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Chocolate Falls in Arizona: Photographing a Flash Flood on the Little Colorado River

Updated on March 23, 2018
Ramkitten2000 profile image

I've lived in Flagstaff since 2003, where I'm an active member of the Coconino County Sheriff's Search & Rescue team.

Grand Falls Goes from a Trickle to a Raging River

The Little Colorado River, which begins high on Mt. Baldy in eastern Arizona and runs -- sometimes just barely -- 315 winding miles to its junction with the mighty Colorado in Grand Canyon, is a very moody river. One minute, you might step over the wee ribbon of water and, the next, step back! You don't want to get caught in that boiling, muddy torrent.

Nowhere can the Little Colorado River (also known as the LCR) be as dramatic as it is where it drops down the huge natural stairway at Grand Falls, otherwise known as "Chocolate Falls," located 30 miles northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona. And that's where I was in August of 2005, when I took this photo. That's my red truck up there by the overlook, not far from a spot where you can sometimes drive right across the river. Not so on that day!

And I've been there many other days since, during other flash floods and even when not a drop was flowing where the falls had just recently been and would soon be again. I've been to this hidden, remote desert beauty as a regular outdoor enthusiast and as a Search & Rescue team member on a missing person search, which you can see and read about below, along with other information about visiting Grand Falls.

About these photos: All photographs on this page were taken by me, Deb Kingsbury. If you'd like to use one on your own web page, please credit me,with a link back here. Thank you!


About Arizona's Grand Falls

An amazing site to see in the Painted Desert

Grand Falls is located on Navajo Nation land, at the southwest corner of the Reservation about a 45-minute drive from my home in Flagstaff. It's often referred to as "Chocolate Falls," for the reason you'll see in the photos and videos on this page: MUD!

When Do the Falls Run?

At 185 feet tall, Grand Falls is actually higher than Niagara Falls. And unlike Niagra, which is a major torrent year-round, Grand Falls runs the gamut from bone dry, like you see in my photo here, or merely a trickle during some winter and summer months to a raging force of nature during spring runoff from the snowy mountains to the east and after heavy monsoon season rains later in the year.

I can't give you exact dates or timeframes for when the water will be running high. The best I can do is point you to the USGS website to see the current conditions for the Little Colorado River near Winslow, AZ. As mentioned, your best bets for catching the falls at flood stage are in late spring and during monsoon season (roughly early to mid-July through late August / early September), but you'll want to check the USGS site to be sure before you go.

Update: It's March now, and Grand Falls is at its peak from snowmelt. See Fleeting Falls, the Area's Biggest Waterfall is Flowing Again from the Arizona Daily Sun.

The Formation of Grand Falls

This impressive waterfall was formed about 150,000 years ago, when lava from a nearby volcanic eruption from what is now Merriam Crater flowed into the canyon and blocked the river. The water then had to find a new course around the lava dam and back into the canyon, creating this cascade in the process.

Be Cautious and Respectful of the Land When You Visit

Grand Falls is quite isolated but well worth the long and sometimes dusty drive from Flagstaff or points east. Regular passenger cars can and often do make the trip to the south side of the river, but once the road turns to dirt, it can get washboardy. So drive slowly and don't attempt to actually drive across the LCR in a passenger car. Don't attempt it at all, high-clearance 4WD or not, when the river is running fast and high. (You can see what the road out to Grand Falls looks like in this photo.)

There's no charge to enter the Navajo Reservation and visit Grand Falls, but there are no services for many miles either. Be sure to keep the area clean, pack out your trash, be on the lookout for roaming cattle and desert wildlife, and don't get too close to the edge. There are some big cliffs with unstable rock and slippery mud along the banks. And there's no cell phone service to call for help if someone runs into trouble.

That slippery mud I was talking about? This guy got a bit too close to it and needed a few hands out.


Grand Falls by Contrast

The Little Colorado River's Highs and Lows

More Photos from that Day - I was covered with muddy spray after taking these pictures....

Grand Falls Flood
Grand Falls Flood

You could hear the sound of large boulders being moved by the incredible force of the water.

Grand Falls Flood, 2005
Grand Falls Flood, 2005

Grand Falls on a Very Different Day - I returned to Grand Falls when the LCR was running much, much lower and took these photos....

Grand Falls just a trickle
Grand Falls just a trickle

A Gentle Brown Cascade of Chocolate

Grand Falls running light
Grand Falls running light

Walking on Grand Falls - Find out why we did this below....

Walking on Grand Falls
Walking on Grand Falls

Search and Rescue teammates and I searched different levels of the falls soon after a flash flood, when the falls were once again just a trickle. We were looking for a missing person who may have gone over the edge.

You can read about this SAR mission and see more photos from Grand Falls and further down the Little Colorado River in my blog post, Searching for Justin.

This may be a no-brainer, but PLEASE don't attempt this -- "walking on Grand Falls" -- when it's running. Just, you know ... sayin'.

Hiking to the bottom of Grand Falls
Hiking to the bottom of Grand Falls

Hiking to the Bottom of Grand Falls

You've driven all the way out there, so explore some more if you're able.

As you're facing Grand Falls, if you walk along the rim to your left -- to the west -- you'll come to a short, rough trail that leads to the bottom. That's where we're going in this photo here.

The trail from the overlook leads to the Gauging Station, then turns to the right and takes you to the bottom of Grand Falls.

Watch your step as you descend. There's one short downclimb along the way, but you'll be fine if you take it slow and use your hands.

Please don't go down there when the falls are running high. We don't want to have to look for you downriver.

At the bottom of the Little Colorado River Canyon, hiking towards Grand Falls

There's lots of cool exploring to be done at the bottom of the LCR canyon and base of the waterfall when the water is low, but you're sure to also see an interesting variety of flotsam and jetsam that's been washed downstream and caught by rocks, mud and vegetation. Be careful of broken glass and other sharp objects. On the other hand, you might just find some treasure too!

Grand Falls in Motion

Video footage of the LCR's Lows and Highs

Running Dry - Not too many people shoot video here when the water isn't actually flowing.

I haven't either (yet). And I searched and searched for footage showing a dry, still or barely flowing Little Colorado River at Grand Falls. This is the only video I found that shows -- briefly on fly-by -- a dry waterfall.

You'll also see footage as the helicopter flies downstream above the LCR, which still has water in it.

Dry, cracked mud at the base of Grand Falls

Dry, cracked mud at the base of Grand Falls
Dry, cracked mud at the base of Grand Falls

Grand Falls at a Moderate Flow (March, 2011)

Video: When the Chocolate Water Runs High - A Grand Falls Flood

This video, taken during first week of August 2010, shows the Little Colorado River at Grand Falls when the water flow was about 1800 cubic feet per second. The flow was even greater a week earlier, the flooding due to a large amount of monsoon season rainfall in Eastern Arizona.

Driving Directions

Dusty and flat, but you don't need 4wd

From Flagstaff

  • Take US 89 north, 1.8 miles past the Flagstaff Mall, and turn right on Camp Townsend-Winona Road.
  • Drive eight miles, then turn left onto Leupp Road. Follow Leupp Road northeast about 20 miles.
  • Just past the Navajo Reservation boundary, turn north -- left -- between Mileposts 5 and 6 on unpaved Indian Road 6910. (There may still be a Grand Falls Bible Church sign near this turnoff.)
  • From here, drive 9.4 miles, and after passing Indian Road 70, a series of side-by-side dirt roads veer off to the left before reaching the Little Colorado River. Take one of these to the picnic area at the top of the falls. (If you come to the Little Colorado River crossing, you've gone 0.4 mile too far.) You'll need to park, get out and walk a short distance to actually see the falls.

From I-40 East

Take Winona Exit 211, 14 miles east of Flagstaff, and drive two miles on the Townsend-Winona Road. Then turn right on Leupp Road to the Grand Falls turnoffs, following the directions above.

