Upper Antelope Canyon
One of the great wonders of the American West is Antelope Canyon, within the
Navajo Nation in northern Arizona. Parts of Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon form into "slot canyons",
one of Canyon Country's most exquisite and unusual phenomena.
(Left, beautiful lighting and color looking towards the top of the canyon.)
Slot canyons are exceedingly narrow, sheer-walled sandstone canyons, sometimes
only a few feet wide and hundreds of feet high. These constricted canyons can
cause spectacular flash floods during the occasional powerful summer storms in
the region. The force of the floodwaters combined with eons of time carves and polishes
the canyon's sandstone walls into exquisite shapes. The canyon shadowy walls combined with
sunlight beams that penetrate the canyon often create scenes of unbelievable and surreal
natural beauty. As the day goes on, changing light angles create a kaleidoscope
of patterns and colors.
(At right: Assorted beams of sunlight are a special highlight of particularly of Upper Antelope Canyon near the noon hour when the days are long, and the sun is high. All of the photos on this page were taken in Upper Antelope Canyon.)
A short section of Upper Antelope Canyon (about 1/4 mile) is exceedingly
narrow and convoluted and is considered by many to be the most beautiful and
photogenic slot canyon in the world. There are those who consider it almost a religious
experience. A noted landscape photographer calls it "...a place of celebration
for the eye, mind, and spirit".
However it doesn't take a professional photographer to be inspired here
or to shoot a great picture (See photography tips below).
Unlike many slot canyons, Upper Antelope Canyon is accessible and easy to visit. Its
flat sandy bottom allows easy access to anyone. You simply walk up a wash and then into a hillside. Many slot canyons are filled
with obstructions such as debris, deep pools of standing water, and quicksand.
You need to be a serious outdoors person to negotiate such canyons. The disadvantage
here is that you might not get the requisite privacy to be "inspired".
(Left) The north entrance to the narrows of Upper Antelope Canyon does not betray
what's inside. The areas above and below the narrow section are wide open washes.
Access to Antelope Canyon is by guided tour only. The Navajo Nation is very strict
on this point after a terrible flash flood in 1997 caused many fatalities. Professional
guides know that the canyon is safe before entering. Several operators offer inexpensive tours to Upper Antelope Canyon out of nearby Page, Arizona. One guide is available near the canyon entrance off the main highway (AZ-98). Some tours specialize in helping you take outstanding pictures. The upper canyon tour lasts about two hours. The lower canyon offers a slightly more difficult hike, which requires descending on ladders.
About Slot Canyons
Slot canyons generally start as a surface or subsurface fissure.
Much of the Colorado Plateau consists of solid blocks of sandstone, which
sometimes cracks leaving a fissure where water may accumulate. A downslope
can cause it to become a drainage channel. The awesome erosive power of flowing water may then
interacts with the soft sandstone over eons of time to create a slot canyon.
(Right) It's popular to pose for a photo in the canyon's natural
"spotlights". Here, the picture taker becomes a poser as well.
For more information on guided tours, hours, and fees, please visit the
Antelope Canyon-Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park
website or call (928) 698-2808.
With the proper equipment, an individual
with modest photographic skills can take a great picture at Antelope Canyon.
Here are some tips from our resident photographer.
- Use a good digital or SLR camera that allows you to set the aperture and shutter speed manually.
- Use high-speed ISO 800 or better for hand-held photographs. For slower ISO speeds,
A tripod is necessary for the slower shutter speeds and longer exposures.
But beware that the canyon is narrow and can get crowded requiring you to move your tripod.
- The canyon can be quite dusty so try to avoid changing lenses if you can.
- The best time to get photos of the light shafts would be at mid-day when the sun can shine into the narrow canyon. Your camera's meter may under or overexpose the scene, so it is best to bracket your exposures.
- Look for good lighting within the canyon. Strong sunlight and deep shadows can make it challenging to get good photographs.
- Stay hydrated. Be sure to carry water with you.