Winter at Grand Canyon: a breathtaking thick layer of snow.

“Flexible Under Pressure.” What? Snow at the Grand Canyon has hidden the view? Now what? Bend in a new direction! It’s time to adapt.

“There’s just something beautiful about walking on snow nobody else has walked on. It makes you believe you’re special.”
–Carol Ricks Brunt

“White-out.” We aren’t talking about the “White-Out” we used when typing…remember that stuff? This white-out meant all I could see out of my lens was nothingness. I tried to find something to show the canyon in snow. Was I disappointed? Well, momentarily, yes. But there is something to discover in the beauty of the thick layers of snow at the Grand Canyon. Time to explore!  Photo by Bill Marson.

Exploring winter at the Grand Canyon.

But is it a complete disappointment if you can’t see the canyon?

The Rim trail, usually a highly-trafficked tourist walk, only had two footprints in the thick snow. So we trudged the same steps, leading us towards our first look into the canyon after a day and night waiting out the snowstorm. The few people at the canyon this morning had either planned to stay over or were stranded here. The highway and county road leading to the canyon were shut down during the night due to the blowing snow.
At the Yavapai Point guardrail, our anticipation of photographing snow-dusted rock layers and uplifted plateaus with a powder-white dusting disappeared in a dense fog.
The panel describing where to look for the historic suspension bridge down below was ironically crusted with snow and ice. Unfortunately, if today was your only visit, that detail was lost to the weather.

On a clear day, it still is a struggle to see the historic suspension bridge that crosses the Colorado River. But a long zoom lens helps. I took this shot the day before the storm hit. What a contrast! The next day, there was nothing to see but white fog and clouds.

What does winter at the Grand Canyon look like?

A big change: snow at Grand Canyon.

The storm had erased the depths below us and continued to lay a new snow cover on top of the previous. The north rim was still slightly visible, but the rest of the canyon was missing.
I spoke to the couple standing at the guardrail. This was their first visit from Australia. I promised them that there was a fantastic canyon in front of them. I hoped they had more than just today for this visit.
To the east, where the sun should be rising, a squall was gathering strength and progressing to shut down the only opening of morning light. This was not the snowstorm we had hoped for, but the reality of outdoor photography is that you are a slave to the conditions nature provides.

What does it look like at the rim with snow falling? There’s little visibility, as you can witness in this video short. I was mesmerized by how the wind carried the snowflakes deep into the canyon below. It seemed as though there was a magnet drawing them downward. If you bundle up, a visit during winter at the Grand Canyon gives you a different perspective that is stunning in its simplicity.


“Kaibab Trail.” If you’ve hiked the Grand Canyon, there’s a good chance you’ve been on the Kaibab Trail. You can see the trail on the lower right side of this photo and how it winds through the canyon walls. What a different vantage during winter at Grand Canyon.


“The Squall Approaches.” The rim looked like a Christmas postcard, but that storm cloud was moving in and swallowing what we could see of the North Rim and the depths of the Grand Canyon.


“Twisted.” When I’m in a situation where what I expected to shoot isn’t working well, I try to think of another way to portray the scene. With the sky white, I isolated some gnarly trees hanging onto life at the rim’s edge, making a fun abstract impressionistic photo.

Could we wait out a winter storm at the Grand Canyon?

Would the clouds break up enough to light up the depths of the canyon?

We continued down the rim path. Optimistic, we hoped conditions would change. As we trudged forward in the untouched snow, we knew we were the trailblazers this morning.
We each tried to capture a few shots. However, the squall headed towards us with a stiff wind, the enemy of most photography, further chilling what I considered cold. And it put a damper on getting the canyon views with snow. Visibility was dropping fast.

“Get What You Can.” Winter at the Grand Canyon means you may have to run if you want to capture the shot. Weather moves fast, and visibility changes in an instant. This photo of Bill is from a few minutes before he took the photo of me looking out into a monochrome white scene. That’s when we made the decision to head into the forest away from the rim.

Would the storm pass for us?

Time for flexibility and a change of plans.

Our best bet was to head to a trail more protected by trees and explore more intimate scenes of the forest flocked in the year’s first snowfall.
“To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake, it is necessary to stand out in the cold.”

“Art in Motion.” Taking my impressionistic image of the forest covered in a thick quilt of snow, I added the feeling of snow falling softly along with a relaxing, gentle acoustic accompaniment.

Witnessing the storm’s start.


A study of snowfall in three seconds.


Beauty at the Grand Canyon extends out beyond the rim.

Especially with snow at the Grand Canyon.

There’s a deep peace walking in fresh snow. You want to be quiet. It’s like visiting a temple or historic cathedral. Or maybe it’s a protective device of ours buried deep –a safety behavior so we don’t unnecessarily tip off an avalanche. However, there was no danger of that here.
I wished for cross-country skis to glide through this pristine setting. Instead, I lugged my camera gear backpack, growing heavier on my back, with my lungs trying to adjust to altitude and effort. I cursed the high-altitude headache that was trying to command all my attention. I reminded myself to look around and absorb the surroundings.
There’s a simplicity to a landscape when snow covers details. The rough surface of the rock, soil, and brush is molded with soft curves. Sharp points of yuccas and agaves are only hints through the snowdrifts. A union of piñons, Ponderosa pines, Gambel oaks, and junipers catch and hold as much snow as their limbs can bear as though giving the land some reprieve.

Did I have expectations from a trip two years prior?

