Grand Canyon Erosion Photography

Grand Canyon Erosion

Layers upon layers of rock in a mile deep canyon, the Grand Canyon

Most any photo of the Grand Canyon landscape will reveal the many colorful layers of very different rocks.  Billions of years of erosion and upheaval have revealed ten distinct layers.  My favorite to photograph was the vishnu shist.

The Vishnu Shist Rock Layer


Grand Canyon Erosion

The oldest layer in the Grand Canyon, vishnu shist.

Not only is vishnu shist fun to say three times rapidly, it was fun to climb around on looking for photo compositions.  Looking back on our experience, I’m still surprised either tour group, Arizona Rafting or Visionary Wild let a bunch of elderly people climb around on these very hard, slick rocks.  We were perched precariously on high ledges while balancing a cumbersome tripod and expensive cameras.  If one of us were to have a bit of a tumble, an expensive helicopter ride out of the canyon would have been our likely exit.

Looking at this rock, it is obvious that each tripod leg will be at a different length which made each photo composition a real struggle.  The tripods were necessary in order for me to take three to eight photos of each scene.  Each photo is focused at a different depth.  Later, I would blend them together to get everything in focus.  The process is much like I do with bugs.  Each photo is a slice of the photo in focus, like slices of bread.  This is called photo stacking, which I’ve described in a past blog. My Photo Stacking Blog



More vishnu shist

This rock is exceedingly hard, yet worn smooth and slick from 2 billion years of erosion.  Every day we received interesting lectures on the various rock layers we were going to encounter that day, whether we wanted to know about them or not.  This led to rollicking conversations like “Is that hermit shale or the Supai group?”  Personally, I thought it was the tapeats sandstone.  It really can be interesting to learn about these rock layers and their formation, but since this is not a geology blog, I’ll leave it to you to get an introduction at these sites.  The Grand Canyon Trust and The Great Unconformity


Erosion Creates Redwall Cavern


Serious Grand Canyon Erosion

Erosion creating a large cool cave

Around mile 33 of our trip, floating through the redwall limestone layer of rock, we stopped and explored, of all things, Redwall Cavern.  There is a sharp bend in the Colorado River at this point where the softer redwall limestone gives way to the force of the river, creating a deep, cool cave.  Younger people of course thought this was great for tossing the Frisbee and running around.  Since they were in the way of any photo I wanted to compose, I asked their river guide to have them line up for the above silhouette photo.  They all seemed happy to comply.

Two rafts outside of Redwall Cavern.

How all those people fit into these two rafts tied up outside Redwall Cavern I’m not sure.

At this point in the river our guides pointed out some seashells embedded in Redwall Cavern. The Grand Canyon is the result of tremendous upheaval, deposits and erosion over billions of years.


Water, the Eroding Force

Wave Ornament

My camera will take about 40 photos in quick succession before the buffer fills up and I have to quit.  To capture photos like the one above, I simply held down the shutter until my camera could take no more photos.  After a few seconds, those 40 photos would be processed and I would start again.  To me the wave above looked like a hood ornament on an old car.

Wave formation – rejected photo

It is clear how quickly the wave formation changes, creating very different photos.  In my opinion, the top photo is the best of these wave photos.  If you disagree, let me know.

Wave splash – rejected photo

At other times, it seemed best to use a slow shutter speed to show the movement of the water.  We stopped at this place for quite some time, waiting for some rafts to navigate the turbulent waters, but none appeared.  I was very thankful the river water was clear and green.  Muddy water would have resulted in a very different trip and photographs.

Never ending wave turbulence


A zoomed in photo using a slow shutter speed to show water movement


Never ending beautiful reflections, at a 1/800 a second or higher


Pool and Drop… Pool and Drop…

Phantom Ranch bridge pool, before the next rapids

Pool and drop is a good description of a trip down the Colorado River.  It dropped a total of 73 times on our 226 mile trip.  The drop is the fast flowing turbulent rapids.  This section of river near the Phantom Ranch at mile 88.1 is a large slow moving pool, with more rapids, another drop just ahead.

