By Sara Goodnick
An Arizona destination known only to a few but definitely worth a visit is Grand Falls. Also called Chocolate Falls, it only runs during certain times of the year. Its source, the Little Colorado River, fills with runoff from White Mountain snowmelt during the spring. Sometimes during the summer monsoon it will also flow.
Located 30 east of Flagstaff on the Navajo Reservation. Take Interstate 40 to exit 211 at Winona. Go 2.3 miles to Leupp Rd. and turn right. Go 15 miles to Indian road 70 and turn left. (There is a small sign that reads” Grand Fall Bible Church” at the intersection unless it has fallen down.) Go 8.4 miles and you are there. Allow at least 40 minutes from the freeway exit.
Don’t cross the river in your vehicle. If you get to the river you have just missed the the left turn to the overlook, so turn around and retrace your drive for a short distance.
The road is rough because of the washboard condition. Most passenger cars unless very low to the ground should be fine in dry conditions. However, once you leave IR 70 and go towards the overlook the road gets rocky and rough. You may not want to continue in your vehicle, or it might be ok. It is an isolated area far from any help. Take your cell phone and tell others where you are going and when you plan to return just in case.
Besides our cameras, we used Neutral Density filters, polarizers, sturdy tripods, lenses from 14mm to 70. Hiking boots or sturdy shoes with gripping treads are highly recommended.
When my friends and I visited in mid April, it was flowing beautifully. However, there was a fierce wind and it was really cold especially with the wind-chill. Fortunately the wind was blowing us away from the edge. Unfortunately, it also blew a lot of spray into our lenses. Keep your lens cloth handy.
At the Falls
I had been advised it is best photographed towards sunset, so that’s when we arrived. It was cloudy, but the sun finally broke through at the end only to cast a big shadow across the falls. There are several spots along the falls and the river to observe and photograph. Do not go too close to the edge as it could be and probably is unstable!
There is a narrow rocky path to the bottom, which we heard was very muddy so we didn’t go down. There was plenty to see along the top for this trip.
There are some covered observation decks, a sloping picnic table, and a pit toilet. BYOTP. Please leave no trace when you visit.
Sara Goodnick, M.Photog, CPP
Sara Goodnick is a Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes.