Travel: Antelope Canyon is an Arizona wonder
IF YOU GO ...
What: Antelope Canyon
Where: Page, Arizona
When: The sandstone canyons are available through tours year round, but they see far less traffic during the winter months. Traffic picks up in March when schools across the country are on spring break.
• Canyon tours, and access to the canyons, close off during rain storms if flash floods become a possibility. August and September are typically the wetter months in the northern Arizona area.
• Tours are available only through private touring companies in the area. Cost of each tour can vary with different levels of accessibility and the tourist’s photography skill.
PAGE, Ariz. — A pretty good description of how American Indians in the area have felt about Antelope Canyon can be found on the Navajo Nation’s parks and recreation website.
“To older Navajos, entering a place like Antelope Canyon was like entering a cathedral,” said the site, found at navajonationparks.org. “They would probably pause before going in, to be in the right frame of mind and prepare for protection and respect. This would also allow them to leave with an uplifted feeling of what Mother Nature has to offer, and to be in harmony with something greater than themselves. It was, and is, a spiritual experience.”
That description of Antelope Canyon is pretty accurate. The curved sandstone walls that make up the iconic images seen by many are breathtaking in photographs, but they’re even more so when they’re seen in person. That’s one of the things that makes it not only one of the most photographed slot canyons on Earth, but a priority on any Arizona road trip.
HISTORY OF ANTELOPE CANYON
According to guides who give tours of both canyons — the upper and lower Antelope Canyon — were formed by hundreds of years worth of water runoff that helped carve the sandstone formations that exist today. According to Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation, local American Indians who were native to the area said the land around the canyon served primarily as cattle-grazing land. Although no one is completely clear on when the canyons were discovered, it got its name because of the herds of pronghorn antelope the roamed freely near and around the canyons and inside of the canyons themselves.
THE ATTRACTIONS THEMSELVES
Much like Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, where traveling up valley refers to traveling to a higher elevation instead of north, the same applies to the upper and lower Antelope Canyon.
The upper canyon is known by the Navajo as the Tse’ bighanilini, which means “the place where water runs through rocks.” The entrance to the canyon is located on the left side — or south side — of Arizona Highway 89 headed north to Page. The canyon itself is above the ground, based at close to 4,000 feet above sea level with its summit rising close to 120 feet above the creek bed.
The creek bed is soft and sandy, and there’s both narrow and wide passageways from the beginning of the canyon until the end. Depending on the time of day, the light that comes into the canyon can not only change the colors of the walls, but can also send narrow, single beams of light streaming to the canyon floor.
The lower canyon is called the Hasdestwazi, or “spiral rock arches.” That canyon actually goes below the sandstone creek surface, and the hike through it is much more narrow than the easy by comparison hike through the upper canyon.
TOURS AND PHOTOGRAPHY
You have plenty of tour companies to choose from, whether they’re right on site or listed via phone book or Google search. Tour prices also depend on what your level of photography is.
A typical walk-through tour can cost in the ballpark of $45, and it can include van transportation to the upper canyon courtesy of the tour company. Anyone who wants to use a tripod to accommodate for the low-light conditions in the canyons will typically be charged an extra $20 fee.
However, for a fee around $80, photographers can book a time where they can reserve an entire two-hour slot to themselves, which helps them avoid the constant foot traffic that comes with the regular tours. Lighting for photos is best between February until the beginning of April in the canyons from 10 a.m. to noon, and private photo sessions are only available before that or after 4 p.m. daily.
Guides, however, are very knowledgeable, helpful and willing to point you in the direction of where a good photo could be or to give tips on proper camera settings. For the ambitious, night-photography tours are available for fees that can reach close to $1,000.
This story originally ran in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, a sister paper to Tahoe Daily Tribune located in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
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