Lower Antelope Canyon
On the outskirts of Page lies the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons. They are the primary draw to the small city, with many adventure and tourist companies setting up camp in the town and arranging day trips into the canyon slot. The sandstone slot, carved by flash flooding and water torrents, is the most photographed slot canyon in the world.
I decide against the more populated Upper Canyon in favour of the Lower Canyon- but both are equally spectacular.
I arrive at midday- I want to be in the canyon at around this time as this is the only period in which the sun rays will penetrate the surface of the canyon.
After parking up, I am welcomed by a small kiosk titled ‘Ken’s Tours’ and a queue of 30-40 people. The only way into the Native Navajo owned land is via this tour group. My initial reaction to the entrance fee is that this is a complete stitch up- I’m highly sceptical, not only at paying the fee, but that I have to be led as part of a group- I have doubts how much freedom I will be allowed within the canyon depths to explore at my own leisure. As I am on my own, or a ‘lone wolf’ as one of the Native American shouts out, I am allowed to skip the queue (after paying the $30 fee) and join one of the tours being led into the canyon by a tribesman.
The slot that we are led into is no more than 5 feet wide. If I was out here on my own, just walking along the parched plain, there is no way I would have come across this. Our group of 15 descend down the metal steps. The steps were only introduced in the last few years as a measure of safety; Slot canyons are extremely susceptible to flash flooding- If rain or heavy cloud is forecast in the area then the tours into the slot do not operate. Rain falls as thunderstorms in the desert and as the sandstone holds a resilient, impermeable membrane, all that water quickly forms into small waterfalls that flood the narrow canyons. In 1997- 16 years prior to my visit 11 people were killed in this slot during a flash flood. We were told in depth how within less than 2 minutes of the first raindrops, the entire canyon was besieged by a torrent of water. Only one person survived and two of the bodies were washed away, never to be found.
° ° °
My initial doubts are quickly diminished and the tour guide is indeed terrific. He takes time to explain the history of the canyon and it’s significance to the Navajo, Native American community. He allows us to explore each chamber with a good degree of time and then explains and points out significant rock forms and features- including the ‘Rockie Peaks’ ‘The Lambs Head’ and the ‘Eagle rock’ – all which represent symbolic meanings to the natives.
As we are led deeper into the canyon the colours become more vibrant and vivid. Then at the ‘hole in the wall’ the tour guide gathers us together and tells us to ready our cameras. He then chucks sand into the air, which illuminate the sun-rays that are now flooding through the small gap and illuminating the interior canyon. It is incredible!
Mesmerised, we continue deeper into the canyon, dropping down narrow wells and squeezing through narrow gaps; The walls look like they have been sand blasted smooth and the rocks become more layered- each with their own individual tinge to them; Some purple, some red, some orange and some yellow. They flicker between these pigments and, carried by the fluid rock texture, form an incredible spectacle. It’s as if each rock is trying to out shine its neighbour with even more intense colour displays.
In our final chamber the tour guide gathers us round once more as he whacks out am Indian flute from under his sleeve-Ron Burgundy style. Calls of the Wild West echo and reverberate though the canyon, bouncing between the walls and further enlightening the drama and allure of the canyon. Again, its a truly unbelievable and unique experience.
An hour and a half later and we are led up the steps at the end of the canyon and rejoin the dried land above. I cannot say I’ve experience something as intimately incredible and bewildering as the Antelope Canyon. The best $30 I’ve ever spent and well worth the days detour to get here.