A weekend at the Antelope Canyon
Even during an off-peak season, a long line of people wait at least 45 minutes under the blazing desert sun in front of a humble kiosk decorated with lovely photos and postcards boasting neighboring attractions. A good number more sit at nearby shaded benches, taking respite from the sun and patiently waiting for their turn to see one of the most photographed places in the country, if not the world.
Every now and again, the more impatient ones leave the long line to either come back at another less busy time or just give up their chance to see it altogether, thinking it can’t be worth all this. But the truth is, all that waiting and falling in line, all that slow roasting in the sun’s heat, while a great inconvenience to most of us, is worth the reward you get in return and then some.
We’ve never been to Page, AZ before, but it has always been a dream of mine to see for myself the golden-red wonders of the Antelope Slot Canyon. So with very little planning and our hotel reservation somehow lost, we made our way there from Los Angeles during the Easter weekend, our red Honda Accord packed to the brim with camping supplies for our last minute campsite reservation.
Outside the unfortunate stop-and-go traffic we encountered just a few miles east of Las Vegas, our 10-hour drive was relaxing. It felt like we’ve finally broken away, at least temporarily, from the chains of our workload and daily lives. And despite our earlier misfortunes and the other misfortunes that came after we got there, it was probably one of the most amazing vacations I’ve ever had, thanks in huge part to Page’s stunning and well-preserved landscapes.
The minute you enter the Southern Utah/Northern Arizona area, you feel like you’ve just crossed dimensions or somehow travelled to another world. The vastness of the landscapes and the majesty of the colossal red monoliths and mountains that border them will both impress and overwhelm the hardest and most apathetic of hearts. These sceneries are made even more magnificent by lush greeneries, brightly colored wildflowers of red, purple, yellow and orange, and towering transmission towers that look like metal giants walking the earth.
However, as impressive as all these are, they’re incomparable to the magic of the slot canyons, at least in my humble opinion. Situated southeast of the small city of Page and a few miles away from the banks of the grand Colorado River, these amazing land formations were carved through massive Navajo Sandstones over time by natural erosion and flash floods, resulting in stunning labyrinths made of texturized sandy red waves.
There are several slot canyons near the Utah-Arizona border but the Antelope Slot Canyons are the most prominent and the most photographed. Individually, there is the Upper Antelope Canyon, famous for its light beams that shine through holes from the roof, and there is the Lower Antelope Canyon.
The only thing that might be disappointing about a visit there is unless you purchase a photographer’s tour for the Lower Canyon, in which case you pay more ($50) to see the canyon at your leisure for 2 hours, you can only explore them by going on a closely-guided tour. This means that you have to share the experience with 15-20 other people in your group. It’s a minor inconvenience but a necessary one – guided tours mean better regulation for the preservation of these canyons.
At the suggestion of an acquaintance who has spent a lot of hours photographing the slot canyons, we went for the less-travelled one, the Lower Antelope Canyon. It’s just as beautiful but it’s longer and less popular than the Upper Antelope Canyon, which due to its size, popularity, and the number of companies that hold tours there, is crowded at all hours of the day.
When we got to the parking lot, there was already a long line waiting to get their tickets. It took us about an hour to get our tickets, mostly due to the fact that there was only one person manning the booth and they sell tickets by group every 15 minutes, and about an hour more to start the tour, a time we used by visiting a couple of other attractions (a generating station still in operation and the Antelope Point Marina). Luckily, since it’s still in the springtime, the sun wasn’t as harsh and the air wasn’t thick. Besides, like I said before it’s more than worth it when you finally see the slot canyon.
This canyon is only a few minutes from the proper city of Page but it feels like you’re in an entirely different place once you’re inside, walking through and discovering its pathways. Its passageways are bounded on both sides by beautiful waving sandstones and lit up by light coming through the slits above. And as you walk through it, you will find it decorated by delicate sandstone formations that imitate human and animal profiles and dotted by nooks and crannies that make for a perfect natural playground for kids and kids-at-heart. All these features give it that overall magical look and feel.
That is the beauty of the Lower Antelope Canyon. It is as ethereal as it is most definitely earthly. And being in it will most definitely make you feel like a kid again, pretending to be a treasure hunter off to a new adventure in the desert wilderness of an unknown land, discovering a golden secret passage as you make your way to the other side.
Tour tickets for the Lower Antelope Canyon cost $20 for adults and $15 for kids ages 7-12, with an additional $8-per-person compulsory Navajo Park permit fee. Lower Antelope Canyon tours start every 30 minutes from 8 am – 4 pm.
© Photography by Michelle Rae