Grand Falls is one of Arizona's least well-known scenic locations. Located 35 miles northeast of Flagstaff, it's a short drive on an innocuous Navajo Indian Reservation dirt road. Then all of the sudden it opens up to this gigantic cut in the earth and a waterfall taller than its most famous North American cousin, Niagara Falls. The chocolate-colored water is quite the unexpected sight.
Chocolate Falls from a previous trip
This seasonal flow is as dry as a bone most of the time especially in the hottest part of the summer. But fed by snow melt from the White Mountains in early Spring, it rages. I've been to the falls when the ground was rumbling under the impressive force and power of the falls. Spray jumps up in the air and wafts across the chasm making it difficult to keep the front element of the camera dry.
This trip was during its second seasonal flow at the end of summer and the monsoon rains. The falls were probably flowing at only half its volume as the Spring.
The Little Colorado River is wide and smooth before the big event. Reflections off the water with a stormy sky were very pleasing. I enjoyed walking upstream from the falls to capture the scene.
Calm and wide, the Little Colorado River
Sediment made the water look like something I stirred around in my morning mix of coffee and creamer. It's no wonder the falls have the nickname "Chocolate Falls."
The first bump before the big drop
Little Colorado Baby Steps
Eventually the Little Colorado flows into the Colorado River at the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Grand Falls was created by an ancient lava flow that deposited a very hard rock across the course of the river. Unable to erode at the same pace as the rock below, a large waterfall was the result.
Monsoon storms made this trip very memorable. I managed to stay dry as the storms seemed to move around me all day. There was lightning and rain all around and was a godsend as it provided a fantastic sunset.
Another photographer was also there shooting away in the great afternoon light. I noticed she was packing up to leave when I walked over to her and I told her she should to stay a bit longer since the conditions seemed perfect for a colorful sunset. There was just enough of a gap between the clouds and the horizon to make it happen.
Sunset and Rainbow at Grand Falls
Sunset at Grand Falls
Smoke on the Water
On the way out I noticed a small forest fire that had been touched off earlier by lightning. A small plume of smoke was rising up from the foothills around the San Francisco Peaks. A couple acre flooded pan alongside the road was the perfect place to shoot it in the fading light. It was dark and foreboding. The Deep Purple song "Smoke on the Water" sprang to mind. It was a perfect way to end a very dramatic day at Grand Falls.
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© 2013 G. Reid Helms / Arizona Panorama
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