up an irrigation system to carry water from the Paria to their fields.
After Lee was arrested and executed in 1877 for his part in the Mountain Meadow massacre, the LDS church bought the rights to the ferry and ranch from his widow. From then until 1928 when Navajo Bridge was completed a succession of families lived at Lonely Dell and operated the ferry. They each added buildings to the ranch and tried, often in vain, to improve the irrigation system.
Today, Lonely Dell and Lee’s Ferry are a historic district in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. From the parking area a short walk leads past an orchard to the ranch entrance. Visitors are free to explore the grounds and, when a Ranger is present, see inside the historic cabins and other buildings. Or you could do as I did and make the forty-mile hike along the Paria River, a truly spectacular way to get there.
To find your way to Lonely Dell Ranch, go to the 89A: Bitter Springs to Kanab Trip Guide.