Grand Canyon Clouds, Fog, and a Moonrise

I have traveled up to the South Rim of Grand Canyon several times in the past few weeks to get interesting weather and cloud photographs.

Fog begins to spill over the rim of Grand Canyon.
Fog begins to spill over the rim of Grand Canyon.

Two weeks ago, we spent two nights at the South Rim waiting for a winter storm to arrive and drop some snow on the higher elevations of the canyon. The storm went too far south and Grand Canyon got nothing but some clouds and a bit of fog. Flagstaff, on the other hand, got about 8″ on snow—which we had to clear from our driveway when we returned.

A thin layer of fog on the South Rim of Grand Canyon.
A thin layer of fog on the South Rim of Grand Canyon.
A zoomed-in view of the fog on the canyon rim.
A zoomed-in view of the fog on the canyon rim.
As the sun rose higher it illuminated the canyon below Hopi Point.
As the sun rose higher it illuminated the canyon below Hopi Point.

The other goal on that trip was to catch the rising nearly-full moon as it climbed above Cape Royal on the North Rim. That worked out well as the clouds had dissipated by late afternoon. This image was shot as a 12-frame panorama (6 across, 2 rows) resulting in an image of ~200 megapixels. There is a lot of detail in the full-resolution image!

Moonrise above Cape Royal, Grand Canyon National Park.
Moonrise above Cape Royal, Grand Canyon National Park.

As the sun fell lower in the sky, shadows raced across the canyon bottom while some of the higher towers and buttes remained in the sun—resulting in some interesting lighting and abstract patterns.

Late afternoon sun in Grand Canyon.
Late afternoon sun in Grand Canyon.
Light and shadow create abstract forms on Cape Royal.
Light and shadow create abstract forms on Cape Royal.

Our final morning had some wave clouds forming downwind of the Kaibab Plateau and being lit by the rising sun.

Wave clouds illuminated by the rising sun.
Wave clouds illuminated by the rising sun.

A few days ago we had a widespread rain event—even though rainfall amounts were not particularly large. Most importantly, measurable rain fell in Winslow. This meant that there was a possibility of fog forming in the Little Colorado River (LCR) Valley and drifting into the eastern reaches of Grand Canyon. I arrived at Lipan Point on the South Rim before sunrise and could see some low-lying fog in the LCR well east of the canyon. As the sun rose and the land began to warm, the fog began to lift and move towards the canyon. Eventually, it reached the Palisades north and east of Desert View Overlook. And, then, it began to spill over the sides evaporating only a short distance below the rim.

A shallow fog layer lies to the east of Grand Canyon at sunrise.
A shallow fog layer lies to the east of Grand Canyon at sunrise.
Fog spills over the rim into Grand Canyon.
Fog spills over the rim into Grand Canyon.

The fog soon swept across Desert View Overlook. I headed over to Desert View to shoot photos of Desert View Watchtower in the fog—but the fog was so thick I had to get very close to even see it.

Fog swirls around Desert Watchtower.
Fog swirls around Desert Watchtower.
And—for just a moment—there was great color in the sky behind Desert Watchtower.
And—for just a moment—there was great color in the sky behind Desert Watchtower.

I went back to Grand Canyon again the next morning but there were clouds along with some drizzle and light rain. However, there was a 2–3 minute period in which some clouds had a bit of sunlight color. Yes—that’s a pretty long round-trip drive for 2–3 minutes of good photography. Nobody ever said it was easy…

Dramatic lenticular clouds above the Kachina Peaks

A strong cold front and upper-level low was rapidly approaching Arizona. Ahead of this weather disturbance these spectacular lenticular clouds developed over the Kachina Peaks during the night of 03/06/2012. As the sun rose in the morning the clouds were nicely illuminated. About an hour after sunrise atmospheric conditions began to change and the wave clouds became more diffuse and detached from the peaks and drifted downstream.

Dramatic wave clouds above the Kachina Peaks.
Dramatic wave clouds above the Kachina Peaks.

Here is a video clip showing the wave clouds. The original clip is 40m40s long. The clip shown here has been sped up by a factor of 200x so the time lapse now occurs in around 12 seconds.

The many moods of the San Fransisco Peaks

Living near the mountains and at a high elevation in Flagstaff has its benefits. One of them is the opportunity to capture amazing images of the San Francisco Peaks as the seasons and weather change.

Recent snowfalls provided two very different views of the Peaks. First we have the peaks obscured by clouds. A laminar wave cloud floats above the peaks while other clouds cloak the summits. Skiers and hikers at the top of the mountain are hidden in the clouds and fog only to drop out of the bottom of the cloud as they descend.

Wave clouds above the San Francisco Peaks.
Wave clouds above the San Francisco Peaks.

Another image captures the final moments of sunset as the snow turns red across the peaks. These colors might only last for a minute or two before quickly fading away.

Sunset colors on the San Francisco Peaks.
Sunset colors on the San Francisco Peaks.

The price we pay for these incredible views? Long winters, cold temperatures, and roads that don’t seem to get plowed quickly enough — or at all.

A fair trade.

Dance of the clouds

The weather across much of the country has been very dramatic the past few days with snow storms, ice storms, strong winds, and brutal cold. Across Arizona we experienced exceptionally cold weather as the Arctic air mass settled in across the area. Strong northeast winds at the surface and aloft helped to drive the cold air across the Rocky Mountain barrier and deep into the southwest.

The northeast winds also created some fantastic wave clouds over the San Francisco Peaks, located to the north of Flagstaff. Normally, strong southwest winds roll across the Peaks and the best wave clouds are located to the northeast but this wind reversal resulted in a reversal of the wave clouds as well.

Delicate wave clouds dance across the San Francisco Peaks.
Delicate wave clouds dance across the San Francisco Peaks.

Video here.

Even more interesting were the clouds that were forming just below the tops of the peaks. Strong winds from the northeast drove cold air into the Inner Basin on the east side then up and over the top of the peaks. As the air ascended thin wispy clouds would form. Just as quicky the air descended on the southwest slopes and the clouds evaporated.

The rapidly changing clouds and detailed structure were fascinating to watch. A time-lapse movie clearly shows this incredible dance of the clouds as it moves across the Peaks.