The Canyon

The first time I saw the Grand Canyon I was about 10 to 12 years old. My parents were making this “grand” road trip to see the major sites around the west. We visited the North Rim, and I went back to the North Rim when I was in college with my ex. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you may have seen a post from my last visit in 2021 to Toroweap on the north side of the canyon.

Having lived in the west almost my whole life, I had never seen the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. So, earlier this month I made a trip down to Cameron, Arizona as my base camp, and then spent a few days at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Many of our more popular national parks and major national monuments are getting so busy that it’s almost impossible to get in and really see anything in the warmer months. So, I figured that this would be a less crowded time to visit. And, there is always something special about the winter light. Perhaps the colder temperatures make less haze from ozone, or maybe it’s the lower sun angle. Who knows; I am not a physicist. I just like the winter light.

My first view of the Grand Canyon looking northward from Desert View. This is very near the eastern edge of the Grand Canyon, and the Colorado River enters the canyon here from a northerly angle.

My first day at the canyon was really a “getting to know my way around” time. I entered from the east on Arizona 64, and my first stop was at Desert View, right inside the park from the east entrance gates. I was hoping to have the park mostly to myself with the cold and snow, but alas, here was a bus full of tourists – Japanese, I think. Interestingly, I had seen these same folks the day before at a stop right south of Page, Arizona where I pulled in to look at the Colorado River as it winds through some very deep goosenecks well east of the Grand Canyon and east of Marble Canyon.

This is looking west from Desert View into the heart of the canyon. Even in mid-morning, the colors were just amazing!

Anyway, Desert View has some really awesome views of the eastern end of the canyon, and its home to the Desert View Watchtower. This structure was built with funding by the Santa Fe Railroad back in 1932. The architect was Mary Colter who did considerable research and designed the tower to resemble the indigenous structures of the area. She also designed a few other buildings in the Grand Canyon as well. It stands 70 feet above the rim of the canyon and is quite impressive.

This is the Desert View Watchtower from the south side looking north into the canyon. As you can see, the tower looks pretty authentic, almost as if it was constructed by the ancient pueblo people.

After Desert View, I next visited Lipan Point, a really cool overlook a few miles farther west into the park. The views from Lipan Point are quite astounding, both looking west farther into the canyon and toward the north. I spent some considerable time here taking photos and also taking some photos on my phone that I labeled for future reference. I was also scouting places to photograph the sunset and sunrise in the park, as I was hoping for some great light at those magical times.

Sadly, there was a fair amount of haze in the sky while I was at the canyon. According to some Park Rangers with whom I spoke, that haze is more normal now as the canyon gets pollution drifting west from Las Vegas and northward from Los Angeles and Phoenix as well. Nevertheless, I was able to get some good shots after filtering out much of the haze.

Here is a view northward into the canyon from Duck-on-a-Rock Point.

From Lipan Point, I drive further westward to Moran Point along the South Rim road known as Desert View Drive. There was so much snow here the previous week that the entire road was closed. I have to say the overlook viewpoints were a bit harrowing as the snow was piled up about 18 inches deep (almost 0.5 meters) at all of the viewpoints. They were all compacted snow with only Moran Point having some totally cleared areas.

I made this little friend while scouting around Lipan Point.
Here is another shot of my little crow friend as he/she was perched in this tree near the parking area. The crows were very busy looking for leftover goodies. You can see the feathers all puffed up to help hold in the body heat.

That extra 18 inches of snow made the viewpoint guardrails much shorter than normal – less than waist high in many spots. So, for a guy that doesn’t like high exposures, this was a bit nerve-wracking. Even worse was seeing tracks in the snow going right to canyon edge in many places, well past the guardrails. One Ranger remarked that there would be a stupid person or so die in the next few days.

A view down into the lower canyon with a glimpse of the Colorado River from Moran Point.

Moran Point is also located on the South Rim Trail that skirts the south side of the canyon. The trail starts in the Village – think downtown Grand Canyon, and runs for many miles. Moran Point is probably one of the more famous viewpoints on the South Rim along with Grandview Point and Grandview Trailhead. Due to the snow and icy conditions, there would be no hiking into the canyon for me on this trip. Even with some spikes, the icy conditions were just way too hazardous.

Looking westward from Moran Point into the heart of the Canyon. Notice the footsteps going right to the edge – not mine!

After spending quite some time around Moran Point hiking along the South Rim Trail for a bit, I finally decided to head west to the Grand Canyon Village to get some dinner. By this time, I had figured out that the best sunset photos might happen from Lipan Point or perhaps, Desert View.

Looking north down into the canyon from Moran Point.

To really appreciate the Grand Canyon, one needs to not just look, but to think. This river has cut deep into the earth over many, many millennia. And it’s not just deep. The canyon is literally a view back in time. A time even well before the dinosaurs, before life in the sea!

Another view into the canyon from Moran Point looking generally northward.

Each different rock layer is another geological era. So, the Grand Canyon is not just a bunch of incredible views. It is literally a window through the past, a way to see what our world was like so many countless eons ago.

Here is one more photo from one of the numerous Moran Point overlooks. Again, notice the footprints going right to the canyon edge. Not all view areas have guardrails.

I was surprised to find out how much traffic there was as I approached the Village, even in early February. Between Lipan Point and the Village much of the road (Desert View Drive) still had some snow, so the driving was slower and a bit more caution was in order. I caught an early dinner at the Bright Angel Lodge at the Fred Harvey Burger Restuarant. Fred Harvey Burgers was started back in the 1920s if I recall correctly at stops along the transcontinental railroad. The restaurant has some cool history, but I would say the food was mediocre, and the service was the same – nothing to rave about. The lodge per se was pretty cool, but I really wanted to just get out and get back on the road heading east for some sunset photos.

