Antelope Canyon



Nature's most exquisite and winding passageway of form, color and ethereal lighting

With narrow walls and a narrow window of azure-colored sky

Yet from the raven's higher perspective, utterly deceptive

For in this tight and twisting fissure is found an immaculate world of eccentric shape and engaging color.

This tour takes us to the most celebrated slot canyon in the entire American Southwest. Located on the Navajo Reservation, in Page, Arizona, ANTELOPE CANYON is entirely managed by the Navajo tribe. Although photos taken in this slot canyon appear to be doctored, that is, given the singularity of both the lighting and artistic profile of the narrow walls, I can assure it Nature has created everything here. Water is also responsible for creating the slow canyon profile, that is, flash floods over the eons. As for the lighting effect, it is sunlight at a select time of day that embellishes the view. Get ready for a breathtaking view of both the Upper and Lower sectors.

Page, Arizona. Navajo Indian Reservation (within the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation).

Riveting lighting and color. A fascinating eroded slot canyon created by water (in this case, flash floods over the eons). Heavenly lighting and sinuous thoroughfare, like an outdoor basilica exquisitely carved into the rocks. This high impact tourist setting is worth the numerous people who flock here. Just don’t be in the slot when it's flooding, and for obvious reasons.

The journey begins in nearby Page, transported in vehicles owned and operated by the Navajo people

This is orangish-tinctured sandstone country and this is the road leading directly to Antelope Canyon

And this is the way into its slot fissure

The anteroom is both captivating and a tease to the senses

Then follows the heavenly light beaming down to the sandy floor

Antelope Canyon is classified a slot canyon, meaning its confines are narrow and with high, twisting walls. The canyon is divided into two sectors. The Navajos call Upper Antelope Tse'bighanilini, meaning the place where water runs through rocks. This is high desert country (mean elevation is 4,000 feet above sea level). The canyon walls rise 120 feet above the soft, sandy stream bed. Lower Antelope, called Hasdestwazi, meaning, spiral rock arches, does not see the larger crowds as does the upper sector, mainly because it's not as close to the inbound and outbound shuttle stop. Both tortuous slots are sensational as they are bewildering to the senses. The lighting effect is nothing less than surreal in all respects; the color of the rocks spellbinding.

Like all slot canyons, Antelope has everything to do with geology and the nature of the rocks. In this case, Navajo Sandstone which is prevalent in this sector. Slot canyons also are entirely formed by water, mainly flash flooding. The cautionary aspect comes down to this salient point: Never, ever be inside a slot canyon when it’s raining, for flash floods can appear at any time. Even a rainstorm miles away adds to the peril, regardless if there’s a cloudless blue sky above slot canyon walls. (A grim account of this very scenario is given below.) Meanwhile, and all things being relative, most days are dry and it's safe to enter this realm with its usual mesa and butte backdrop overlooking the Lake Powell and Navajo Mountain landscape.

Antelope Creek is a seasonal stream that flows into Lake Powell (about 3 miles east of Page, Arizona). Most of its watercourse is wide and sandy, but it forms two sections of slot canyons near the lake, namely Upper and Lower Antelope canyons. Both sectors are separated by several miles of flat desert terrain. Located on the Navajo Reservation, Antelope is arguably the most popular slot canyon in the Southwest. The upper sector is often classified as a casual stroll and requires little or no effort to explore. Like all slot canyons, Antelope Canyon, both Upper and Lower segments, is utterly mesmerizing. It may also be the most photographed of all slot canyons in the world. Because Antelope is entirely on Navajo land it is entirely managed by the the tribe. This means getting there requires a ride in a tour vehicle, which also pays for the price of admission.Guided Tour Essentials: Like clockwork, sunlight penetrates the canyon on March 15 and disappears October 7 (dates submitted by the Navajo who manage Antelope Canyon). With or without direct light, the Navajo Sandstone takes on an awesome array of colors, often in varying tinctures from bottom to top. It’s recommended that tourists visit Antelope Canyon when the lighting is advantageous. (Otherwise, out of season photos and videos tend to be on the dark side.) The unique color of the sandstone lends itself to spectacular tincture variations, which again depends on lighting.

Another reason for Upper Antelope Canyon's popularity is that the entire length is at ground level. The view upward is simply dazzling, and for some almost claustrophobic. At select times of the day, sunbeam shafts of direct light radiate downward from narrow openings above coiling canyon walls. The optimum lightning display is ethereal, though more common in the upper sector than the lower. Such beaming radiance also occurs most often during the summer months when the sun is high in the sky for a longer period, while winter colors are a little more subdued, though still engaging. In short, timing (both season and the right time of day) is everything when visiting this slot canyon.

Lower Antelope Canyon is located almost 2 miles away.

Another narrow fissure and far less crowded than the upper sector and its usual traffic of gawkers 'herded' through its similar passageway

Emergency ladder for one of the rare just in case scenarios...

Compared to Upper Antelope, hiking is more demanding and the footing somewhat uneven. It's also longer and narrower in places. At the end of this slot, the climb out requires several flights of stairs. Despite these limitations, Lower Antelope still draws a considerable number of people through its equally fascinating passageway. Because this lower sector is in the shape of a "V," the lighting is also better in the early hours and late afternoon. Compared to the upper sector, Lower Antelope is shallower, meaning the canyon walls aren’t too high. If there’s time on the tour, why not visit both sectors and experience, what some claim to be, the most popular tourist slot canyon in the Southwest?

