21-May-2005 -- My wife Beth and I were spending a few days exploring the Arizona Strip, north of the Grand Canyon National Park. The Arizona Strip is a peculiar geographical artifact of the boundaries set by the United States Federal Government in the 1850s-1860s. At the time, Utah's southern boundary was set at 37 degrees north, while the lands south were part of the New Mexico territory (Arizona became a territory in 1863, split from New Mexico by President Lincoln). The Arizona Strip is essentially cut off from the rest of Arizona by the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. There are just two bridges that span the Colorado River onto the Arizona Strip, one near Page by the Glen Canyon Dam, and another along US-89A known as Navajo Bridge. The isolation of the Arizona Strip has been its chief attraction, to those who want to live there and to those who want to visit it. The Strip is divided between two counties: Mohave and Coconino. As an example of the isolation found here, the highway distance between the city of Kingman (Mohave County seat) and Colorado City (which is within Mohave County) is almost 350 miles, and requires one to pass through Nevada and Utah to make the connection. Most people who come to this area are likely making a trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (as we did). The lack of paved roads and the lack of any infrastructure essentially limits visitation to the remainder of the Arizona Strip to those who have deliberate motivation to explore. I have lived in Arizona for 13 years and other than a trip to the North Rim in 1996, had not explored the interior of the Strip. Beth and I planned to resolve that on this trip!
The Strip covers about 7,000 square miles but has just a few paved roads and only two towns, Fredonia and Colorado City, both found along highway AZ-389 about 30 miles apart. We had camped the night before at Jacob Lake on the Kaibab Plateau and were planning to make the long dirt-road journey to the Toroweap Overlook this afternoon. We drove into Fredonia and finding a lack of services, proceeded a few miles north into Kanab, Utah to get our provisions. Before heading out to Toroweap we decided to make a side trip to Colorado City - to nab the easy confluence and also, out of curiosity, as Colorado City is well known (notorious?) for its avowal of polygamy. The town was settled decades ago by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), an off-shoot of the mainstream Mormon church (known as the LDS). Before Utah could be admitted as a state in 1890 it had to formally disavow polygamy ('spiritual marriage', in their nomenclature). As polygamy was a fundamental tenet of the early LDS, many members split from the LDS and formed into scattered sects. Colorado City is the most well known locale of the FLDS sect, but the FLDS can be found in a few other places, including a new compound being built near El Dorado, Texas.
Regarding the confluence: we found it easily enough, located a tiny bit west of AZ-369 along Uzona Road, a 30-foot walk amid weeds into a field. The GPS danced a bit and the best I could do was that measly 1 on the end of one reading. We took our photos. The only interesting one is looking east with the grand Vermilion Cliffs rising behind town. A garage is to the north. Afterwards we took a 'tour' of town. Immediately noticeable is the presence of huge, massive homes. Not mansions, but typical square-built homes that run 3 stories high and feature, we guess, up to 30 rooms, much like a dormitory. Some of these families can consist of 5+ wives and up to 100 children! Most of the city's streets are dirt, and most of the homes are under a perpetual state of construction.
The city has been in a load of trouble with the state of Arizona and Mohave County, for misuse of public funds and welfare fraud, and of course, for practicing polygamy. Ironically, the public school district is the largest employer in the city, although virtually all of the FLDS children are home-taught, and most of whom never complete high school. Buildings are deliberately left unfinished so as to supress the property value of the site (and thereby supress its tax responsibility). And the church owns virtually all the property and homes - members can be granted the right to live and build on the property, but just the same they can be evicted without cause. Men are literally 'evicted' from the city and their wives and kids 'assigned' to other men, if they should cross the FLDS hierarchy there. Furthermore, many of these wives are teenagers, often assigned to men over 40 years their senior. It's a bizarre place, and the FLDS are feeling the heat, hence the building of the new compound in Texas. I would not be surprised to wake one morning to read that 2/3 of Colorado City simply up and left one night to their new digs in Texas. Frankly, it's not a very attractive city despite its setting below the Vermilion Cliffs... just a collection of buildings, huge homes and whatnot.
Once we had Colorado City out of our system, we proceeded for a short visit to the Pipe Spring National Monument and our drive to Toroweap Overlook, surely one of the most amazing places I have ever visited, and a place I highly recommend!