  • From I-40 Exit 245, 46 miles east of Flagstaff, take AZ 99 to Leupp Road.

From Kykotsmovi on the Hopi Indian Reservation

  • Take paved Indian Route 2 southwest, 49 miles to Leupp Road and follow the rest of the directions above.

A Map to Grand Falls - Zoom in at least three time to actually see some very rural roads between Flagstaff and the Falls

You'll need to click on the map and drag it up to see the roads you'll take from Flagstaff, once you zoom in far enough.

Yep, there's a lot of wide open country out there!

A markerGrand Falls -
Grand Falls, Arizona
get directions

© 2012 Deb Kingsbury

Have You Ever Seen Grand Falls, the Chocolate Falls of Arizona? Or any of the Little Colorado River?

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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Sounds like a fun trip, Deb. I never heard of Chocolate Falls. Great photos and a nice travelogue article. Voted up!

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 4 years ago

      I missed this when I was in the area - too bad. Looks wonderful.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 4 years ago from New Zealand

      That was a great tour I just had through this article, I felt as though I was there as I was reading your interesting story. Thanks very nice photos.

    • profile image

      zubaer_ahammed 4 years ago

      Really charming & hallucinating photos.. I like your photos very much

    • profile image

      jetcharterquote 4 years ago

      wow. Some stunning pictures. Nice lens

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      A new blessing on this lovely lens and may you have a wonderful, successful and happy 2013. Hugs

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 5 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      @GrandCanyonSandy: Thank you! The last time I was at Grand Falls was during the Search & Rescue mission over a year ago, so I want to get back out there. I'll try to go in the spring when the falls are running again. Except for when I took these flood photos, it's been dry every time I've been there since.

    • profile image

      GrandCanyonSandy 5 years ago

      I had the privilege of seeing Grand Falls in the spring of 2010. My daughter had seen it years before and kept encouraging me to go. I got some great photos and video that day! Reading your lens brought it all back as if it were yesterday - the roar of the falls, the wind in my face, and the incredible raw beauty of the place! Excellent lens!

    • BowWowBear profile image

      BowWowBear 5 years ago

      Grand Falls, no; the Little Colorado, yes. What a great lens on the beautiful southwest! I really enjoyed exploring out there when my mother lived in Phoenix and I worked for a company that had some facilities in Flagstaff. Thanks for sharing!

    • Frugal-UK LM profile image

      Frugal-UK LM 5 years ago

      Everything is just so big in America

    • nasirislam2010b13 profile image

      nasirislam2010b13 5 years ago

      kike it very much.continue to improve it .i guess you achieve your goal!

    • profile image

      kayla_harris 5 years ago

      The photos are so beautiful!

    • Lynne-Modranski profile image

      Lynne Modranski 5 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Dmarieinspires profile image

      Dana Marie 5 years ago from St. Peters, MO

      No I haven't seen but I would LOVE to some day!! very cool lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Not yet, but it's amazing photos !

    • Mandy Stradley profile image

      Mandy Stradley 5 years ago

      I have never seen Grand Falls, but you sure have some amazing photos here from the flood! Great lens!

    • profile image

      davecurrtis 5 years ago

      Not yet, but it's a spectacular view to see. Great lense!

    • profile image

      davecurrtis 5 years ago

      Not yet, but it's a spectacular view to see. Great lense!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      amazing lens.

    • profile image

      Nightlife-Author 5 years ago

      great canyon rocks reminds me - Due Date movie. thanks for sharing such a great information

    • Teapixie LM profile image

      Tea Pixie 5 years ago

      I am presently in Silver City, New Mexico and just drove through the eastern side of the Navajo Nation land. We were sad to encounter Flooding in Window Rock. People were imprisoned in their mobile homes. It was awful. You photos are beautiful and capture the power of nature.

    • srsddn lm profile image

      srsddn lm 5 years ago

      It is a pictorial feast. Well done.

    • profile image

      Lindrus 5 years ago

      I wish I would have seen Grand Falls, your photos look amazing!