The way of erosion; a trickle down effect from solid form to sand (clastic) particles

Antelope Canyon is carved through Navajo Sandstone, the dominant rock formation in this region.

Cross-bedded (wind-blown) Navajo Sandstone surface (former sand dunes that long ago became petrified:

Like all slot canyons, the winding chasm was formed by flash flooding over millions of years. Subaerial weathering (materials at the surface of the planet exposed to air and contrasted with events beneath the sea or glacial sheets) accounts for the secondary process of erosion. Rainwater, especially during the July thru early September monsoon season, rushes into the extensive basin above Antelope Canyon's slot sections. Inside the corkscrew passageways, the flooding is accelerated, about 11 to 13 m.p.h. (17 - 20 km). Over time passageways are eroded, which makes corridors deeper while smoothing the hard edges. This process accounts for the characteristic flowing and whimsical contour of the walls. Today, flooding is sometimes common, though uncommon (higher) floods also occur. For example, on October 30, 2006, a flash flood lasted an amazing thirty-six hours. Because of the heavy water, Antelope Canyon was closed for many months.

The salient point is both obvious and not moot: Slots, at times, can be dangerous. Then again, with extreme peril aside watching a flash flood from a safe distance is one of the greatE-rides titillating the senses. The power of these natural torrents is nothing less than awesome. Indeed, those who see such spectacles of nature are fortunate. Those who are caught in flash floods usually become statistics. Victims are swiftly carried along, smashed into the rocks and clobbered by tons of debris. How high does the water get during flooding? In Antelope, water can reach 10 to 15 feet above the streambed. In this, among other slot canyons, driftwood is embedded high in the walls, marking an observable clue to how slots can become treacherous during floods. When gazing upward at the majesty of the setting, keep an eye peeled for such sobering reminders! During the monsoon season especially, rain can rapidly inundate the canyon.

The sign means what it says and the Navajos also mean business when posting such warnings. No kidding!

In the Southwest during the monsoon season, when it rains it generally pours and flash floods are imminent.

When this is happening. . .trust me. . .you don't even want to be trapped inside this or any other slot canyon.

After the raging flood it takes time for the water level to drop and a dry sandy floor appears once again.

What Is A Slot Canyon?
A slot canyon is typically a V-shaped tapered opening formed by water rushing through the tunnel-like rock, while eroding the surface and flooring. Slots are also significantly deeper than wide. Some can measure less than 3 feet across at the top, yet drop more than 100 feet to the floor of the chasm. Most of these rare marvels of nature are formed in sandstone and limestone, though most often sandstone. Other rock formations such as in granite and basalt are also favorable. However, in the relatively softer sandstone and limestone only a small number of creeks will form slot canyons. That’s because it requires a combination of particular characteristics of the rock and of regional rainfall.

More About The Peril Of Flash Flooding
There’s another fact some people aren’t aware when entering any slot canyon: Even without rainfall flash flooding can suddenly appear, almost out of nowhere, and certainly as a total surprise to those unlucky enough to be in its path. The reason is also apparent: An upstream storm miles away eventually makes it downstream and funnels into the tighter canyon sectors with little or no warning. On August 12, 1997, this very thing happened. Eleven tourists were killed in Lower Antelope Canyon by flash flooding, although very little rain fell near the canyon. How did this tragedy get its start? An earlier thunderstorm had dumped a large amount of water about 7 miles upstream, which reached the canyon later and caught the tourists unaware. The lone survivor was the tour guide who, it is claimed, survived because he had swift water training. Actually, he was a lucky fellow. For the others, there was no way to escape the rushing wall of water racing toward them. (At the time, there was an emergency and primitive ladder system, but it was easily swept away like driftwood.) Today, newer and better ladder systems are in place; also, deployable cargo nets are installed at the top of the canyon. Despite such safety measures, it's still a good idea not to take a chance in slot canyons, or any narrow canyon, when it's raining anywhere in the vicinity. Even a seemingly benign rain can turn deadly. Because of this single tragedy in 1997, the Natural Weather Service built the NOAA Weather Radio, as well as an alarm for storms in the area, when the danger of flash flooding is imminent.

Had the guide paid better attention to atmospheric condition that day these people would not have paid for his mistake. . .

Parting shots:

Two from nearby Roswell just beamed aboard, Scotty!

And that's all, folks! Rich also just beamed up!

Main office near LeChee Chapter House, about 4 miles (6.4 km) south of Page on Coppermine Road (Navajo Route 20). Antelope Canyon is 5 miles east of Page on Hwy. 98 (milepost 299) on either side of the highway.

Kindly remember to tip the drivers and guides. They do appreciate the generosity.

Contact Information
Antelope Canyon is entirely under the jurisdiction of the Navajo Tribal Park Office. Current contact: Effie Yazzie, Park Manager P. O. Box 4803, Page AZ 86040. Phone: 928-698-2808. Fax 698-2820. Email:

ATTENTION K-Mart Shoppers, et. al.: Hours of operation are 8 to 5 (MST), 7 days a week (March through October). The entrance fee station is closed during the other months. However, both slots are open year-round and permits are still required and/or escorted with Navajo guides. As always, things change on the res, so it's best to call and confirm the hours of operation; also, the Navajo Nation observes daylight savings time, which the State of Arizona ignores.

And so we come to the end of another trail, another armchair tour. There will be other scenic places to tour and more supplemental topics to read and think about, so stay tuned for a continuation in this series.

As always, your thoughtful commentaries are welcomed.

Happy Trails!