Nothing compares to the first snowfall in Autumn, particularly when it coincides with fall colors. I always try to get out for the first sunrise or sunset after the first significant snowfall of the season. This year, in Flagstaff we got about two inches of snow that fell overnight in October. I got up early the next morning and drove up to Sunset Crater on the east side of the San Francisco Peaks to try to catch sunrise from Lockett Meadow. But there were ongoing snow squalls and visibility was low, and as I started driving up the steep narrow forest road that leads to the Meadow, it was nearly a whiteout and the road was quite slick with about 6 inches of fresh snow and ice. So I reluctantly turned back, figuring my life was not worth a photo. Instead, I changed my plans and drove up the road to the ski area on the west side of the peaks in hopes that things would clear out for sunset. The low clouds held on through the afternoon, but I did manage to catch a couple minutes of intense red light just before sunset as the sun briefly dipped below the cloud deck. As I hiked back along the Arizona Trail, I noticed this fern and thought that it might make a terrific composition in early morning light; so I vowed to return for sunrise.
When I hiked back to my favorite fern, the morning light was shining through the aspen forest, and the fern was perfectly back lit. Much to my delight, a couple aspen leaves–one red and one yellow–fell overnight and landed in the snow in perfect synchronicity. It almost looked like someone had planted them, but the lack of footprints argued against that idea. I think it was just meant to be; nature acted as the supreme artist and arranged the shot for me in a magical way. The first snow of the year was once again a memorable experience!
Twelve years ago, I drove out from Colorado to get to the Grand Canyon in time for a light overnight snowfall. I wanted to catch the Canyon at sunrise after the snow had fallen. I stayed in a hotel south of the park, then drove to Grand Canyon Village early in the morning to catch the first shuttle bus to Yaki Point. I was the only one on the bus as it dropped me off about an hour before sunrise. I hiked down the South Kaibob Trail and took lots of photos as the sun rose and clouds cleared from the canyon. It was a magical experience and it stuck with me.
Now that I am a mere 80 minute drive from the south rim, I am able to jump on every opportunity to catch the Canyon after a snowfall–there is nothing quite like the Grand Canyon in snow! Yesterday morning, January 20, 2021, seemed like a good opportunity to catch some dynamic conditions in the park. I decided to retrace my steps from twelve years ago. I had expected a couple inches to fall at the south rim, but was pleasantly surprised to find at least six inches covering the ground. Enough snow had fallen that the park road ws closed east of Yaki Point. So I parked before the road closure and hiked out along the Rim Trail towards Yaki Point. I was glad I brought micro-spikes cause the path was pretty icy. When I got to the point I hiked through snow that was drifted up to a foot or so, and scouted along the rim for compositions that would show the clouds clearing from the distant canyon walls.
Then, as the clouds slowly cleared from the canyon, I backtracked and hiked down the sloppy South Kaibab Trail to catch some views from a lower vantage point. I dropped down below “Ooh Ah Point” to where the snow level was, and watched as the canyon was flooded with warm sunlight as cold winds swirled down the trail. Yet another magical morning at one of the natural wonders of the world!
Sunrise from the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon.