Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon one of two slot canyons located off the highway 98 just outside of Page, Arizona near the Utah border.

Entering Lower Antelope Canyon
Entering Lower Antelope Canyon

Slot Canyons are formed in usually arid regions, where a little bit of rain falls, and fulls the dry rivers of the desert southwest.  The water can flash flood, which picks up speed and debris and scours the landscape.  Overtime, the water forces itself into cracks in the rock and widens the deepens the crack into a deep narrow canyon.   Lower Antelope is a commonly overlooked when compared the Upper Antelope Canyon, although does seem to be gaining in popularity.

Hasdestwazi, or “spiral rock arches ” as it is known to the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation, Lower Antelope slowly exposes itself to you as a small crack in the rock which grows slightly in width, and dramatically  in depth as you climb down into the slot canyon.

Unlike Upper Antelope Canyon which is an easy walk, Lower Antelope Canyon is a steep and deep trail as the passage plunges deeper into the rock.  The Navajo Nation is kind enough to maintain metal stairs to aid the trek, however on my last visit the stars where covered in mud, silt and debris from a recent storm which further sculpts the rock.   Upper Antelope pulls you eyes up into the colorful light above, however there is no real sense of depth.  Lower Antelope Canyon constantly reminds you how deep you really are beneath the surface.

The stairs inside of lower Antelope Canyon show signs of a recent flood.
The stairs inside of lower Antelope Canyon show signs of a recent flood.

Just like Upper Antelope Canyon, a narrow opening at the top of the canyon only allows a little light the enter the canyon.  This light bounces off the canyon walls, and throughout the day, a light show of glowing rock, shadows and textured water sculpted rock offer a wonderful visuals to the visitors.

The sculpted rock and light offer beauty, texture and scenic photographic opportunities, however this beauty hides a danger.  An August 12, 1997 a group of eleven tourists where killed inside the canyon when a flash flood filled the canyon in seconds.  A sole tour guide survived the tragedy.

As I follow the canyon down towards Lake Powell in the distance, I would constantly find my self touching the smooth canyon rock walls, all the while knowing that a summer monsoon miles aware could end my time on this planet.  However, although always a bit uneasy, it is an amazing place and well worth the trip and the remote risk.

Upper Antelope Canyon

Located just outside of Page, Arizona Upper Antelope Canyon is arguably the best known slot canyon on the planet, yet few people will know its name outside of desert enthusiasts.  For those unaware of these structures, slot canyons are extremely narrow canyons, carved by water, which are typically just a few feet wide, but may be just a few inches.  The typically arid dessert can instantly turn into raging torrent of water in just a few minutes with just a few inches of water.  This water picks up speed, and debris such as sand, which scours the landscape including rock.  Antelope Canyon is found on Navajo Tribal land, and access to the canyon is only allowed with a Navajo Guide.

Molten Wave - Located in Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona Antelope Canyon is the best known slot canyon.
Molten Wave – Located in Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona Antelope Canyon is the best known slot canyon.
Parallelism – The smooth canyon walls of Antelop Canyon offer amazing photographic images.

Antelope Canyon is actually two separate slot canyons located a short distance from each other on either side of US 98.  Upper Antelope Canyon is know as Tse’ bighanilini, which in Navajo means “the place where water runs through rocks.”  Travel to the Canyon is done via Navajo run transport and you are allowed about 2 hours for your visit.  The site is at about 4,000 feet elevation and the canyon walls rise 120 feet above a stream bed.

I would like to thank the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation for keeping this location sacred and available to us.

James Rathbun, Destination4x4.com

Access into the upper canyon is simply a walking into a canyon.  The trail is flat and sandy and very easy to manage.  Upon entrance into the Upper Antelope Canyon you are immediately struck by the texture and color of this place.  Just inside the entrance, is a small chamber which seems to great you, and the pink and orange glow of the light bouncing off the walls force your eyes up.  The geography is such, that the narrow opening high above you lets in a small fraction of the available light, and that light bounces down towards the bottom of the canyon.

Relatively short, Upper Antelope Canyon may be traversed in just 5 minutes.  However, this is simply a waste of your time if you just rush through.  The only complaint of the canyon, are the other visitors.  As a photographer, I have many photographs ruined by people turning a corner and walking into my frame while I was making an exposure.  This does not mean they were rude or anything but patient, but rather an unfortunate side effect of composing photographs with long exposure times in a 18 inch wide slot Canyon.

French Curve - Upper Antelope Canyon
French Curve – Upper Antelope Canyon

As with all beautiful things, we must share this location and Antelope Canyon is a must stop location every time I visit the area.  There is a hidden danger, in that the very forces which sculpt a slot canyon are still very much in play and every few years a new story will appear about someone being killed in a slot canyon due to a sudden flash flood.

I would like to thank the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation for keeping this location sacred and available to us.

Upper Antelope Canyon Map

Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods is a beautiful sandstone valley and located in the South East corner of Utah near Mexican Hat. alley of the Gods is the lesser known northern extension of Monument Valley and is frequently confused with Monument Valley. The valley is carved out from a layer of eroded sandstone, and features two large table top mesa with are long and narrow in shape. These mesas appear like ship sails again a sea of clear blue skies.  

The seventeen mile trail loops north from highway 163 and then travels back the the south west to connect to highway 261 and recommended for high clearance vehicles.

Valley of the Gods, Utah
Large format photograph take in Valley of the Gods, Utah provided by James L Rathbun

Down towards to the of the valley, two beautiful spires reminded me of sailing ships in the desert. The road winds between them to provide for an amazing drive.

Unlike Monument Valley which is controlled by the Navajo Nation, the valley is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and does not contain any services or campgrounds, or tribal restrictions. There are several small camping spots on the loop and when I visited in October the number of people seems to be quite low.

Valley of the Gods trail map