If you’ve been on Instagram lately, chances are that you’ve seen the iconic and extremely photographic Antelope Canyon! I had the opportunity to visit the breathtaking landmark this past weekend and I can confidently say that it was even more visually spectacular in person.
Antelope Canyon is located in the city of Page, Arizona and is the most visited slot canyon in the American Southwest. The canyon was formed gradually over hundreds of years through natural flash flooding and rainwater running through the sandstone. Antelope Canyon itself is a tributary of the Colorado River which empties into Lake Powell (also located in the city of Page- but that’s for a different article!).
It gets its name from the Navajo stories of antelopes which grazed the region in the wintertime. Read more interesting facts about Antelope Canyon’s background, here!
Antelope Canyon is on land belonging to the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Tribe considers the land to be spiritual and sacred. For this reason, in 1997 the Navajo Tribe officially made Antelope Canyon a Navajo Tribal Park. Now, access to the canyon is only allowed by permit and through a guided tour.
There are two sections of canyon: The Upper Canyon (also known as “the crack”) and the Lower Canyon (also known as “the corkscrew”). The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon is Tsé bighánílíní, which means ‘the place where water runs through rocks’. Lower Antelope Canyon is Hazdistazíor ‘spiral rock arches’.
Our guide told us that the Lower Canyon is better known for its abundance of color, while the Upper Canyon is known for its glorious light beams.
Access to the canyons is also limited to guided tours for safety reasons. Water from rain miles away can quickly turn into flash floods. Tourists have been killed before from unexpected flash flooding. For this reason, the canyons often close when signs of rain appear.
Upper Antelope Canyon Tour
The Upper and Lower Canyon tours are located many miles apart and can only be accessed through car via a Navajo tour guide. These tours can book out months in advance, so make certain that you’re booking the correct type of tour for the experience you’re seeking!
If you want to see sunbeams book an Upper Canyon tour. If you want to see the abundance of color, book a Lower Canyon tour. It doesn’t matter which tour operator you book with in terms of where the income is going because all tour operators work together for the Navajo Nation.
When planning your visit, also consider the timing of day/year. These light beams are best viewed from the months of March – September (yup, when Arizona is at its hottest!), with the prime time of day for viewing being 11am – 1pm. This is because the sun’s position high in the sky on a clear day allows for the best angle of light into the canyon. However, know that if you happen to be visiting the canyon on a cloudy day it will still be a beautiful experience. I can only speak to the Upper Canyon Tour from my personal experience, but I’m sure that every tour is spectacularly well-done.
Tours run 90-100 mins from start to finish, with the tour company escorting you to and from the canyon (which means if you’re directionally challenged like me, there’s no reason to get lost!). You’re prohibited from bringing large backpacks because the Canyons because space gets narrow inside the crack and you run the risk of scratching the sides of these sacred canyons with your pack.
The Upper Canyon tour itself is more accessible in terms of difficulty (it’s only 0.25 miles in and out on a beach-like sand surface) there are no service animals allowed on the tour. The Lower Canyon requires more walking and the ability to climb steps into and out of the Canyon.
The money you pay for booking a tour and the income from guests visiting Antelope Canyon/the city of Page (as well as nearby Horseshoe Bend- again, for another article!) goes toward the local Navajo tribe- as it should!
Ultimately, remember that you’re a guest on Navajo Nation land when you’re visiting Page and Antelope Canyon. Respect the space, and keep in mind the canyon’s history and meaning to the Navajo Nation.
And of course- REMEMBER TO BRING YOUR CAMERA! 🙂
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