The Grand Falls of the Little Colorado River is a waterfall that formed where the Little Colorado River cuts through layers of sandstone where that rock meets ancient lava flows. The fall are indeed “grand” — when the river is flowing. But more often than not, when I’ve flown over in the past, the water was just a trickle and the falls weren’t very Grand at all.
Located about ten miles from pavement on a gravel road that switches from washboard to mud to the crushed volcanic rock used so often for road beds here and back to washboard more times than I can count, the Falls are within the Navajo Reservation in Northen Arizona. The are not easy to find without directions or the help of a GPS; there are no signs. GoogleMaps got me there and even then I almost missed the turn for the parking area. It was only because I knew what I what I was looking for — the shaded lookouts and pit toilet building — that I was able to navigate the final quarter mile and avoid Google’s misdirection.
The sky was overcast — I’d actually driven through thick fog for the first five or so miles from pavement — and the day was gray. But the Falls were flowing — no surprise considering the rain overnight — and putting on quite a show for the handful of intrepid tourists who had made their way to the site. Reddish brown water, heavy with silt, cascaded over the wide rock shelves, filling the air with thunderous sound. It’s no wonder the Grand Falls are nicknamed the “chocolate falls”; as one friend who saw the photo I posted on Facebook said, “It looks like chocolate milk.”
I took photos from several angles, walking right up to the edge of the cliff more than a few times. These shots were from my iPhone and include a panorama image, but I also had my Nikon with me and made use of my 10-24mm lens to fit the whole Falls in. We stayed for about an hour. At one point, I thought the sun might break through — it was shining down canyon — but the clouds moved quickly to close the gap. It was just starting to rain when we left.
I need to note here that the Falls are a lot grander in the spring, when runoff fills the river with water. On those days, you can see mist rising from the Falls long before you reach them. Don’t be disappointed if you come and find them nearly dry.