Antelope Canyon

An incredible slot canyon near Page, AZ.

Antelope Canyon from the airAntelope Canyon is a narrow slot canyon, about 1/4 miles long, that carves its way through a huge sandstone rock formation that would otherwise block Antelope Wash. From the air, it isn’t very impressive at all — just a wide, sandy wash with a big rock in it — a rock that happens to have a slit carved down its middle. (This shot was taken in September, from the south looking north.) But from the ground, it’s something amazing. A cool, isolated retreat from the desert heat.

At least it would be if it weren’t such a tourist attraction.

In all fairness, you can still get a feeling of isolation at Antelope Canyon. Just find a quiet spot somewhere in the middle of the slot and wait there patiently until the tour groups walk through and come back. You’ll hear the echo of voices, sometimes hushed, and see the laser pointers of the Navajo guides pointing out what the gringos want to see: the Liberty Bell, the bear, Abe Lincoln’s profile. But even that fades away as the guide leaves her charges to explore on their own. Most folks don’t last long. It’s a beautiful place, but where are the gift shops? Few stop to appreciate what they’re seeing — the force of water cutting through stone over thousands of years. When they wander back out to the tour truck, they leave the canyon in silence for you and the dedicated photographers who have also waited. Enjoy this fleeting moment; another tour truck is on its way.

Antelope CanyonI’ve been to Antelope Canyon twice. I think I took this photo on the first trip. I didn’t have a tripod — which is highly recommended for photography — on either trip, but I still managed to get one or two clear shots.

I also got to experience the quiet calm of the canyon for a few moments as I leaned up against one of its smooth, cool walls in the shadows and watched the rays of light play on the dust particles hanging in the air. I jotted down these notes in a small notebook I had with me, trying to capture the feeling of the moment:

Sandstone swirls [smooth]
Carved cracks open to the sky
80,000 years
Cedar trees from 40 miles away
An owl’s nest
Echoes in German
A cool seat
Fine pink sand
The floor rises and falls
Too dark for photos
Shafts of reflected light
A bird calls far above [insistent]
Tumbleweed hangs overhead
The light turns the paper blue
Here comes a breeze
A shower of sand
Stripes
Let your eyes adjust and all is revealed.

The best time to visit Antelope Canyon is midday, midweek, off-season. Although midday is good for photography and popular with tourists, there are always fewer tourists on weekdays during the off-season months. I’m willing to bet that March and September are good. I’ll try it one of these days and let you know.

What do you think?