This was one of the first photos I shot at Lipan Point near sundown. The colors are quite interesting, and the Colorado River is visible cutting its channel through the canyon.

The traffic heading east from the Grand Canyon Village was really surprising to me, especially for early February. For several miles it was like driving in Salt Lake City – just cars everywhere. Eventually the traffic finally thinned out quite a bit, but by this time I figured that Lipan Point was going to be my sunset photo location. The weather was turning a bit colder with some wind, so I thought that the traffic and crowds would be really thinned out. Maybe they were, but the parking areas at Lipan Point were still fairly full for an early, very cold February evening.

I actually took this photo on my phone, a Samsung Galaxy 9+ as the sun was heading down for the day. This shot is actually a bit off of the path in a fairly secluded little area.
As the light was changing rapidly, I caught the sun highlighting these cliffs near the viewpoint looking northeast from Lipan Point.

The Grand Canyon is so amazing on so many different levels. As I mentioned earlier, the views are just breathtaking. The canyon is so incredibly large. Even driving all the way from the east entrance on Arizona 64 to the Village center on the South Rim, you are only seeing a small section of the canyon. When I visited the North Rim over by Toroweap in April of 2021, I was considerably west of my locations for this post. And yet, the canyon extends far west beyond Toroweap. According to the Grand Canyon National Park‘s website, the park encompasses 278 miles (447 kilometers) of the Colorado River through Arizona. That is a tremendous area! And what’s more amazing is that the Grand Canyon does not encompass nearly all of the total canyon that the Colorado River has carved through Arizona.

Here is the view looking nearly straight west into the final bit of sun at Lipan Point. The snow and passing clouds really give this canyon view the “winter look”. And yes, it was as cold as it looks!

The canyon not only gives us a look back into the ancient geology of our planet, but it also encompasses many different climate zones. The elevation around the South Rim sites that I visited was about 7000 feet (2134 meters) above sea level. Winter was in full swing at the canyon, with the packed snow depth around 18 inches (0.5 meters) in many areas. In some less travelled places, I stepped into snow up to my waist! Across the canyon at the North Rim, the elevation reaches around 9000 feet (2743 meters). When I drove through Jacob’s Lake (a small town just north of the park) in February of 2008, there was snow piled up over 8 feet (2.4 meters) deep!

And yet down the hill in Cameron where the elevation is about 4200 feet (1280 meters) the daytime temps were in the high 50’s and low 60’s (F). The nights were below freezing around 20 to 25 degrees F. In fact, the Saturday that I was in the area I was hiking over at Wupatki National Monument in my shirt sleeves. Now, the canyon bottom is about 1 mile below the South Rim, so down there the elevation is around 2000 feet (610 meters) above sea level. That is not a high desert climate at all. It is a low desert, with extreme summer heat, and very mild winter temps at this latitude.

The first morning sun hitting some of the higher canyon peaks as seen from Desert View. The Colorado River below is still in near darkness.

In my canyon scouting I decided that the best view areas for the morning sunrise would be Desert View area. It was the closest to Cameron, and the viewing areas offers canyon vistas to the west, to the north and to the east. So, I arose at 4 am on that Sunday morning in order to be at the Desert View area set-up and ready to begin taking photos by 6 am – just prior to first light.

Boy was it cold! The wind was howling with gusts near 30 mph and steady winds at probably around 15 to 20 mph according to the weather data I saw that morning. Temperatures at the canyon rim were really cold! I had all of my winter gear on, including my snowpants. But the views!

First sunlight hitting the high peaks looking west into the canyon from Desert View. That is not the sun, it is the moon. The moon was full at that time and just about to set for the day.

I turned around and found this image of Desert View Watchtower as I was looking up at it with that first light hitting the tower.

What a different look from the south side in full sunlight!

The snow at the Desert View overlook was frozen solid – white ice. The wind was blowing so hard that when I first set my tripod down, the wind blew it toward the railing! So, for these photos, I was weighing the tripod down with my camera bag and holding it as well.

I was just about to finish packing up for the morning, when I saw this view as I looked out westward into the canyon.

This is just west of the Desert View overlook fenced areas. The moon was nearly down, and the atmosphere had magnified it. There was a bit of magenta haze in the air – probably dust particles from the wind with that first sunlight giving them that reddish tone.

This just about wraps up the Grand Canyon trip for me. What a place! Again, as I said earlier, the canyon is about way more than the views – the history, the geology, the power of nature, textures … This is a place that I think everyone who is fascinated by nature needs to see in person. Really, it’s just nearly indescribable.

I hope that this story and my photos have conveyed at least a bit of what the Grand Canyon has to offer. The winter is a fun time to visit, but dress warm and be prepared for snow.

Have fun out there, and thank you so much for visiting my blog.

19 thoughts on “The Canyon

  1. Reblogged this on Mitch Teemley and commented:
    My Featured Blogger this week is Tim Harlow of Tim’s Viewpoints & Visuals. Tim is an investment advisor by trade, but he’s also a passionate outdoorsman, and that passion is alive his superb photographs. See for yourself!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When our family visited, my husband (who’s from Minnesota) was not looking forward to all the heat. We woke up the first morning and the temp was about 34 degrees F. He was shocked. I was tickled. I do not understand people jogging the trails but they do, and the dopes that go past the guard rails…

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  3. The canyon is undoubtedly awe-inspiring. I love the light and shadow, the colors… Every view is different, even different at different times of day. I don’t know what to believe as far as how or when it was formed. There are several theories – and at Mount St. Helens there is a sort of miniature Grand Canyon created over a period of less than two years! Makes you wonder…
    But that’s a discussion for another day. πŸ˜‰ Great pictures! Great fun! This has made me want to go back there soon.

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