    • heartycindypen profile image

      Hearty Cindy Penaranda 5 years ago from Ormoc City

      Really amazing pictures, wish I could also be there..

    • profile image

      gibyjoseph 5 years ago

      Your breathtaking photographs of Grand Falls show the rage of the river and its natural beauty too. I have not seen the Grand Falls, or any of the Colorado River, but surely wish that I might one day.

    • profile image

      kayla_harris 5 years ago

      No. But I will go and have a look at them!

    • lovetolink profile image

      lovetolink 5 years ago

      Well deserved purple star and LOTD! Thanks for showing us around Grand Falls!

    • blessedmomto7 profile image

      blessedmomto7 5 years ago

      Gorgeous photography! Congrats on LOTD!

    • Keith J Winter profile image

      Keith Winter 5 years ago from Spain

      Great lens and fantastic photos. Congratulations on LOTD.

    • daniela12 profile image

      daniela12 5 years ago

      I never seen the Grand Falls, but by your pictures, it looks absolutely Beautiful!

    • profile image

      HouseBuyersOfAmerica 5 years ago

      Great lens...all your pictures and videos are wonderful...And congratulations to you on becoming LOD...

    • RawBill1 profile image

      Bill 5 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      This is an awesome Lens! I was in this area in March and I took a photo of the Little Colorado at Cameron, just behind the Trading Post. There was absolutely no water in it, but I could tell by the width of the river bed and the height of the walls that it must pump at times. We were staying at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and were returning from an awesome tour which included a flight over the Grand Canyon and then a four hour boat ride down the Colorado River though Glen Canyon. I would have loved to have seen these falls in full flow. A red waterfall! Amazing!

    • BestRatedStuff profile image

      BestRatedStuff 5 years ago

      Not in person, but your pictures bring them home to me literally.

    • profile image

      soaringsis 5 years ago

      Now I have and what a sight, enjoyed it all. Congratulation on your LotD and your purple star.

    • Rosaquid profile image

      Rosaquid 5 years ago

      OH! I almost forgot! congratulations on a well-deserved LOTD award!

    • Rosaquid profile image

      Rosaquid 5 years ago

      Howdy, Neighbor! We drive by the turnoff to GF on our way to town. Grand Falls is truly grand, I must say.

    • MacPharlain profile image

      MacPharlain 5 years ago

      Looks like an amazing spot at any water level. Beautiful pictures. Congrats on LotD!

    • JenwithMisty profile image

      Jen withFlash 5 years ago

      I've never been there but it looks beautiful!!! I would love to check it out someday!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

      Wow ... wonderful job, as usual. Congratulations on LOTD!

    • fastpass2disney profile image

      fastpass2disney 5 years ago

      Beautiful pictures - thanks for sharing. Never seen Grand Falls but look fabulous:)

    • montanatravel52 profile image

      montanatravel52 5 years ago

      Wow, looks absolutely stunning, new item on the bucket list, thanks! Congrats on LOTD, well deserved!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I've never been lucky enough to see Grand Falls but it certainly looks awesome. Congratulations on getting LoTD!

    • CMatthewHawkins profile image

      CMatthewHawkins 5 years ago

      Fascinating lens, and the videos helped to give the viewer a feel for what it would be like to be there.

    • Stephen Lewis profile image

      Stephen Lewis 5 years ago

      I don't think so. I have been thru Winslow many times and have spent some time on the Navaho Nation a few times, but many years ago.

    • ismeedee profile image

      ismeedee 5 years ago

      What is it with Colorado at the moment? Ok, Grand Falls is in Arizona, but the name, 'Colorado' river- I'm sure I'm being called out there! Honestly, even a little known film my son bought in a pound store, looked interesting so started to watch it- hey, filmed in Colorado! Hehe... lovely lens, really interesting and love the photos!!! Poor doggy!!

    • profile image

      grannysage 5 years ago

      Your photos are amazing. I like the contrast of the dry falls with the raging falls. I love falls of all kinds and this one is very unique.

