Monday, March 26, 2012

Winter's Last Gasp at the Grand Canyon

Winter has been almost non-existent in the state of Arizona this year. Granted, Arizona is hardly known for its wintry weather, but the high country in the northern half of the state usually gets its fair share of the white stuff. Well, not this year. After a couple of decent storms before the holidays, a warm and dry pattern set in that pretty much lasted through the entire season. Temperatures remained warm enough that the wildflower bloom (what there was of it) began in February in the southern deserts...much earlier than usual...while the ski areas to the north struggled to remain operational.

February poppies in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix

Well all that changed when, on the last two days of the official winter season, mother nature decided to throw a doozy of a storm at the state. This resulted in lots of badly needed rain in the lower elevation deserts, while the northern half of the state got nailed with a good ol' fashion snowstorm. It was about freakin' time!

When I heard that the storm was heading our way, I decided to concentrate my efforts towards photographing the wintry scenes at the south rim of the Grand Canyon (the north rim is closed this time of year, so it was not an option). I had tried this once before last winter and came away disappointed...mostly due to my ill-founded plan to drive out there shortly after the storm let up to take in and photograph the wintry conditions. Being a newcomer to the area, I hadn't yet realized that Arizona's Dept. of Transportation commonly shut down the main roads between Sedona and all points north during major winter storms. By the time those roads re-opened and I finally made it to the canyon, I was greeted with mostly clear skies and rapidly melting snow. Definitely not what I had hoped for!

This time around I vowed to drive up to the south rim before the snow began and hunker down in the nearby town of Tusayan while the storm raged. This worked out perfectly as I woke up the following morning to nearly a foot of freshly fallen snow coating everything in sight. Woo hoo!! The forecast had the storm continuing on throughout the day with little visibility, but I wasn't about to believe that as it's been my experience that storms break up much earlier than what those highly paid weathermen predict. So when I drove to the canyon that morning, I was wasn't overly surprised to see that the storm was already breaking. Time to get to work!!

Wintry morning along the rim trail near Yaki Point
Over the next couple of days, the wintry weather continued with brief periods of snow (sometimes heavy) followed by breaks where the clouds would slowly lift to the reveal the snow filled canyon (at least in its upper reaches). I was like a kid in a candy store driving from overlook to overlook and hiking along the rim trail in search of compositions to do the wintry landscape justice.

A passing snow squall viewed along the rim trail near Yavapai Point
It all ended after the second day where I was treated to some nice late day light while the last of the snow squalls were making their way across the canyon's north rim. It was quite breathtaking, to say the least. The next morning I awoke to a clear sky and chilly 4 degree temps, but I didn't care. I had already got what I came for and giddily made my way back home knowing that I finally captured the type of Grand Canyon images I had been visualizing for a while now. To top it all off, the following day was spent basking on a pontoon with friends at Canyon Lake (near Phoenix) under warm sunshine and mid 70 degree temperatures. Not a bad way to warm the bones after a few days of wintry shooting. Gotta love springtime in Arizona!!

Golden Light on Shiva and Isis Temples
To see more wintry images of the Grand Canyon, feel free to click on the link below. Thanks for looking!

Grand Canyon Winter Storm Gallery


  1. Hi Sondra. Thank you for the kind words. I'm glad you liked them!

  2. Beautiful photos of Yavapai Point. Have always wanted to go to the Grand Canyon during winter.

  3. Thanks Gail. That's my favorite time as well. Not only do you get the beautiful juxtaposition of red rock and snow, you also have far less crowds to contend with!