South Rim Storms at the Grand Canyon

A couple of weeks ago I made a quick overnight trip to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon while visiting some family in Flagstaff. I had not been to the Grand Canyon in probably twenty years so I figured why not give it a shot and see what I can find.

The trip started by preparing myself mentally for the crazy swarms of people that I figured would be found there, and truth be told, yes there were A LOT of people and the place is definitely built up kind of like an amusement park in a lot of ways, especially around Mather Point and the lodge area. None the less, I enjoyed the South Rim overall and I thought the viewpoints were fantastic.

Once I entered the park I headed east down Desert View Drive stopping at all the viewpoints for a few minutes to get a sense of where I would like to shoot for sunrise. By the time I reached the last viewpoint, Desert View, it was well into the golden hour and I decided that I best go find a spot to unfold my tripod. It wasn’t hard at all to find a nice vista away from the crowd at Desert View, I just walked a short ways east down the rim and I felt like I had the whole canyon to myself.

Lucky for me the monsoon storms had come through in the late afternoon and were just starting to clear up, I could still see the occasional flash of lightning off in the distance across the canyon. The sunset was beautiful with the clearing storm. I made a few images before the magic light of the evening faded and then I lingered on the edge of the canyon for a while, enjoying soft sound of the wind rushing below me. It really is an amazing place; there are few places that can make you feel more insignificant and connected to the world around you at the same time.

Summer Sunset

Since the trip was kind of an afterthought and a bit rushed I hadn’t really done a lot of planning as to where I was going to stay that night. I figured if I slept in one of the overlook parking lots I would probably get kicked out in the middle of the night by a ranger so instead I drove out of the park toward Cameron. I didn’t have to drive too far before I found a small dirt road heading out into the desert, so I turned off and found a place to pull over for the night.

The lightning continued to flash in the distance all night long and I was up early to drive back into the park and head to my chosen spot for sunrise. I decided to head to Lipan point and see what dawn would bring. Apparently I overestimated my drive time back to the park because I arrived at Lipan Point well before sunrise so I caught another half hour of sleep before getting out of the truck and searching for a place to throw down the tripod.

As I got out of the truck I could once again see the occasional flash of lightning across the canyon, but I could see stars above me so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect for the coming sunrise. I ended up hiking just a short ways along the canyon rim and scrambling a short ways up to the top of a rocky outcropping which seemed to provide a good vantage point with even a sliver of the mighty Colorado Visible below. As the sunrise progressed I was greeted by some nice clouds and colors.

Grand Sunrise

From there I figured I would backtrack along Desert View Road and do some scouting for future trips. By the time I had made my way back to the main area of the The South Rim it was late morning and most of the good light was gone so I headed to the Yavapai Geology Museum to browse the exhibits. I have always found geology fascinating and the museum proved to be really interesting with some really nice informational displays, definitely worth a gander if your in the area.

From there I wanted to get a look at the more historic parts of the South Rim so I headed to the lodge area, which was definitely a congested traffic area, after driving around the area three times I did finally manage to find some parking. I had read a sign about an exhibit at the Kolb Studio that was actually featuring an exhibit about the Kolb Brothers that lived and photographed around the Grand Canyon in the early 1900’s. The Kolb Studio itself was constructed in 1904-1905 and is quite the site to see, teetering on the edge of the canyon rim, offering beautiful veiws of the canyon below. The exhibit was awesome, I had honestly never before heard of this duo but their story is definitely one of adventure and intrigue, exploring and photographing the whole region of the Grand Canyon in a time when few people had ever stepped foot in this wilderness. The exhibit ran the entire summer there at the Kolb Studio but according to the website it appears that it ended on September 3rd. If they show it again I have to say that it is worth a trip to check it out. Here is a link to the exhibit information page presented by The Grand Canyon Association.

I also ended up buying a book, Through the Grand Canyon: from Wyoming to Mexico, by Ellsworth L. Kolb, one of the Kolb brothers. I’ve only made it a short ways into the book so far but it seems like a good read. The  brothers decided that they wanted to be the first ones to run the Grand Canyon while shooting a motion picture camera, capturing the adventure live. The book was written by Ellsworth after the adventure. 

From there my quick trip was pretty much done, I returned for dinner with my family at a fantastic little Thai Restaurant in downtown Flagstaff.

But the seed had been planted and I wasn’t quite done with The Canyon yet…

I’ll be posting my trip report from the North Rim soon…

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