    • DLeighAlexander profile image

      DLeighAlexander 5 years ago

      I have seen the Little Colorado River when I visited the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff many years ago. It is a beautiful area. Your timing was perfect to be there at the right time to get these pictures.

    • DLeighAlexander profile image

      DLeighAlexander 5 years ago

      Congratulations on winning Squid Woot and LOTD! Your pictures are amazing. I know you will enjoy your new orange camera ;) Blessings to you

    • Mussarat LM profile image

      Mussarat J Moghal 5 years ago from Ontario Canada

      No. But great pictures. Congratulations on LOTD

    • Bexley profile image

      Bexley 5 years ago

      Congratulations on LOTD! Thank you for sharing this amazing story and fascinating photos.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      awesome lens! nice photos :)

    • mussa83 profile image

      mussa83 5 years ago

      no , but it is look good

    • profile image

      Ruthi 5 years ago

      Your breathtaking photographs of Grand Falls show the rage of the river and its natural beauty too. I have not seen the Grand Falls, or any of the Colorado River, but surely wish that I might one day.

    • mussa83 profile image

      mussa83 5 years ago

      @clerana: Beautiful photos and these types of mountains from which types of of sedimentary rocks is thousands of years old Thank you for transfer such images

    • Kiwisoutback profile image

      Kiwisoutback 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Excellent photos, especially considering in 2005 the quality of digital cameras weren't on the level of today's cameras. I was still using a film camera back then, kicking myself for not converting sooner.

      These falls must be amazing to see in person. What type of weather conditions preceded the torrential flow, and how often does it occur?

      Excellent choice for LOTD, blessed!

    • Mark Shirbroun profile image

      Mark Shirbroun 5 years ago

      Such great pictures! My wife and I backpacked on the Superior Hiking Trail - after seeing these pictures maybe we will head west for a trip! Wow! Thanks for a great lens!

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 5 years ago from Concord VA

      Amazing! Thanks for the great photos and info of Grand Falls. I've never been there in person, but I can go there through your photos and videos! Congratulations on winning the squidwoot, purple star, and LotD!! Wow! I'm so excited for you!!! :)

    • anne mohanraj profile image

      anne mohanraj 5 years ago

      An amazing lens! Congratulations on LOTD.

    • weakbond profile image

      Nnadi bonaventure Chima 5 years ago from Johanesburg

      Great lens ,the topography is good to behold

    • weakbond profile image

      Nnadi bonaventure Chima 5 years ago from Johanesburg

      Great lens ,the topography is good to behold

    • HhaosThorngage profile image

      HhaosThorngage 5 years ago

      absolutely awesome lens on a great subject!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Wow - quite remarkable captures! Thanks so much for sharing - congrats on LotD and here's some SquidAngel dust!

    • writerkath profile image

      writerkath 5 years ago

      Wanted to hop over again and congratulate you on LOTD!! Also, I got your comment about coming back to New England for more hiking... John (Hubby) told me to tell you that the section of the trail we see is "Gulfside Trail" from about "Thunderstorm Junction" over to "Airline" - those will be labeled on your maps. Give a shout if you make it to the Gorham or North Conway area when you come back next year! :) Kath

    • Close2Art LM profile image

      Close2Art LM 5 years ago

      a very fine lens, congrats on LOTD, Angel Blessings***

    • profile image

      edisonmindset 5 years ago

      Spectacular and Informative! Great LOTD!

    • profile image

      candy47 5 years ago

      Congratulations on Lens of the Day! Beautiful lens and stunning photos :)

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 5 years ago from Connecticut

      Wow, just an amazing photographic journey that captures the dichotomy of nature at a truly stunning location. Beautiful!!

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      Wow! The difference between a drought and a flash flood is phenomenal. What a beautiful lens and quite the experience to see it I'll bet. Well deserved LOD!

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 5 years ago

      Just thought I would stop back in to say congratulations on the LOTD. Well deserved.

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 5 years ago from USA

      Congratulations, this gorgeous lens was selected as Lens of the Day today. You can read about it at SquidooHQ:

    • bestvpn1 profile image

      bestvpn1 5 years ago

      great lens

    • profile image

      Nayyte7 5 years ago

      I want to go mudding in a lifted chevy right here! Oh yeah!

