Serendipity was one of the things that drove me to offer my many tours for the twenty-odd years that I hauled myself and guests around the vast distances of the American southwest. I was also fortunate enough to have many adventuresome participants along for the ride, or more properly, with me for what was invariably a very long drive! Since we spent many hours getting to the main attractions, it was important for me to find things to stop and see along the way.
On my Hopi trips I usually stayed in Winslow, Arizona. I had found that it offered many advantages: a variety of eating options, visits to local sites such as the Homolovi Ruins State Park, the historic Hubbell Trading Post building in Winslow and Harvey’s La Posada hotel. Another advantage was I could take two different routes from Winslow to the mesas. On the second day of the tour I would usually take the Leupp road up to the Hopi capital, Kykotsmovi (New Oraibi), so we would see a very different landscape from the more traditional Route 87 drive through the Hopi buttes. It was one of these second day drives to Hopi when a tour participant suggested we could stop by Grand Falls.
For those unfamiliar with the Leupp region of the Navajo Reservation, and I assume there must be some of you out there, it is a town just west of the Little Colorado River where it approaches the lava fields of the Sunset Crater area. Grand Falls is a magnificent natural waterfall that sits right on the edge of the ancient sedimentary sandstones and the much more recent igneous basalts and it only takes about 45 minutes to an hour to get there from Leupp.
In order to be properly prepared to go you just have to remember my universal rule of driving in the southwest: to get to most places high clearance and patience are all you need. The highway trending west from Leupp is well maintained and when you reach the turnoff to the Falls you may be feeling pretty good about your chances. To get to the Falls you turn right at the first dirt road after the sign that advertises a crossroad, in other words a road that enters the highway from the south and continues on to the north. Upon leaving Leupp, prior to this well-advertised intersection, all the other roads only come in from the left or right but not both directions.
You will see the stop signs on both sides of the Leupp highway and turn north. It won’t take long after you get onto the gravel (here read ‘rocky’) road (‘track’) for you to realize that you must slow down and be patient. Personally I have driven a lot of nasty roads and this one is not bad at all when dry (don’t go if it is wet!) but it is dusty, deeply-rutted and sandy with many small and not so small rocks flying up and reaching heights in direct proportion to your speed; so take it slow and you’ll get there. It also has my personal favorite (blatant irony) driving feature: washboards, in abundance. One of the real nice things is there is so little traffic on the road you can drive either lane, the middle or even the shoulder if you think that is the best way for you to go.
To see the Falls from the Navajo Nation’s parking and picnicking area you turn off on the last dirt road to the left before crossing the river. Be very careful here because this is a pretty bad stretch of road but it is very short and you can see the picnic area as soon as you get over the road berm. Once you have navigated the lava residue strewn around the initial part of the trail, driving will get much easier and you can actually cruise all the way over to the other side of the canyon area to look back at the Falls if you want to. Any way you look at it, with or without water flowing, the Little Colorado’s Grand Falls are very impressive and worth the drive.