Most people, on getting off the Colorado River at the Pearce Ferry Boat Ramp (River Mile 279), don’t realize that from 1876 to 1938, a commercial ferry operation existed approximately 200 feet below them.
Pearce Ferry was established in 1876 by Harrison Pearce under direction of Brigham Young, the religious leader and second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The church, looking to expand down into Arizona and New Mexico, needed a way for their settlers to get across the Colorado River. Lee’s Ferry was the last safe crossing upstream from the Grand Canyon, and Pearce Ferry was the first just downstream from the canyon.
Pearce, along with John D. Lee, had been directly involved in the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre of more than 100 people in a wagon train of Arkansas immigrants on their way to California. While arrest warrants were issued for both Pearce and Lee, only the latter was arrested, tried, and executed for his involvement.
Pearce’s commercial ferry venture never really took off and achieved the success of Lee’s Ferry. In 1883, he sold the ferry operation to Thomas Steen. The ferry continued operating intermittently until the late 1930s, when Lake Mead water levels began reaching the location after the construction of the Hoover Dam. The ferry site remained under the waters of Lake Mead until the lake started receding in the early 2000s.
The current boat ramp was built in 2010 to deal with the changing lake level. Few river runners taking out at the ramp realize they’re actually standing atop about 200 feet of silt deposited by the Colorado River. Somewhere down below them lie the remains of Pearce Ferry.
Know Before You Go
The site is managed by the National Park Service and is accessible to the public.