A Surprise Snowstorm in the Grand Canyon

May 24, 2024

By Jon Petrescu

The stone monolith at the narrow Shoshone Point lookout in the Grand Canyon.

The Amblers Boss of the Sedona Westerners hiking club, Jan Taylor, has extensive knowledge of the Grand Canyon having taken more than twenty rafting tours of the Colorado River. However, in late April, even she could not have predicted the weather the Amblers experienced on their day trip to the South Rim. We all knew there was a potential for rain as we loaded into our cars northward bound for our two-and-a-half-hour drive. But off we went anyway.

Our caravan made a couple of stops along the way. First, in Flagstaff where the temperature change was already evident. But it was when we approached the darkening skies near Tusayan, we really started to wonder which was going to arrive at the Canyon first – us or the approaching storm? We braced ourselves with cups of warm coffee, and at least one of our hikers took the opportunity to buy a warm sweatshirt from one of the gift shops while others picked up some rain ponchos. Both were needed, as it turned out.

Despite the weather, we were in line behind a multitude of vehicles for about twenty minutes at the entrance waiting to get in. Our first stop was at the Shoshone Trail trailhead on the east side of the park. It was far colder and blustery than we expected, and we all put on our extra layers of clothing. Because Shoshone Point is one of the few viewpoints that does not have a guard rail, the walk out to the point is exposed, and very ledgy - and as we all know there is a very big drop to the bottom of the canyon – some of our hikers opted to not go all the way out to the point. Strong winds also discouraged a few and they stayed back and waited at the covered picnic tables near the end of the trail.

The vista from the point offered spectacular views of the deep canyon with its sloping, multi-layered rock formations. Due to the cloudy skies and distant visible rain, the colors of the canyon’s different layers appeared brighter than when seen in the bright sun. Jan described the nine major rock layers that make up the walls of the canyon - with the oldest being almost two billion years old - and gave us a memory device sentence to remember them: “Know the Canyon’s History—Study Rocks Made By Time.” (Kaibab Limestone, Toroweap Formation, Coconino Sandstone, Hermit Shale, Supai Group, Redwall Limestone, Muav Limestone, Bright Angel Shale, and Tapeats Sandstone.)

Though we were enjoying the view - despite the increasing wind - lighting was seen in the far distance, and we decided to rejoin the others under the shelter of the picnic area and enjoy a little snack.

On our walk back to the cars, the wind increased even more, and the temperature started dropping quickly. As we arrived at the parking lot it started raining and we were all very happy to get in our cars and turn the heaters on.

From there, our route continued eastward along the rim and the rest of our adventure was now a driving expedition – with several planned stops at a few scenic overlooks on our way toward Cameron.

As we drove toward Moran Point it started snowing and quickly turned into a mini blizzard. Snow was accumulating and the road became a little slushy. The temperature dropped from a high of 48F to 34F by the time we arrived at Moran Point. With the wind, it was very chilly. We were glad to have the hiking part of our day behind us already.

At Moran Point, the snow turned to rain. Battling the strong wind, we took only a few minutes to look out over the canyon and the Colorado River below and we were soon back into the warmth of our cars. We continued east to Lipan Point where the rain decreased and there were patches of sun reaching some of the walls on the north side, great for taking some photos. Next, we were off to Navajo Point where the views were spectacular, but it was still very cold and windy, though there was almost no rain.

Our final stop in the park was Desert View. There was no rain here, just wind, and everyone was able to make a needed pit stop. We gathered in the tower to warm up and spent time taking photos from inside the tower through their large windows with protection from the cold weather outside. A few made purchases of Grand Canyon memorabilia items.

Since none of the Navajo viewpoint stops along the Little Colorado from the park to Cameron were open, we continued on to Cameron Trading Post for a look at the Little Colorado River and the old bridge over it. The river was muddy from the rush of the snowmelt through the narrow canyon. At the historic trading post, we enjoyed an early dinner – and delicious, individually packaged cookies brought by fellow Westerner, Christina Loggia.

It was a long ten-hour day, but from conversations at dinner, all of us had a visit to the Grand Canyon we will long remember because of the cold weather, the blizzard we drove through, and not least of all, the beautiful, unique views of the Grand Canyon this weather event provided.  And of course, the companionship of our fellow Westerners.

The 2023-2024 hiking season has ended for the Sedona Westerners. We have one more article lined up for the Sedona Red Rock News next week, then we will be off for the summer. Our new hiking season will begin again in September so be sure to check out our website at www.SedonaWesterners.org for more information about the hiking club. We look forward to seeing you on the trails.

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