Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The magic of Antelope Canyon

Page, Arizona is known as home of the Navajo reservation, gateway to Grand Canyon National Park, and a houseboat haven with a variety of water activities on Lake Powell.  In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the region as people who love and appreciate nature’s magnificence have discovered Antelope Canyon.

Magnificent colors of 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, it has become a source of tourism business for the Navajo Nation. In fact, Antelope Canyon can only be visited on tours guided by Navajo-licensed guides.

A canyon is formed
Carved from the same sand and waters that flowed into the Colorado River and created the Grand Canyon, the walls of Antelope Canyon have been sculpted into clearly defined strata and graceful curves. These undulating formations provide the canvas where streaks of sunlight glow in kaleidoscopic patterns on the rocks.

Wave formations on rocks in Antelope Canyon
Erosion has worn the rock walls into beautiful and diverse sculptures, and every season offers different views according to the angle of the sun in the sky. When the sun is high in the sky—mostly during summer months--light beams shine through the narrow slots and radiate in brilliant colors. Yellow, orange, pink, blue, and purple hues gleam on canyon walls creating magnificent spectacles of varying shapes, textures, and colors. It looks as though a magician waved his magic wand around the canyon and splashed the walls with vibrant paint.

Upper Antelope Canyon
Entrance to Upper Antelope Canyon

Jagged slot formations in the Upper Canyon
A jeep ride through Antelope Basin, a dry creek bed that typically floods at least two times a year during monsoon season (June to late October) limiting access to the canyon, takes visitors to the canyon’s entrance. Of the two canyons, Upper Antelope is shorter and wider.

It seemed dark inside until our eyes adjusted to light filtering through the slots and illuminating geometric designs on the canyon’s walls. As we walked through many of these slots, the patterns changed constantly, almost overloading our senses with vibrant colors and shapes I would never have thought possible in such a canyon.

Horizontal and vertical layers of rock absorbed the sun’s rays and reflected them back in nature’s artistic handiwork. Our guide shared specific names given to certain rock formations. Blue-streaked rock walls curved against glimmering orange and yellow outcroppings begging for photos, and we obliged.

Walking through the Upper Canyon is a magical experience.
Because the Upper Canyon is so popular—and crowded--special photography tours that required a tripod were discontinued in December, 2019. But it is possible to take remarkable pictures with a hand-held DSLR or point-and-shoot camera, or even a smart phone.  Although we did the photography tour on our first visit, when we returned a few years later, I primarily used my phone to take pictures.

Lower Antelope Canyon

Visitors walk down ladders to enter Lower Antelope Canyon.
We also toured Lower Antelope Canyon, whose underground recesses are accessed by climbing down a ladder.  During the tour, five ladders enabled us to explore different levels of the canyon, which was filled with more natural light than the Upper Canyon. While it's slightly more difficult to maneuver in the Lower Canyon, it is still very accessible for most people.
Light illuminates the rock walls in
mysterious ways.

Numerous narrow passages required squeezing between canyon walls, but I did not feel any claustrophobia. We were also allowed to touch, even sit on the Navajo sandstone, either for picture ops or just curiosity. Many tours left a spaced-out intervals, so we had to keep a good pace, but we still had enough time to marvel at the sights and take hundreds of photos.

Exquisite beauty of the Lower Canyon 
Rock formations seemed even more craggy and light displays on canyon walls more vivid in the Lower Canyon. Every step was a “wow” moment as curves, lines, angles, and waves of rock created constantly changing backdrops.

Change where you stand, and the light-filled scene at a given spot changes as the sun moves. We had to remind ourselves often to turn around and look behind us as well as to look up. 

Be sure to book tours online in advance of your visit as they sell out quickly.
Beverly exiting the Lower Canyon

Antelope Canyon is a place you can visit many times—each bringing a new experience. And that's what makes it so magical.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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