Capturing An Arizona Gem
Grand Falls is one of the most rewarding places to visit and photograph in Arizona. While it’s not nearly as popular or really well known, one can argue that it is just as “grand” as the Grand Canyon.
If there was one thing that stood out to me about Grand Falls, it would have to be how isolated I felt when being there. For such a beautiful treasure in Arizona, there really weren’t many tourists. Instead, I felt like I saw some locals (Navajo) enjoying one of the best parts of their land and even then there weren’t that many. This allowed the place to feel a bit more personal and less commercialized, like other places I’ve visited in Arizona.
At approximately 190ft. from top to bottom, Grand Falls is actually taller than Niagara Falls. Personally, I found this statistic stunning. However, the falls kind of hides its height very well. Unlike Niagara, these falls stair step down in layers. In the photo above, you can only see two layers or steps of the falls. From above, you can see even more!
Unlike Niagara, these falls only flow a few days out of the year. Visiting the falls after a major rain can be beneficial. Another time is during the spring. During the spring, snow melt in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico creates enough “flow” to get water flowing at the falls. So what about the other times of year? Well for most days in the calendar, Grand Falls is nothing but a trickle or even bone dry.
My first experience to Grand Falls was really memorable. I truly found this place to exceed my expectations. The photo above was captured with only about 100 cubic feet per second flow. Can you imagine what it would be like with 2000+ cubic feet per second?
Day Trips From Phoenix | Episode 1 “Grand Falls”
Tips for Photographing the Grand Falls
Grand Falls is actually a pretty easy place to photograph. The real challenge is making sure there is water when you get there and actually getting there itself. The road(s) out to the falls are unpaved and require you to travel 10+ miles from any paved road. While most of the road out to the falls is a decent graded dirt road (washboard like at times), the final 1/2 mile or so is very rough uneven. A 4 x 4 with high clearance is STRONGLY recommended for the final trek to the falls. Also, make sure you are vigilant to the road. There are lots of spurs off this dirt road, so it is possible to get lost without a good sense of direction or GPS especially at night. Also make sure you do not cross the Little Colorado River, especially if there is water flowing. Even high clearance vehicles can be swept away by flash flooding especially if you visit after a strong thunderstorm.
- Be patient: The water doesn’t have a strong flow most of the year. So make sure you go when there is water flow. The photo above was captured with about 100 cubic feet per second. These flows can change drastically depending on snow melt and rain. Please visit this USGS website for updated flow information from Winslow (approximately 2 days upstream) and compare it to the Cameron site down stream.
- Use an ND Filter: This is VERY important. This allows you to capture very eye appealing “silky smooth” waterfalls. While ND Filters can be expensive, I used an inexpensive ICE 52mm ND 1000 on this trip and got fantastic results!
- Use a tripod: If you are using an ND filter you have to use a tripod. Even without the filter, I ALWAYS recommend any landscapes being shot with a tripod. I like traveling / hiking with the Manfroot BeFree compact tripod.
- Hike around: Don’t be afraid to walk around. There are many fantastic angles of the falls. From high above, to down below. Make sure you are mindful of water flow. I personally wouldn’t hike down when water is flowing at a very strong rate. Other than that, get out and explore and make sure you experience the falls from more than one angle.
- Stay for Sunrise or Sunset: I personally found the falls to “glow” during the final hour of the day. This golden color is similar to what you see at the Grand Canyon, painted desert, or even Sedona. I guess you can’t call it the “golden-hour” for nothing.
- Don’t be afraid to zoom in: Most people shoot the falls with a wide or even ultra wide angle lens. Personally, I find some of the individual layers of the falls to be just as interesting/exciting. Don’t be afraid to zoom in and capture one or two individual falls.
- Be mindful of weather: Weather can change and when you are not prepared for it, a trip can turn south quickly. Remember that the roads out to the falls are dirt. If it rains, these roads can become flooded and or muddy. This is another reason why a 4 x 4 is recommended and even then, a bad road is a bad road. Don’t allow yourself to get caught unprepared.
- Be respectful of the land: Grand Falls is located on the Navajo Nation. According to the Navajo Nation Parks, a backcountry recreational pass is required for all non tribal members. Also please keep the area clean. What ever you bring in, make sure you bring out of the site. This is their land, and as visitors we need to be respect and understand that we are guests to their land.
For more information about Grand Falls, please visit their official website here: