Grand Canyon Snow
Photo: Dawn light from Mather Point, Grand Canyon
In mid April I spent a week on the road around the desert southwest, which is mostly a new area for me. The original plan was to head up to Bishop for a week of bouldering/climbing and hopefully some nice sunny springtime weather. Though seeing as how I haven’t been climbing much lately, I was slightly hesitant that the Buttermilks would tear my fingers apart on the first day and I’d spend the rest of my time sitting around and getting fat on pullaway bread. And so, after a quick stop at REI in Northridge I plugged the Grand Canyon into the GPS. Hmm, it’s far, but not that far, I can get there before dark. And so I headed east instead of north.
Passing into Arizona the skies got darker. Eventually rain began to fall, which turned to sleet and then snow. Arriving at the campground on the south rim by evening, winter had fully arrived. I knew the Grand Canyon received some snow, especially the north rim, but in April? I checked the weather forecast outside the campground office: snow on Saturday, storm clearing by Sunday morning. Cool! I thought, should get a good sunrise opportunity on Sunday. So I go to pay for 2 nights at the campground where I receive the news.
“You can only stay for tonight.” the ranger lady says.
“What? are you full tomorrow or is there too much snow?” I ask.
“No. Congress hasn’t passed the federal budget, so the park is closing tomorrow” I’m told.
“What! seriously?” I mumble in disbelief, getting slightly disgruntled that I may have just driven all this way to only see snow and clouds.
“Yup, No budget means we have to shut down. All other national parks as well”
Bugger. I scramble across the parking lot and through the falling snow back to my truck. A rant full of colorful language runs through my head as I drive to my snow covered campsite for the night. Luckily, while eating noodle soup and listening to fuzzy AM radio from a station too far away to for a clear signal, I hear some emergency budget was passed. I cross my fingers that things should be normal on Saturday and set my alarm for 5am, just in case the storm clears.
Photo: Camp on Saturday morning
Photo: Poor visibility during storm on Saturday morning
Photo: hiking the snowy, muddy Bright Angel trail, Grand Canyon
Photo: Snow covered upper section of Bright Angel trail with view across canyon, Grand Canyon
Saturday arrives with a dull gray and snow still falling, nearly a foot of it now covering the campsite picnic bench. Driving to the canyon rim over the unplowed roads, the visibility is zero. I had a bit of fun driving around the snow covered roads and seeing how close I could get to being stuck. A little before noon the storm began lifting and I wandered a ways down Bright Angel trail. Lots of poor souls were making the hike out of the canyon, many wearing sandals or other light footwear that would normally be appropriate for the hot and dry canyon. Now they were trudging through boggy snow which turned the trail into a sloppy, muddy mess. My trail runners were quickly soaked as well. Wet feet on day one, welcome to my life… good thing I had a spare set of shoes.
The last time I was at the Grand Canyon was some 14-15 years ago as a teenager, so I really had no idea where to go or what to see. I did what’s probably the most obvious thing and waited for sunset at Mather Point. Clouds to the west blocked the sun before it was very low and any color arrived. I was actually slightly content with this as the wind was bitterly cold, and my still wet shoes left me daydreaming of a warm dinner and sleeping bag more than a nice sunset.
Woke up early again Sunday and headed back to Mather point, trying not to slip on the ice covered pathways. While Friday night in the storm was cold, Saturday night’s clear skies dropped the temps to near arctic. Everything inside my truck was frozen, and I was a bit slow moving. Some nice light arrived, only witnessed by a brave few of us. I’ve no idea how rare snow is here, but I’m glad I got to see it, even if it meant a bit of suffering from time to time.
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Photo: Snow covered south rim of Grand Canyon
Photo: Sunrise from Mather point, Grand Canyon