How The ‘Grand’ Became The ‘Colorado’ And What It Says About Our Relationship To Nature — @KUNC

Prior to 1921 this section of the Colorado River at Dead Horse Point near Moab, Utah was known as the Grand River. Mike Nielsen – Dead Horse Point State Park

Here’s a report from Luke Runyon writing for KUNC. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Until 1921, the Colorado River didn’t start in the state that bears the same name. It began in Utah, where the Green River from Wyoming and the Grand River from Colorado met. The story of how the Colorado River finally wended its way into the state of Colorado less than a century ago is a lesson in just how fickle our attitudes toward nature can be.

The names we give to places, mountain tops, rivers and vast stretches of land shape how we feel about them. Names are full of meaning, powerful symbols to rally behind or fight against. Conflicts over the names of neighborhoods and mountains aren’t uncommon. They’re attempts to correct wrongs of the past and reflect present day realities.

Turn of the century Democratic Colorado congressman and avowed booster Edward Taylor knew that names matter. So much so that he made the Grand River’s renaming a personal cause.

A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation illustration shows the river’s varying names prior to 1921. The Colorado River began from the confluence of the Green River and Grand River, a fact that irked Colorado congressman Edward Taylor.

The Grand River just didn’t cut it. Edward Taylor wanted the Colorado River — the same river that cut the Grand Canyon — to extend into his district and flow near his constituents. He wasn’t going to let Utah or Wyoming lay claim to the river’s headwaters, despite the fact that the Green River is the larger drainage basin. Undeterred, and backed up with statistics that showed the shorter Grand River contributing more water to the Colorado River, he took on the river’s renaming as a personal crusade in Washington, D.C.


On July 25 of that year the House of Representatives made the name change official with the passage of a joint resolution. A little more than a year later, the Colorado River Compact was finalized. It’s the river’s guiding document that apportions its water to some of the driest states in the country. Without a doubt, actions taken in the early 1920s established rules, policies and naming conventions that shape how we think about the Colorado River today.

Vestiges of the Grand River are still in place. The Grand Ditch pulls water from the Colorado River’s headwaters to the state’s eastern slope. Grand Junction, Colo. got its name from the confluence of the Gunnison and Grand Rivers. Colorado’s Grand County still bears the moniker. So does the town of Grand Lake.

They’re remnants of an old name, a label Coloradans and members of Congress a hundred years ago discarded. And if there’s a lesson in Edward Taylor’s effort, it is that all it takes is one relentless person and a willing constituency to think of a natural space in a whole new way, and change its name.

Dead Horse State Park panorama via the State of Utah.

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