Grand Falls Arizona

Grand Falls Arizona

Grand Falls is a natural waterfall system located 30 miles (48.3 kilometers) northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona in the Painted Desert on the Navajo Indian Reservation.

At 185 feet tall (56 meters), it is taller than Niagara Falls.  It dumps snow melt or monsoon rain into the Little Colorado River below. It is famous for its extremely muddy flow which is a major contributor to Little Colorado River opacity. It is said that the waterfalls are analogous to flowing chocolate depending on the amount of water present. Heavy rains or snow melt will produce spectacular viewing, photography and sound whereas the scarcity of water will produce only trickles or no flow at all.

Grand Falls was formed when lava from nearby Merriam Crater flowed in to the Little Colorado River creating a lava dam. The river was forced to reroute itself around the dam and Grand falls formed where the reroute rejoins its original course.

The waterfall is remote and no major paved roads access it. In fact the closest road, Grand Falls Road, crosses the floor of the Little Colorado River and at times during the year; only a 4 x 4 vehicle can traverse it. The falls are dormant for months of the year and reduce to only a drip. However, we visited the falls near it’s in late March as the snow begins to melt. 

Getting There

To access the falls a passenger car can reach the south side of the river. However, that is dependent on current conditions.  The day we traveled was dry and there was no evidence of adverse conditions.  If snow is on the ground the road would not be easy to follow.  We  (I traveled with Ivan Martinez, a Phoenix area photographer) also used a GPS and it provided directions and kept us on the correct road.

  1. 1.      To drive to Grand Falls proceed east of Flagstaff to either exit 207 or 211.
  2. 2.      Turn north and proceed to County road (Co Rd) 394. From 211 turn left.
  3. 3.      Turn north (right) onto Co Rd 419/Leupp Rd.
  4. 4.      Drive 19.9 miles to unmarked Indian Route 6910 and turn left.
  5. 5.      Drive 7.9 miles and turn right onto Indian Route 70.
  6. 6.      Drive 1.7 miles to Grand Falls.

Note:  Your GPS will probably recommend you turn onto 70 at 14.8 miles – we did, don’t do it!  The road is much rougher than 6910 and you stay on a paved road for a greater distance.  As a matter of fact, if the weather is dry, you can drive a car.

Admission is free but the site and the roads to it are located in the Navajo Nation so leaving the roads or trails is against Navajo Law. Picnic benches are provided at the viewpoint. The trail to the bottom of the falls is one-half mile long and easy.

Getting the shot

It was overcast for most of the time we were at the site.  The bad news, we had no hope of getting a good sunset shot because of the overcast.  The good news, the light was soft.    

We first visited the floor of the falls with a relatively easy walk to the northwest and then back toward the falls area.  Be aware that the hike is easy but there are no guard rails so take care traveling into and out of the lower area.

There was a lot of light and I used two stacked neutral density filters (Cokin P.154 & P.153) and a polarized filter along with f22 stop to reduce the shutter speed to 2 seconds or about 6.2 stops.  I lost some resolution by using so many filters but the falls flow blurs enough to make the shot more pleasing.


I use Photoshop Lightroom 4 and CS5 to process photos.  I try to use Lightroom as much as possible and always shoot in RAW.  Theses shots required adjustments to bring out the most in the photos.  The title photo is a four vertical shot panorama processed in CS5. 


I tried using a couple of stand-a-lone panorama software packages but in the end, used Photoshop CS5.  I selected the four photos in Lightroom, right clicked, selected “Edit In…” and finally “Merge to panorama in Photoshop”.

In Photoshop is selected the standard stitching procedure and it generated the panorama.  The initial merge was flattened into a single layer and I used the Lens Correction filter to remove distortion with the custom settings.  I had to pass the panorama through the filter three times to remove all of the distortion.  I then saved the panorama (it was placed by Photoshop back into the original folder with the initial photos) and made final adjustments.  I then stacked the four original photos and the panorama with the panorama set as the title photo.



This entry was posted in Photo Development, Photography, Photoshop, Southwest and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Grand Falls Arizona

  1. Pat Ligon says:

    Gorgeous picture from the floor looking up.
    Very cool!

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