Rainbow and Lightning at Toroweap
I recently returned from a camping trip during which I visited several remote locations in Grand Canyon National Park. One of those locations was the Toroweap overlook which is only accessible by driving a 55-mile-long dirt road in the middle of nowhere in the Tuweep district of the park. That’s my kind of place.
Permits to Visit Toroweap
It's important to note that a permit is required for visiting Tuweep including the Toroweap overlook. You will need to obtain in advance either a Day Use Ticket for day trips, or a Backcountry Permit if you plan to camp. The National Park Service instituted the new Day Use Ticket due to the increasing popularity of the Tuweep area which they report "has led to excessive day use for vehicles and visitation, resulting in crowding and congestion along the roads and parking lot, organized groups traveling in vehicle convoys, vehicles exceeding noise limits, and the degradation of natural and cultural resources." As a result, Grand Canyon National Park has implemented a $2 ticket fee per vehicle for visitors to get to Tuweep.
The Drive to Toroweap
The first 50 miles of the drive to Toroweap isn’t too bad if you have the right type of vehicle with good off-road tires. For the most part, it's a gravel road with occasional ruts and some cattle guard crossings. The last five miles or so are where things get interesting, especially the last 2 miles where the road is full of large sharp rocks and boulders, and four-wheel drive is required. The road gets even more interesting after it has rained, and in fact, the road was closed the day before I arrived due to flash floods. While the road was passable for my trip, there were many long stretches of mud and areas where the road was completely covered by water and there were areas of deep mud.
After arriving at Toroweap, I established camp and immediately had to take shelter in my 4Runner as intense lightning erupted from a passing thunderstorm. The rain was heavy, and the usually dry washes were gushing with water within a few minutes. Camp was not where I needed to be at this moment. I needed to be on the canyon’s edge, ready to shoot as the storm cleared. I quickly packed up and made the 10-minute drive to the edge of the canyon.
Making the Photo
When I got to the overlook, the rain was still falling, but the lightning was beginning to let up. The sky was getting brighter to the west-northwest, and I could see that the storm would soon end, so I grabbed my camera gear and set up under the shelter of the lift-gate at the back of my 4Runner. With my camera protected by a rain sleeve, I ran to the edge of the canyon and set up in a location that I and countless others had photographed from before in anticipation of the moment the storm cleared.
It was only a minute or two after arriving at the canyon’s edge before the sunlight finally broke through a gap in the clouds and fell upon the scene. I was rewarded with a rainbow arcing above the Colorado River, which was rushing through the canyon 3,000 feet below me. I had set up my camera for focus bracketing, and as the first round of images was being fired off, a quick flash of lightning jumped out of the storm. I wasn’t sure if the moment had been caught, and it wasn’t the time to check, but upon returning home and reviewing the images, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I did indeed capture a rainbow and lightning in a single image frame.
In my past trips to Toroweap it has been rare to run into anyone else on the road. This trip was a bit different as I came upon a law enforcement ranger about 10-miles into the drive. I pulled over to have a chat with her to inquire about the road conditions as I was aware that the area had been impacted by heavy rains in the days before my visit. The ranger was very friendly and gave me a heads-up about the areas of mud and standing water on the road. When I got to the ranger station just inside the park boundary, the volunteer ranger met me to check on my permit and we had a brief but lovely chat about the area. Later in the day, I was hiking from the campground to the overlook when a backcountry ranger came along on the road riding a mountain bike. This was my third interaction with a park ranger this day and it too was just as wonderful as the first two. We chatted about Toroweap, the challenges the area is facing from increased visitation, and what it's like to work in such a remote part of the park.
The park rangers have to cover a lot of remote territory while dealing with an ever-increasing number of visitors. I'm thankful for what they do, and how they always bring a great attitude to their job.