Snowdona – How much snow can Sedona get?
Written by Zach Rohe
July 06, 2023
What happens when it snows in Sedona?
I’ve spent the past 5 winters in Sedona, and I’ve usually avoided the snow like the plague. I lived in Boulder, CO before coming to the red rocks and I was over the cold, wind, and snow: warmer weather was one of the main reasons I moved here.
But as a photographer, capturing snow in Sedona soon became a priority. When I was working on my 2023 photo calendar this year I was disappointed that I didn’t have a good Sedona winter photo in my catalog. What I learned was that snow disappeared quickly; as soon as the sun comes up and the clouds clear, the snow is gone. Not being a fan of early mornings or driving at night in the snow, I was never able to capture Sedona in it’s snow covered state… or as locals call it: Snowdona.
“Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together.” — Vesta M. Kelly
I missed the first snow of this winter when I had to travel out of town, but when the second snow storm of the year came, I was ready. I met up with fellow photographer Jeff Poe the night before and we set up our game plan: start before sunset at Airport Mesa and work our way around until the snow melts. We would concentrate on the south facing rocks early and end up photographing the north facing rocks later. Slopes on the north side do not see the direct sun and thus should hold snow longer, which is how outdoor company “The North Face” came up with their name: the north face of mountains are often more challenging and treacherous.
When we got on the road at 6am, it looked like the snow was light and the sky was cloudy. But as we got closer to Airport Mesa, we discovered we were wrong. There was a 2 inch blanket of snow covering Sedona, and the views from Airport Mesa were breathtaking. We watched the thick clouds of the cold front separated from the clear, warm air lit up by the morning sun. As the sun warmed our bodies, we drove to another location near Cathedral Rock and saw the swirling clouds weave through the rock formations and as the sun rose higher, the fog began to break up. This time of the morning was truly dynamic and like nothing I had seen before.
Running around all day, the skies just kept getting better. The clouds were big, fluffy, and constantly changing. As afternoon approached we felt sunset was going to be off the charts. We drove to one of my favorite spots near Bell Rock and as we began to set up and get reflection shots, it started snowing once more! The flakes were huge and immediately started sticking to everything in site. We snapped a few shots and upon our retreat we heard thunder. A thunder snowstorm had culminated at our spot and it was insane! Loud crashes and big flakes of snow forced us to run back to our cars, and as we drove away we saw lightning. Could this day get any better? We drove to a local high point and made attempts to capture the lightning in this amazing snow storm.
Our feet frozen, and our bodies exhausted, we retreated to a local mexican restaurant to warm up and relax. With all of the new snow overnight, I was geared up for sunrise at the location we had to retreat from.
When I arrived in the morning, conditions were perfect: several inches of snow had fallen and it had clumped on all of the trees and the classic sandstone red rock. There was fog in the air and as the sun rose, it once again retreated. My friend Veronica joined me to play in the snow and we had so much fun, but eventually the cold air froze us: we are both “tropical” creatures. I got a few more shots on the second day but continuous snowfall through the day and my fatigue from hours of shooting began to catch up with me and I rolled home to bed after another snowy sunset.
A great winter experience
As I took time to reflect afterwards, I’m truly blessed to have an experienced such a winter wonderland. The harsh red rocks and green junipers and cactus provide such a stark contrast to the white, fluffy snow and soft, flowing fog that this winter storm had brought in. Winter in the desert is always intriguing as a hot, dry climate gets flipped into reverse. But this experience of two snowstorms in Sedona was better than any winter desert experience I’ve ever had, and now I finally have some great winter Sedona photos for next year’s calendars!
Let me know what your favorite picture is or share with me one of your favorite winter experiences. If you are interested in seeing more of my photos visit my website and I still have some of my famous 2023 calendars available in my online store.