“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in the symbols of speech nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. The glories and beauties of form, color and sound unite in the Grand Canyon… It has infinite variety and no part is ever duplicated. Its colors, although many and complex at any instant, change with the ascending and declining sun.” John Wesley Powell, 1909
NIKON D800E, f/16 @ 125 mm, 1/4, ISO 200
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Reporting from the North Pole .... Actually, make that the freezing Grand Canyon, South Rim in Northern Arizona. In fact, the road and highway (Highway 67) to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park (Jacob's Lake) are closed from November to Spring due to heavy snows. It's hard to comprehend this kind of elevation based weather, such a short drive from the high Sonoran Desert area of Phoenix. More interesting yet is the stark contrast to a couple of weeks ago - New Year's weekend - when the canyon was blanketed in snow, ice and low lying storm clouds.
This is all part of the Grand Canyon intrigue: Ever changing weather and shifting light further dramatize this overwhelming majestic geological wonderland. While every season brings a new celebration of nature, the white dusting of snow and soft winter light add yet another degree of complexity to the intricate layered canyon walls.
With a momentary break in the clouds, a few buttes bask in warm sunlight. The magical light of the "golden hour" is fleeting during winter storm season, given the remarkably fast movement of clouds and sporadic snow flurries. Yet, my memories of these times on the rim remain vivid, conjuring strong visual images along with the unforgettable sense of touch in the cold, the sound of relentless wind and crunch of snow beneath our feet.
Although the upper trails and shaded areas were still snow packed, little snow remained on the canyon walls at the time of our mid-January visit. The South Rim elevation is 6,800 to 7,400 feet, with rim edge having a significant wind chill factor. It was wicked cold, around 3 degrees F at daybreak, reaching a high of 25 degrees F by mid-afternoon. While the cold seemed bearable at first, strong winds in the open rim areas quickly "chilled us to the bone."
NIKON D800E,f/16 @ 102 mm, 3s, ISO 200
On our last Saturday evening at the Grand Canyon, it was clear, wicked cold and windy on the South Rim edge. I shot very few photos, mainly due to the rather harsh light and memories of recent, more dramatic photo ops at this same location.
But not so fast .... Evening graced us with a brief, but intense pink glowing sky just after sundown. In post processing, I found myself reducing the color saturation to make the intense pink color seem a bit more believable.
It was an evening we will never forget ...
NIKON D800E,f/18 @ 135 mm, 0.5s, ISO 200
Below are a couple of composite images created by using a hyper-focal technique; "stacking" a series of photos with different focus points to achieve maximum depth of field. With the camera set on manual focus at a fixed exposure reading, the lens is manually focused on several points (5 -7 or more points) from the closest object in the foreground to the extreme background (infinity).
This approach allows the photographer to use the "sweet" spot in lens aperture, e.g., f/8 -f/11, to achieve maximum picture quality and to shoot a relatively fast shutter speeds. The images are systematically combined in post processing, using Helicon Focus software.
Pink Afterglow at Dusk
NIKON D800E,f/16 @ 86 mm, 0.6s, ISO 200
These particular scenes are from late afternoon at Mather Point on New Year' Eve, in the aftermath of major snowfall.
Related post: Grand Canyon Part 3.
Nikon D800E, f/7.1 @ 180 mm, 1/320, ISO 200.
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For more winter photography, see Yosemite Winter Landscapes: Photography Field Notes and Deepfreeze Landscape Photography: Images from Flagstaff, Arizona.
Your humble frost bitten reporter,
Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer
Landscape photography techniques, photo expedition travel planning and hiking tips.