The trees were magical with the flocking of snow they held. But I was eager to get to the McKee Amphitheater. Two years prior, I’d gotten a shot of the snow building up on empty benches. Afterward, I wished I’d shot from a few other angles, but we had to move on. On that day two years prior, the storm was letting up, and we had to get back to the rim with the group we were with. In retrospect, it was worth it because the storm clouds provided a stunning show, hiding and revealing parts of the north rim and depths as I’d never seen. You can check that image out here.
But this snowstorm provided much more snow. And there was no sign of the storm letting up anytime soon. I was curious to see how it had transformed the seating area. But would I be the first to arrive? If footsteps were in the aisles, the shot wouldn’t work as I envisioned.
As I got closer to the entrance, there were footprints. I held my breath. I was not the first one here. But the prints stopped short of the benches and turned back on themselves. Phew.
Why I’m drawn to this liminal space, I’m not exactly sure.  Empty of people? The curves? The graphic patterns from the benches?
I was relieved that no one had tromped on the amphitheater scene. I had my fill of shooting the benches over and over from different angles.

Abstract winter landscapes.


The forest in winter is not as asleep as it appears.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. I stopped. The motion was a bird flying into branch cover. As hard as I tried, the snow now offered even more of a disguise, and I couldn’t be sure if I’d seen a larger bird like a stellar Jay or dark-eyed Junco. It could even have been smaller, like a mountain chickadee or Pygmy nuthatch. The motion was swift.
Standing still and waiting to see turned into a stalemate of stamina. And walking kept my blood moving. So I finally called ‘uncle’ in my head and moved on down the trail.
I saw that movement again. Now, this bird is playing with me. If I try, I don’t see him, but if I don’t, he appears but only to get me more curious. I created excuses for my lack of playing hide and seek better. Could all the white from the snow affect my vision? Or the cold slowed my reflexes?  Or all of the layers to keep me warm with the pack on my back slowed my ability to maneuver?
As I plodded down the trail, I thought of how the birds, the trees, and the elk we’d passed in the snowstorm survived through these extremes: the cold of winter and the heat of summer; drought and downpours;  howling winds; constant changes. Imagining living outside in the elements with little shelter made me feel humble. 
Later, in the comfort of the car, and attempting to bring feeling back to my fingers, we saw several deer resting under trees. Bill saw a scene in the trees he wanted to capture, so he stopped and worked that.
While he was shooting, I observed the deer from my comfort. They appeared relaxed, laying under trees for some cover, although the snow still fell on their coats. I imagined that, like a horse finally gets perturbed by a fly buzzing around its eyes, the deer would eventually shake the flakes off their face.
But at this moment, these deer appeared to be deeply contented. They’d pushed the snow away to reveal a pile of pine needles, and without any other care, chewed on those slowly to pass the time.

Photo by Bill Marson.

What a deep peace there is in accepting what is.

Like the simplicity of firstborn snow.

What I love about this snow globe world, with most of the colors and textures hidden, is that we are left with simplicity. Not just the simplicity of shapes and forms but the space mentally to experience a moment unrushed. Our imagination has room to expand, to allow a new story to unfold.
The best symbol of hope is to start the new year with fresh snow and a perspective that anything is possible. And hope is why we focus on a new year with resolutions and new intentions. But we quickly realize we must stay flexible when things don’t go as planned. Like this snowstorm.
We can only control ourselves. We can’t redirect the weather, the stock market, the global stage, or the people around us. But we are in charge of our thoughts and reactions. And when we accomplish that, we feel a deep sense of peace.
I choose to believe in the beauty of snow. Snowfall convinces me there is magic.

Make room for art.

“White-Tailed Ptarmigan.” The Internet says there’s only one bird on our planet that turns from brown to white in the winter. And when I created this photo with intentional motion, the feeling of white feathers was my first reaction. Besides, my mom always wanted to see a ptarmigan, and maybe from where she’s at, she’s smiling. 

“Unfilled.” I am attracted to this setting in winter because of what it represents. Liminal space is described as a space between what is and what will happen next. We recognize dramatically the transition from summer to winter here, from a full amphitheater to unfilled rows of seats; symbolically, this scene can represent shifts in thinking or transitions.


“Undaunted.” This minimalistic black-and-white image is another of my intentional camera motion shots. I wanted to show how these Ponderosa pines stand and take it. The wind in the night was relentless, smacking the tree trunks with blowing snow. And yet, they take it undaunted.

“Twisted.” Old gnarly trees are like mythical legends. As I admired these trees living on a rocky ledge, I slowly moved my camera. The ghost-like limbs gave the sense of wind gusts. There was color in the trunk, from the greens of lichen growing on the dark sienna bark to the golden red of raw wood. Using a pointillism effect in post-processing gives the feeling that Seurat himself had been to the canyon in winter.

“Slow Motion.” Deep in the forest, with this thick accumulation of snow in the pine boughs, I felt like I’d stepped into a fairy tale. Snow was clinging to the trunks of trees, pulling the branches down, and piling up in drifts. The result of a slight movement of my camera increased the intensity of that snowy dream world.


“Intricate.” It is an intricate job to pull the car over safely to the side of the road while it is snowing. But I saw this Gambel oak with the most amazing network of branches outlined in snow. And it had to be done. Interestingly, this was the day the snow started, and going back to look at this tree after a night of intense snowfall, it had lost much of the definition of the branches due to the load of snow it was shouldering. If you see it, take the shot!


Which room is your favorite?

Let me know in the comments below. It’s fun to see what resonates with you. And I appreciate you wanting to see what I saw. Thank you!

Head silhouette with Grand Canyon layers inside

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Calm for everyone.

Discover more peace with abstract photos that tell stories. 

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