Presence of the Divine
|Photo of Antelope Canyon by Don Dowell|
Ever come to a place in the backcountry where you could see the presence of the Divine?
Antelope Canyon is one such a place. Well, it may not exactly be a backcountry destination, being just outside the tourist town of Page, Arizona, but it is renowned among canyon rats and photographers for being a place where light and sandstone come together as perhaps they do nowhere else on this planet. Antelope is the source of the most haunting and memorable slot canyon photography. Not coincidentally, pro photographers almost never give away its exact location. I will though, as well as share some of my experiences there and suggest the best ways to visit Antelope.
First of all, Page, Arizona is a pleasant large town on the shores of vast Lake Powell. A clean comfortable town, it has every resource and facility the canyon country hiker and photographer might need. To get there I often fly to Las Vegas and rent a car, price wars there keep prices for doing both things quite reasonable.
Antelope Canyon itself is roughly five miles long, best done as two separate trips. Antelope runs north into Lake Powell, running between Page itself and the Navajo Power Generating Plant. This huge controversial plant, whose smokestacks do the Southwest no good, is at least a reliable landmark against getting lost while in the general area. At night its red aircraft warning lights can be a welcome orientation point. Fortunately, the plant sort of keeps to itself visually and aesthetically and so doesn't actually distract from hiking in the area. (Of course it is not visible while inside the twisting sandstone corridors of Antelope itself.)
But getting lost is now a moot point. You can no longer hike into the canyon on your own. Hikers are required to go with one of the three licensed guides in Page or pay the guy at the gate off highway 98. The going rate in town for all three guides is around $40 for a 1-1/2 hour tour or around $60 for a 5 hour photographers' tour. These guides stay with their charges on the short tour and check frequently on photographers on the longer tour.
If you want to pay the guy at the gate, the going rate is around $10 for the drive out to the canyon and around $10 for every hour you want to spend in the canyon. This is great if you want spontaneity and a little more flexibility, but it can add up.
On my first visit, before the days of mandatory guides, I walked those three miles, a gallon jug of water in each hand to sustain me on what proved to be an all day visit there. I don't recommend that for a first visit though, the miles are usually hot and basically uninteresting. Throughout the day stained glass cathedrals are created and dissolved inside each corridor of upper Antelope as the sun moves about in the sky. One of the most timeless moments I have ever experienced was sitting in a large chamber of upper Antelope, watching as it blossomed from darkness to sandstone to glowing ethereal cathedral and then gently back to sunlit sandstone again.
Antelope is a slot canyon, and this spectacular section of it less than a city block long, so visiting it is more in the nature of visiting a natural temple than a typical day hike. Always bring plenty of water and appropriate clothing, you may find your self staying there till the sun goes down. Don't be put off from visiting this section because of Navajo control of it, they are a relaxed people, and deserve to make whatever money they can.
Lower Antelope is closed indefinitely to the public because of the August 1997 flash flood which swept 11 hikers and tons of mud and debris into the canyon.
Personally, I consider upper Antelope Canyon one of the crown jewels of the Southwest, and expect a time to come when it will be as well known as Canyon de Chile or Monument Valley.
Kenneth Silver is a hiker who especially loves the sea coast and the canyon country. He works for a mysterious federal organization and drives a pick-up truck.
For more photos of Antelope Canyon, check out Don Dowell's A Visit to Antelope Canyon.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication