Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Arizona Experiences Its First Major Winter Storm

We've just gotten a little way into winter and already there's been some pretty crazy weather all over the country. Blizzards, bitter cold, flooding rains, tornadoes....you name it, it's been happening so far. Here in Arizona, we've just experienced the first major winter storm of the season and it really wreaked havoc in the northern half of the state. Heavy snow closed many of the major arteries to northern Arizona for almost a couple of days. One to two feet of snow were common in the high country and that was followed by bitter cold. There was even a dusting of snow in the mountains surrounding Phoenix!

Winter In Sedona

Here in Sedona we received only a few inches of snow, but it sure was purdy sitting on the red rock formations around town. I spent the day immediately after the storm photographing those and then made my way up Oak Creek Canyon to the West Fork area. By the time I got up there, I was astounded by the amount of snow I saw. One report I heard stated that the upper reaches of the canyon received 16 inches. I surely couldn't refute that and was ecstatic to see all the wet, heavy snow draped on all the cottonwoods and sycamores. I took a short, but exhausting hike into West Fork Canyon to check that out. Talk about incredible! And to my surprise, I was the first to make it over the rather treacherous first creek crossing. My reward for that was beautiful untracked snow that I could include in my compositions.

Wintry West Fork Canyon

Once I heard that the roads heading north had opened up, I gathered up the wife and dog and headed to the Grand Canyon. I had always wanted to photograph the canyon after a snowstorm and now I'd finally get the chance. It also seemed like a cool location to ring in the new year. What caught us by surprise though, was the bitter cold that we encountered. By the time I finished shooting the last sunset of 2010, the temperature was already below 0. By the time the first sunrise of 2011 came to being, it was -24 degrees!! Not quite what I signed on for! At least the bitter temps kept the crowds to a minimum.

The Last Sunset of 2010! From Yavapai Point.

Despite the cold temperatures, the wintry canyon was absolutely beautiful. Sure, I didn't get the epic conditions that can happen right as a storm is breaking, but I couldn't complain about the conditions I did get to witness over my three day stay either. For those epic conditions, I figured that I'll have to get to the canyon before a storm hits and wait it out. Next time!

Morning Light On The Canyon - From The Rim Trail Near Yaki Point.

My best words of advice for any photographer visiting the canyon in the winter months is this...get away from the major overlook areas! In the winter months, the access to roads and trails can be rather limited. When I visited, the road to Hermits Rest was closed indefinitely. Thus all the sight seeing tourists congregated to the those overlooks that were still accessible. Even a short walk along the Rim Trail (which connects most of the overlooks in the western end of the park) will afford you some measure of solitude. Plus all the snow covered cactus, gnarly trees and shrubbery make for great foreground material.

Wintry Canyon - From The Rim Trail Near Mather Point.

To see more shots from my latest winter outings around Arizona, check out this link...

Winter In Arizona


  1. Beautiful shots! Thanks for the tips on how to avoid the crowds--

  2. Thanks for stopping by Dixxe! I know that tip is hardly ground breaking, but I couldn't believe how few people I saw taking the time to take just a little stroll to get away from those overlook platforms. I guess I should be happy for that as it allowed me a way to enjoy the canyon in relative solitude.