Mar 14

Grand Falls

Category: Arizona

Today I went on another visit to a favorite place – Grand Falls.  It lies on the Navajo reservation east of Flagstaff, where the little Colorado river was dammed in antiquity by lava from a nearby cinder cone. The lava dam forced the river to re-route and spill back over the side of its own gorge further downstream, creating a spectacular waterfall.  Arizona climate being what it is, the river’s water level differs radically depending upon the season, so if you want to see a thundering cataract, check the water flow before going.  It’s generally decent if the flow above and below the falls are greater than 150 CFM.

Here are instructions for how to check on the water flow, from Joel Hazelton on hikearizona.com:

Go to this link: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/az/nwis/current/?type=flow

Scroll down to “Little Colorado River Basin”, and under that you want to look for “Little Colorado River at Winslow, AZ” and “Little Colorado River at Cameron, AZ.” All the way to the right side of the page there should be 3 columns with numbers in them. The center column represents the cubic feet per second. You’ll want to check the cubic feet per second for both of those locations.

Today (7/20), it is flowing at 3.9 cfs through Winslow. In order for there to be a good show of water, it should be flowing at several HUNDRED CFS through both Winslow AND Cameron. Sometimes, after storms or snowmelt, Winslow will be flowing well but not yet at Cameron. It should be flowing well at both gauges, since Grand Falls is between the two towns. There’s always a chance, especially if it is a slower flood during spring snowmelt, that the high water has made it to Winslow but not quite to the falls.

On this day, the flow was a little less than 200 CFM above and below, and it looked pretty good – not as good as I’ve seen in the past, but very impressive. The company was excellent – my friend Juanita, a fellow Flagstaff Freethinker, and my dog Tycho.

Directions: A 4WD or AWD, medium/high clearance vehicle is preferred, but if the weather is good, a car can make it back there – but I wouldn’t do it in a car. To get there from Flagstaff, 40 East to Exit 211(Townsend Winona road) and turn left. In about 2 miles, turn Right onto Leupp Rd. Drive until you are on the Rez (there will be a sign on the right welcoming you to the Navajo Reservation).  Between mile markers 5 and 6, look for road 6910 on the left.  It’s just a washboard dirt road; drive about 9 miles or until you hit the river, where you can stop and park.  Walk up the mound and towards the little shelters.You can also drive right to the gorge by backtracking a few hundred yards and going up the small hill.

The view back towards the peaks is wonderful.

Things were just beginning to bloom:

The upper falls was flowing pretty well, so we knew it would be good when we got to the chasm. One of things I really like about these falls is that if you haven’t seen them before, until you get right up on them, you have no idea how cool it will be.

You can see how the red sandstone is capped with black lava that dripped over the edge.  When in the gorge, the northeast wall is sandstone, and the other wall is black lava that is very crystalline and looks like dark bricks. The volume of lava is very impressive. I read somewhere that it might have come from Merriam crater, which is a few miles away.

The river collects a lot of trash on its trip, and the currents at the falls create a garbage gyre of impressive size.

Tycho was losing his mind because of all the balls: basketballs, soccer balls, volleyballs, beach balls, super bouncy balls, you name it – it was there.

On the way back to the car, a small dog was barking plaintively from an island in the middle of the upper falls.  It looks afraid and lost, but i didn’t know what to do about it.  Suddenly a larger dog burst out of the bushes, swam across the river, and led the small dog back to shore!  When we got back to the car, they were underneath. These feral animals were not violent, but they were afraid.  I could tell they were sweet and lured them out with treats.  I think it was a mother and her juvenile pup. They seemed to desire human company but were incredibly skittish.  Every time I raised my camera, they crawled under the car. When we left, they ran after us for about half a mile.  It broke my heart to leave them there!  But they didn’t look emaciated; they are getting by somehow.  I don’t know if they belong to some ranch out there, but from their reaction to us, I rather doubt it.

2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. John May 16th, 2015 10:46 AM

    The view of the Grand Falls is just magnificent. Thank you very much for sharing.

  2. J. Dodson August 9th, 2015 10:20 AM

    Hey, this is a great post! I haven’t been there yet, so it was great to get some info and see all the angles of the falls. I will be prepared when I go now. The part about the Rez dogs was sad. :( Thanks for writing! I check in every once in a while and it’s always fun.
    -J

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