National parks

Antelope Canyon : the magic of a natural phenomenon

3 April 2016
Antelope Canyon road trip

I know a few of you were waiting for this article with great impatiente. It is true that when you see pictures from Antelope Canyon, we have a hard time believing this place is actually for real considering how surrealist it looks ! But it is real, and you can find it in Arizona, very close from the border with Utah (by the way the time zones are distributed in a particular way around there, you will tell me if you get something…). Quick correction, this article is classified in the national park category, but it is actually on Navajo land, a semi-autonomous area covering over 71 000 km² in the Western part of the US.

Lower Antelope Canyon road trip

I am unfortunately still not habilitated to give your a geology lecture, but to give you a quick explanation, the canyon formed itself naturally over the years. Its Navajo name is Tsé bighánílíní dóó Hazdistazí (I will let you try to pronounce that one), which means “the place where water runs through rocks”. And that is precisely the perfect description of this phenomenon, as it is the water that eroded the sandstones to give them their current aspect ! It is actually also one of the reasons you cannot visit Antelope Canyon by yourself. In fact, the canyon can rapidly be submerged by unexpected rain falls.

Antelope Canyon road trip

» Getting to Antelope Canyon

As I write the articles, the problem is that I realize that I say the same things over and over again. And rambling at 23 is not that great. But well, I will say it once again : it was an important step for us. We are getting further away from the Pacific coast and it might be too complicated on a timing level for people not staying very long on the US West coast… But otherwise, the detour is mandatory; and we made it from Grand Canyon ! Impossible to cut through the crevasse of course, so you should count about 2H30 to get to Lower Antelope Canyon.

Lower Antelope Canyon road trip

Yes, because there are actually 2 canyons that you can visit – Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. Upper Antelope Canyon is the most visited because there is more space inside, making the access easier for tourists. On our side, we chose to go to Lower Antelope Canyon – where the guys met with us for the visit (they apparently could not do without us anymore haha). I am not going to lie, we ended up there by chance somehow, following the GPS and various signs. Actually, we were not even sure to be at the right place when we arrived, the area does not look much. It was a simple parking lot on which a few vehicles were parked and 2 western shacks were standing. But the reason for that is mostly that we got the chance to arrive at a not so touristic period, and there was almost no one there. We had not booked anything (bleh) and were not even aware that you could not take the tour by yourself, and still we just got our tickets and were leaving for the visit about 15 minutes later.

Antelope Canyon road trip

FYI, we chose Ken’s Tour for our visit. Why ? Honestly, I could not give a detailed answer to that question. Prices are basically the same for both companies, and are definitely lower than at Upper Antelope Canyon anyway. but I just think that the guides were a bit nicer at Ken’s Tour and that they could make us leave sooner than the other one. There are 2 types of tours : a normal one and one for photographers (longer, and during which you get many chances and breaks to install your tripod).  We paid 28$, which was around 26€ at the time, for the 1H30 tour. Prices are evolving with the season. It sounded quite expensive at the beginning, but it is definitely worth it !

Antelope Canyon road trip

» Visiting Antelope Canyon

Accessing the canyon is possible through a flight of stairs going down at the heart of the rock (see pictures above). Some travel guides talk about an athletic start… No way, it is not complicated at all and you will not hurtle down at full speed. At the beginning of the visit, the guide will tell you a bit about the history of the canyon and give you information about its creation. But more importantly, he will give you the rules to follow once you are inside. Breaking with those rules means being kicked out of the tour, which would be a shame (it actually happened to tourists from our group).

Lower Antelope Canyon road trip

For the rest of the tour, I do not have much else to say besides that you should simply admire this impressive natural phenomenon ! You will discover rocks with many different colors and patterns, no spot looks exactly like another one. And with some imagination, you can see some images playing with the perspective and shadows (like you would do with clouds) : an Indian chief, a rose, an eagle… The guide showed them to us; I actually spotted some, others will stay a mystery. We spent a really good time as the guide were really cool and we were not bothered by the rest of the group at all (this could not even count as a crowd actually).

Lower Antelope Canyon road trip

» A few photography tips

Well, I am far from being a photographer… And actually my tips will mostly be for the iPhone camera ! I have not told you about this story yet but I lost/forgot my camera in the place coming back Hawaii a few months before the road trip. So I had to come to terms with this beautiful piece of technology from Apple, but honestly, it does not look too bad on other articles, does it ? Fortunately, for this step, we were with the guys, and Eirik generously gave me his pictures afterwards. Anyway, I am losing my way… As I was explaining it here above, there are specific tours for photographers. For normal visits, it is forbidden to use a tripod, so you should firstly set up your camera according to the luminosity at the time of the tour. It is the essential thing you should think about, in order to avoid blurry pictures and have a good view of the colors and patterns. Multiply the shots to be able to select your favorites afterwards !

The guide was really great with us and gave us many tips about how to get the perfect shot ! On the iPhone, you can activate the “Chrome” mode for the camera (bottom right of the app, in the menu with the 3 colored circles) : magic, all the canyon colors are wonderfully exposed. Tip to keep in mind for Grand Canyon and Monument Valley by the way ! Other than that, a thing that I would not have thought about by myself : use the panorama mode, but instead of sweeping the landscape from left to right, do it from bottom to top. Guaranteed success to capture beautiful shots of Antelope Canyon. During our visit, the guide also took the time to show us interesting points of view to get nice pictures. Here is the ABC of photography in this spectacular place; you are now ready to compete with Windows wallpapers – yay !

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