Friday, December 20, 2019

No more photography tours at Upper Antelope Canyon

The Page-Lake Powell area on the border of Arizona and Utah, offers some of the best scenery and recreational opportunities in the U.S. That’s because Page is known as home of the Navajo reservation, gateway to Grand Canyon National Park, and a houseboat haven on Lake Powell.

Uncommon beauty at Upper Antelope Canyon near Page, AZ
But for people who love and appreciate the magnificence of nature’s handiwork, perhaps the town’s best claim to fame is Antelope Canyon.

A slot canyon located on Navajo land just a few miles east of Page, Antelope Canyon includes two separate, photogenic sections—Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. As a popular destination for sightseers and photographers, it has become a source of tourism business for the Navajo Nation and can only be visited on tours guided by Navajo-licensed guides.
Sunlight shines through the slots
to create colorful visions.

Most likely you’ve seen pictures of Antelope Canyon without realizing where it is because it is one of the most photographed canyons in the world for calendars, magazine covers, and artistic prints. In fact, it was the subject of a photo that sold for a record $6.5 million in 2014.

But the opportunity for amateur (and professional) photographers to capture such incredible shots is diminishing. Blame the canyon’s beauty—and social media--for creating a site so popular that photography tours now must be curtailed.

Nirvana for photographers
We're walking through sculpted
canyon walls.
When Larry and I first visited Antelope Canyon in 2015, we signed up for a special photography tour in the Upper Canyon, which meant we had to have a tripod or monopod and SLR camera. The intent was to allow serious photographers the opportunity to stay in the Upper Canyon for up to two hours, twice as long as a regular sightseeing tour.

Photographers carrying tripods into Upper Antelope Canyon in 2015.
The tour worked better than our tripods—which we ended up just carrying and not using, although our guide actually held back crowds for short periods of time so the six photographers could take pictures of the amazing rock formations without interference. In addition to our guide helping with tips and composition, being on the dedicated photo tour gave us the opportunity to plan shots and position ourselves to obtain better images.
Erosion has worn canyon walls
into layered rock formations.

Now, this was in November, not during the summer months when sightseeing tours become super crowded, and guides rush people through as quickly as possible. In the last several years, the popularity of photo tours—which are substantially more expensive—and the difficulty of achieving the desired results because of overcrowding, has led the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation to unanimously agree to discontinue these photo tours after December 20, 2019.

Great pictures are easy to take—it’s all in the scene

Fast forward to September 2019 when we visited Antelope Canyon again. We did not sign up for a photography tour because we realized that it’s possible to take outstanding photos using a handheld camera or smart phone. This freed us to take in the wonders of the canyon and admire its spectacular shapes, colors, and textures without dragging a tripod around.

Colors change with time of day
and seasons of the year, depending
how high the sun is in the sky.
Photo tours were only offered in the Upper Canyon anyway because it is flatter and shorter than the Lower Canyon. It’s still recommended to carefully choose time of year and time of day to most likely produce the amazing undulating patterns colored by streaks of glowing sunlight on limestone canyon walls. Erosion has worn the rock into beautiful and diverse sculptures, and every season offers different views according to the angle of the sun in the sky.

The canyon dwarfs Beverly.
But no matter when you visit, you’ll want to tuck away your camera from time to time and just admire the glorious sights in front of and behind you.  As we walked through many of the slots, the patterns changed constantly, almost overloading our senses with vibrant colors and shapes I would never have thought possible in a canyon. Horizontal and vertical layers of rock absorbed the sun’s rays and reflected them back in nature’s artistic handiwork. Blue-streaked rock walls curved against glimmering orange and yellow outcroppings begging for photos--and we obliged.

Even smart phones can take gorgeous
pictures when you position yourself
to capture such angles.
Standard sightseeing tours are still available for both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons, as the Navajo tour operators hope to create a better experience for everyone. However, it’s best to book tours in advance, even months ahead during busy tourist times. You can do this online to save time and guarantee your spot to see this breathtaking, Instagram-worthy attraction. Just go!

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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