For some rafters this was the end of their journey.  They now faced an arduous, hot hike out of the canyon or possibly a mule ride.  For others, their journey will begin here, after their long hike down the trail.  I assume each group spends a night at the Phantom Ranch before moving on.  Hiking down one side of the Grand Canyon, spending the night at Phantom Ranch and out the other side the following day is still on my things-to-do-list.

The one minute video below is just for documentation.  It was not all that exciting of a ride since we were in a 35×15 foot raft that glides over large waves.  To keep us from getting bounced out,  the guide made us sit on the floor of the raft a couple times.  But for the most part the rapids only got us soaking wet and cold with brief moments of excitement.

A second one minute video in slow motion is shown below.  These are not scary rides but were exciting.  There were two opposite ways to combat the cold spray from the river.  We could dress in shorts, get cold immediately but dry off quickly or dress in water resistant layers which would get wet anyway and never dry off.


Rattlesnakes and King Snakes

Growing up in the Southwest, I felt I knew a lot about rattlesnakes.  However, the fact that a king snake would chase and swallow a rattlesnake whole totally escaped me.  A very long, fat rattlesnake was being chased by a smaller king snake at our final camp site.  Those more skilled in photography than me, or at least thinking more clearly, took exciting videos of the action.  Me, on the other hand, took stills.  I have since gone to YouTube and have witnessed several videos of a king snake devouring a large rattlesnake. King Snake tries to Swallow Rattlesnake  (Seriously, not for the faint of heart)


Escaping Rattler


Smaller king snake in hot pursuit

Keep in mind this was just a few yards from where we were placing our sleeping bags for the night.  It was not bad enough that the sand near our sleeping bags was covered with scorpion tracks each morning, but now we had rattlesnakes to contend with.  Apparently rattlesnake sightings are quite common on these river trips.  We only saw the one.


Rolling Down the River

On down the river we floated for ten days, taking in the immense depth, beauty and unique surroundings of the Grand Canyon.  At times it was a wide valley and then a narrow walled canyon in other places.

Grand Canyon Erosion

The wind was fierce at this time. Even these short stout bushes were blowing in the wind.

We floated past interesting hills

Grand Canyon Erosion of hillsides

Evening light on hills

and beautiful or unusual sites around every turn.


Here is a dead tree in silhouette against the muav limestone, or is that bright angle shale?  I was quite surprised that of the twelve photographers, I was the only one who wished to photograph this tree.

Silhouette of dead tree against red canyon walls

On our tenth day we approached Diamond Creek for an orderly take out.  Then a L-O-N-G  B-U-M-P-Y ride to Seligman, Arizona for ice cream and much more importantly, the long awaited internet.

Several other rafting parties are exiting at the same time.

Thank you for following my occasional blogs and photographic adventures.  Next up … Africa.

12 thoughts on “Grand Canyon Erosion Photography

  1. Amazing photography as always. It’s like being there.
    Although, I should not have eaten breakfast before viewing the raft run videos.

  2. Great blog, Harold, as usual. I really like the dead tree image and the snakes! I’m looking forward to the safari photos from Africa.

  3. WoW my favorite was the silhouette of the dead tree against the red rocks.
    LoL what a wild thing to see the king snake getting your area cleaned out for you.
    A hold of a car was be first thing I thought of when I saw the water picture. That is beautiful.
    Are you staying in touch with the others to see their best pics?

  4. Great photos! Thank you for the background on shutter speeds on a few of them, very interesting as always! 👍👏😎

  5. So artsy and creative! The silhouettes were a nice touch–the tree and the cooperative people who lined up in the opening of the cave. I think two or three of their rafts got loose and floated down the river. I’m wondering how the unusual vertical columns formed in the cliff. Thanks for sharing your photos.

  6. Wonderful images again … my favorite is the silhouette in the cavern ! Of course there is a dearth of birds … LOL 🙂

    I wonder if the buffer issue is your camera or the card it is writing to?

    Thank you again for taking us on your journey.

  7. These pictures you captured are absolutely amazing! I’m so glad you are able to travel the world for all these years and share your sights and experiences with the world.

  8. again, all wonderful.
    Your tree in front of red walls is my favorite also.
    Your last departure photo was a very rude awakening
    from an amazing journey.

  9. Really great adventure, Harold. Now I want to go on one of these trips. Thanks for sharing the photos and adventure with us.

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