A Visual Visit to Antelope Canyon


There are some places in this world that words alone simply cannot express.  Antelope Canyon is one of those places.  Antelope Canyon isn’t particularly central to, well, anywhere really.  Yet the stunning natural beauty of this canyon of two halves draws thousands of tourists daily.  Instead of talking about why you should visit, I would like to give you a visual taste of the breathtaking beauty of Antelope Canyon.  Hopefully that should be enough to make you want to plan your own visit.

antelope canyon shapes

The powerful forces of rushing water create strange shapes as well as smoothing out the walls.

Where Is Antelope Canyon?

The closest town is Page in northern Arizona.  The canyon is just 5 miles east of downtown and tours often make Page their overnight stop.  Las Vegas in neighbouring Nevada is probably the closest main draw and at only 278 miles west it has one of the closest international airports.  Driving from Las Vegas is straight enough using US Interstate Highway 15.  Without any hold ups you can get to Page in only 4 and a half hours from the neon clad fascias of Las Vegas.

What’s So Special About Antelope Canyon?

Accessible slot canyons aren’t all that common.  Antelope Canyon had been open to climbers since the early 1980’s.  Climbing experience was mandatory but following the tragic death of 11 hikers when a flash flood hit the canyon in August 1997, Antelope Canyon was closed to the public for many years.  It re-openend in after stairs were bolted to certain sections to aid escape and it is now mandatory to take a guide with you.  The stairs make Antelope Canyon one of most accessible slot canyons open to the public.  You don’t need to be a perfect physical specimen to enjoy the canyon.  Although it isn’t able to accommodate wheelchairs, anyone who can manage a brisk walk over slightly uneven terrain and a few sets of stairs should be fine.

antelope canyon start

Descending the first staircase down can take a while but once you reach the bottom you may find you have a few seconds to start taking in the view.

The canyon has 2 distinct sections, Upper and Lower, the Upper Canyon has an ‘A’ shape in profile while the lower canyon more resembles a ‘V’.  Lower Antelope Canyon is the more popular of the 2 because of the narrow pathway that snakes it’ way through the soft sandstone.  Today I am focussing on Lower Antelope Canyon.

How Is The Canyon Formed and Shaped?

Sandstone is one of the softest rock types.  Over millennia, heavy rains in the surrounding hills wash through small fissures in the rock gradually widening the opening.  As the rock crumbles, the small fissure increases the flow of the incoming water eventually creating a washing machine effect.  Small particles of rock swirl around and polish the surrounding rock creating the fantastical shapes and smooth curves.

powerful forces, antelope canyon

The narrow passage of the canyon creates vortexes and sediment suspended in the water polishes the canyon walls as it travels leaving smooth sides

The movement of the sun over the small fissure at the roof of the canyon creates different beams of light that illuminate the canyon below throwing different parts into light and shade at different times of the day .  It’s impossible to take a bad photo and there really isn’t a preferred to.e to visit.  If you like to see the suns rays streaking through the canyon you had better be on the first tour though because they are better while it is low in the horizon.  Later in the day the canyon has a warming glow about it while the sun is directly overhead.

How To Visit Antelope Canyon

antelope canyon start

Groups are held here. There is only 1 narrow staircase down so it can sometime be a long wait.

The canyon sits on Navajo land and they are responsible for all aspects of your visit.  There is a small gift shop and snack stall but you would be best advised to bring a bottle of water for your visit.  Your entrance fee includes the use of a Navajo guide .  Following the tragic death of 11 people you are no longer allowed to hike in the canyon without a guide present.

Groups of around 20-30 people are led the short walk from the visitor centre to the far end of the canyon.  With so many people visiting you will probably have a small wait to descend the starcaise at the start.  While it feels crowded ‘up top’, once you are in the canyon you can sneak small pockets of time alone without anyone present.  Having said that it would be better to limit the number of daily visitors than have the current format where you definitely feel more like a number than a valued guest.

The Canyon Floor

Stepping off the last rung of the staircase at the bottom end of the canyon there is a marked temperature difference from ground level.  The sheer canyon walls either side of you feel as if they are about to topple in.  It is an assault on the scenses.  With soft sand underfoot there is only 1 way to go.  With the sheer amount of people, the canyon floor is one way only and you are constntly requested to keep things moving.  It can feel a little like a conveyer belt at times which is a shame.  With a landscape so different and photogenic it’s natural that people want to stop and take it in.  My best advice is to make the best use of the short amount of time you have available.  The escorted tour will last roughly 2 hours but that time will absolutely fly by once you are on the canyon floor.

antelope canyon sky

With so much to see above you it is sometimes hard concentrating on where you are walking.

antelope canyon passage, crowded antelope canyon

The passage narrows in places so you can’t even put one foot in front of the other.

antelope canyon stairs

Some sections require a small climb. Here you can still make out the foot holds used by climbers in the past.

ghostly silhouette antelope canyon

The ghostly silhouette left by water and sand.

antelope canyon sunrise, light in antelope canyon, photographing antelope canyon

Playing with light in the canyon creates some amazing photos.

exiting antelope canyon

Stepping back into the suns bright rays, you would hardly realise that there was a beautiful landscape beneath your feet if it wasn’t pointed out to you.

Plus Your Visit To Antelope Canyon

The trail leading down to the view after a short 5 minute climb.

Horseshoe Bend is probably one of the most photographed sections of the Grand Canyon but few people realise it is actually nowhere near the West or South Rim sections.  If you are visiting Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend is only 20 minutes drive away just off Interstate Highway 89.  From the parking lot a rocky 1.5 mile (2.4 kilometre) trail leads to the lookout.

Standing on a precipice above the mighty Colorado River staring down 1000 feet to the fast flowing waters below I felt as though I was only only person here despite the crowds surrounding me.  Breathtaking landscapes can do that to you.

horseshoe bend Arizona

The 30-40 minute walk, sometimes in searing summer temperatures, has a big pay off.

 

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