August and December, 2017
After our winter experience in January photographing the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, we were looking forward to visiting again during the middle of August when the annual monsoon season brings intermittent but intense summer storms that carry with them the potential for thunder and lightning. This is also peak tourist season and much of the south rim can only be accessed by the park transit system. As the eastern auto-route was open, we decided to concentrate on the morning and evening locations that predictably cough up great sunrise and sunset landscapes. We weren’t disappointed as fluffy cumulonimbus clouds created incredible red skies. However, other than a single afternoon downpour, the expected monsoon weather had taken a hiatus leaving us mildly disappointed but enjoying familiar locations such as Lipan, Moran and Navajo Points. The highlight was sunrise at Yaki Point, a location we hadn’t previously visited.
Although the South Rim vistas are stunning and easily accessible, in our opinion the North Rim locations are much more intimate, bringing you closer to canyon icons such as the Vishnu Temple which can only be placed as distant but visible objects in photographs captured in locations such as Duck on a Rock. At this time of year, there are predictable sunrise and sunset locations that won’t disappoint. Although the road to Cape Royal is a narrow and winding nightmare to drive, the vistas surrounding the Vishnu Temple and Wotan’s Throne can produce great compositions bathed in sweet evening light. We had a similar late afternoon experience at the Wahalla Overlook. An incredible morning location is Imperial Point where the sun lights up Mount Hayden and casts shadows throughout the surrounding landscape. Eliminating the sky from compositions creates a “layered” effect as the hills cascade into the distance. The Angel’s Window on the Cape Royal route is another good morning site as the sun can produce a visible beam through the rock opening. There are two good spots to capture this effect but the upper location is dangerous as there is no railing. It’s a site that should be scouted in daylight and requires a headlamp for predawn setup. We did make an afternoon visit to Greenland Lake where the historic Bar Z Ranch salt cabin is still standing. It’s not an especially photogenic structure as positioning for compositions is difficult given the trees that have been removed as a precaution against fire destroying the structure. In our opinion, it’s a definite miss.
We plan to return to the canyon as “monsoon” photography is an attraction we still want to experience. There are also birds and wildlife in the area that we’d love to photograph, especially the tassel-eared Abert’s and Kaibab Squirrels that are prevalent on the South and North Rim’s respectively. We had no trouble locating then but were surprised to learn that their tufted ears are a winter phenomenon that would have to await a later visit.
We also scouted locations for Saguaro cactus in the Phoenix area and found some awesome sites near Fountain Hills at McDowell Mountain Regional Park that would make great sunrise and sunset images. We took a few daylight documentary images and posted them in the above Gallery.