Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Friday, February 5, 2016

Grand Canyon Winter Magic

The flipside, a sunrise view with my back to the Grand Canyon
This trip went through more changes than a 13-year-old boy’s voice.

Dawn at Marble Canyon
Plan “A” was to stay at Toroweap and some nearby places with three friends for a long weekend.  Ultimately (after several changes in-between), because of some health issues and concerns about the weather, we were 3 for one night in the Marble Canyon area and then I was off on my own. 

El Tovar lobby from above
The coming storm made me decide to scrap previous plans and head to the Grand Canyon.  The trick photographing fresh snow there is to get hunkered down before the weather hits and be ready to take advantage of stormy skies and fresh snow.  There were 50 MPH winds in the forecast and I’m a weenie about camping in high wind.  As it turns out, people cancel their reservations there when weather is coming, and the El Tovar Hotel had rooms available at a steep discount.  This architectural gem is 116 years old, part of a series of Fred Harvey railroad hotels.  What a treat to be tucked into a comfy room when the wind hit.

My camera and I were walking the Rim Trail Saturday afternoon when I got a text from dear friends who wanted me to know that they were spending a few hours at the Grand Canyon of all places.  Enjoying the serendipity, we had tea in the El Tovar Lounge before they returned home to Peeples Valley.  Somehow this first lovely surprise set the tone for the rest of the magical extended weekend.
Approaching Storm
I knew the snow was coming Sunday or Monday and that I was likely to be voluntarily ‘stuck’ there until the roads were clear, but I was giddy about the opportunity to be right in the middle of it.  Regular readers will remember a friend who’s a North Rim Ranger.  As it turns out, Jess is working part-time at the South Rim for the Winter season and lives at Verkamp’s.   

Verkamp's, Predawn
This structure, which happened to have its 110th anniversary while I was there, was a general store until 2008 and now serves as a visitor’s center and gift shop operated by the Grand Canyon Association.  The Verkamp Family lived in an upstairs apartment with a canyon view.  I was thrilled to stay there as Jess’ guest for a couple of nights, enjoying the creaky floors and artwork donated by Grand Canyon Artists-In-Residence (AiR).  This perch was perfect for watching the weather and running in and out repeatedly to shoot when things were looking good.  At other times I processed images on my laptop and relaxed.  There’s a guest book from the AiR program on the living room coffee table.  I picked it up casually at first, becoming increasingly moved by the words and images there and had a profound sense of connection with the place.

The tome is an eclectic mix of drawings, musical notation, prose & poetry.  The examples are used with permission of the artists;

Siri Beckman  

Ekaterina Smirnova

I met some lovely folks who assumed, because I was alone and had lots of gear, that I was a Grand Canyon expert.  Sometimes I can answer questions and sometimes not.  My favorite was a man with a Latin-American accent asking me “where is the good view?”  I had a private chuckle, and eventually realized he was looking for what’s called the Sky Walk on the Hualapai Reservation, 250 road miles away.  I couldn’t resist telling him that he was better off right where he was.

iPhone pano of the Kolb Workroom.  The photo window is on the left.
Jess generously gave me a private tour of the Kolb Studio, perhaps the structure with the most striking views from the South Rim.  Built in 1904, it includes the family home as well as a theater (which showed the Kolb brothers’ movie for 61 years) and photographic studio.  Travelers down the Bright Angel Trail would have their pictures taken (from a window in the building) and could purchase prints when they returned.

Tuesday the storm had cleared and, though temps were below zero, the departure of the wind made for rather comfortable temperatures, at least with all the clothes I’d layered on.

Coyote Tracks
I was the first human out in the predawn light. When I spotted the prints, I thought someone had been on an early walk with their two dogs. I must have been a little sleepy, because it took me a while to realize that there were no human footprints. Then I heard the coyotes howl. 

When the morning light began to develop, crystalline in the wake of the storm, I forgot all the rest.  This is what the 3-day wait had been all about, and the canyon didn’t disappoint.  I’m afraid I don’t have words to convey what a joy it was to experience the canyon after a winter storm.

Breakfast at the El Tovar was delightful, and all that remained was 20 minutes scraping ice from the vehicle and heading down the hill.

More images are in the Grand Canyon Gallery on the Website.


  1. Snow at the canyon is a special gift, especially with someplace warm to stay. The AIR book is always a fun read.

  2. Love it - what a magical journey.

    1. Thanks for the read and the comment, Beth. Magic indeed!