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Large engineering works began around the start of the 20th century, with major guidelines established in a series of international and U. interstate treaties known as the "Law of the River". Most of the major dams were built between 19; the system keystone, Hoover Dam, was completed in 1935.The Colorado is now considered among the most controlled and litigated rivers in the world, with every drop of its water fully allocated.Most of the upper river is a swift whitewater stream ranging from 200 to 500 feet (60 to 150 m) wide, the depth ranging from 6 to 30 feet (2 to 9 m), with a few notable exceptions, such as the Blackrocks reach where the river is nearly 100 feet (30 m) deep.Arcing northwest, the Colorado begins to cut across the eponymous Colorado Plateau, a vast area of high desert centered at the Four Corners of the southwestern United States.In Arizona, the river passes Lee's Ferry, an important crossing for early explorers and settlers and since the early 20th century the principal point where Colorado River flows are measured for apportionment to the seven U. Below the confluence with the Little Colorado River, the river swings west into Granite Gorge, the most dramatic portion of the Grand Canyon, where the river cuts up to one mile (1.6 km) into the Colorado Plateau, exposing some of the oldest visible rocks on Earth, dating as long ago as 2 billion years.
Farther downstream it receives the Dolores River and defines the southern border of Arches National Park, before passing Moab and flowing through "The Portal", where it exits the Moab Valley between a pair of 1,000-foot (300 m) sandstone cliffs.
Here, the San Juan River, carrying runoff from the southern slope of Colorado's San Juan Mountains, joins the Colorado from the east.
The Colorado then enters northern Arizona, where since the 1960s Glen Canyon Dam near Page has flooded the Glen Canyon reach of the river, forming Lake Powell for water supply and hydroelectricity generation. Downstream, the river enters Marble Canyon, the beginning of the Grand Canyon, passing under the Navajo Bridges on a now southward course.
Beginning with small bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers, Native Americans have inhabited the Colorado River basin for at least 8,000 years.
Between 2,000 and 1,000 years ago, the watershed was home to large agricultural civilizations – considered some of the most sophisticated indigenous North American cultures – which eventually declined due to a combination of severe drought and poor land use practices.