    • profile image

      TheTuscan 5 years ago

      I only can tell you that I would like to go there. I've recently seen Niagara Falls in America and Rhine Falls in Europe.

      But I'm still missing any muddy falls completely.

    • Kaamra LM profile image

      Kaamra LM 5 years ago


    • Kaamra LM profile image

      Kaamra LM 5 years ago


    • GabStar profile image

      GabStar 5 years ago

      No but it looks fantastic!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Congratulations for the lens of the day.

    • profile image

      msseiboi 5 years ago

      No..but seems wonderful

    • rob-hemphill profile image

      Rob Hemphill 5 years ago from Ireland

      Great photos, and what an adventure, very well done!

    • sarasentor lm profile image

      sarasentor lm 5 years ago

      This is very amazing lens.

    • LynetteBell profile image

      LynetteBell 5 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      Congratulations on LOTD and your win. Well done!

    • GoGirl2012 profile image

      GoGirl2012 5 years ago

      wow amazing!!! This is a great lens, congratulations

    • profile image

      nutritioncounseling 5 years ago

      Nice Lens! Congrats on LOTD!

    • nicks44 profile image

      nicks44 5 years ago

      This place goes beyond any expectation! I just hope to find the time soon enough to visit it properly myself! Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

    • intermarks profile image

      intermarks 5 years ago

      Your have beautiful pictures. Congratulation!

    • essayshub profile image

      essayshub 5 years ago

      it is such a great adventure! Congrats for the achievement.

    • profile image

      ZarisaMontgomery 5 years ago

      Congrats on your squidwoot win! Beautiful lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Congratulations on your win, no excuses for not adding more beautiful pictures to your future lens now of your own.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      wow..this place is nice. thanks for sharing..

    • DesertRatDan profile image

      DesertRatDan 5 years ago

      Very Excellent Lens! Great Job and Congrats on the Purple Star!

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 5 years ago from Australia

      Woah. Awesome difference! Congratulations on your win :-)

    • AgingIntoDisabi profile image

      AgingIntoDisabi 5 years ago

      Amazing photographs - makes me feel like I'm there.

    • KevinGeetar profile image

      KevinGeetar 5 years ago

      Excellent lens!! I've not been to this area, but am planning a trip out that way in the next couple years.....will have to add this to the itinerary.....Kev

    • Dusty2 LM profile image

      Dusty2 LM 5 years ago

      First, Congratulations on winning SquidWoot #4 Challenge. Enjoy the camera you won and take many more awesome photos as you have edited into your lens here. Hope to see more awesome photos. i lived in AZ for awhile and knew about those seasonal dry washes. One minute dry, next minute overflowing and flooding. You definitely captured that in your photos and the results. Thank You for sharing your lens, photos and experiences. Please; "Pay It Forward"!

    • crystalwriter profile image

      Crystal A Murray 5 years ago from Corydon, Indiana, USA

      Congratulations on your win, and I can see why you got it. The lens is interesting and informative, and I like the bio you included. I'm from Kingman, but have never seen the LCR. Now I live in Kentucky, so I don't know it it'll be in my future, but I enjoyed visiting it here. BTW, there is a book called "Kaleidoscope Eyes" by Karen Ball that is about an SAR volunteer who has synesthesia. Interesting read even if you don't read the other 2 books in the series.

    • profile image

      DebMartin 5 years ago

      Awesome photos!

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      Your pictures are amazing - I am from the Northeast, and we don't have anything quite like this! That's quite a story...

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      Wonderful pictures, great documentary and well deserving of the win. Congratulations. Featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen 2012-2. Hugs.

    • BernardSinai LM profile image

      BernardSinai LM 5 years ago

      Congratulations on this winning lens. Great pictures too. :-)

    • bluewren56 lm profile image

      bluewren56 lm 5 years ago

      Well deserved. Great lens, fantastic pictures.


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