Are you thinking, “This is beautiful, but what is it?” Or maybe you think it looks like Microsoft’s most popular screensaver? Actually, this is a photo I took with my Nikon D3300 at Antelope Canyon on the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona. A lot of people think Microsoft’s most popular screensaver was taken here in Antelope Canyon, but it wasn’t. It was taken nearby at another natural wonder in northern Arizona called The Wave. But there are definite similarities.
Both formed by erosion of the pink and white sandstone prevalent in this part of the world. Antelope Canyon, however, is a slot canyon. The Wave is not. I also got to walk through Antelope Canyon, both upper and lower, on a photography tour. The Wave requires a permit from the Bureau of Land Management, and I didn’t win the lottery for a permit, so I didn’t get to see it on this trip. Guess I’ll just have to try again later when it is NOT Thanksgiving week!
How Was Antelope Canyon Formed?
Antelope Canyon is much larger than the two slot canyons I visited. The two slot canyons are just part of the bigger picture. Like most canyons, Antelope Canyon formed by erosion due to flowing water, although no water flows there now, most of the time. The slot canyons are unique formations caused by water trying to rush through a narrow opening in the sandstone. With every flash flood, that narrow opening gets wider and deeper. The soft sandstone rock formations change with every flash flood and it is just wide enough for people to walk through.
How Do I Get to Antelope Canyon?
The nearest airports are 1) Las Vegas, Nevada 2) Phoenix, Arizona and 3) Salt Lake City, Utah.
If you’re driving from Las Vegas, head north on I-15 to Utah, exit onto Hwy 9 to Hurricane, then take Hwy 59 to 89A, and you’ll see the Vermillion Cliffs and other amazing scenery on the way to Page, Arizona, Lake Powell, and the Navajo Reservation.
From Phoenix, head north on I-17, exit onto Hwy 89 north, and you’ll end up in Page, Arizona in about two hours. You can also exit off Hwy 89 onto 20, which is how I went. It’s about the same amount of travel time either way and the scenery is about the same.
From Salt Lake City, you have several scenic options. Take I-15 south to Hurricane and exit onto Hwy 9, same as Las Vegas. Or you can get on Hwy 89 south in Provo, Utah, and take a more scenic route all the way to Page, Arizona. Not any longer than taking the interstate, but it will likely take more time.
What About Accommodation?
Antelope Canyon, located near the small town of Page, Arizona, offers many options for accommodation. Hotels range from high-end chains to locally-owned and charming. But when I went, I was on a road trip alone and headed to two national parks after visiting Antelope Canyon, so I wanted to camp to save money. I camped at Page Lake Powell Campground, located in the town of Page.
Page Lake Powell Campground has RV hookups, but I was tenting. Each tent site has electrical outlets and water, a grill and picnic table, and enough space to set up 2-3 backpacking tents or one large tent. There are hot showers and clean toilets in a heated room, a camp store, and friendly staff.
Other camping options nearby include the Waheap area of Lake Powell and several areas where you can rough camp with no services, near the lake, if you prefer. For more camping options, check out this link Antelope Canyon Camping
Do I Need to Book a Tour of Antelope Canyon?
Depending on the time of year, you may need to book a regular 60 minute tour in advance. The week of Thanksgiving is one of the busiest, so I recommend avoiding a visit during this week, or definitely booking in advance. I went the week before Thanksgiving, and most people seemed to be buying tickets after they arrived.
For a photography tour, which is a full 120 minutes inside the slot canyon (either upper or lower), I do recommend booking in advance no matter what time of year. The number of people is limited and they are usually only offered at certain times of day. If you want to capture the streams of sunlight in the slot canyons in summer, most tour companies can tell you what time of day is best. The slot canyons do not have the sunlight streaming in during the winter months.
I booked with Antelope Canyon Tours, located on the main street in Page, for my tour of Upper Antelope Canyon. In winter, the cost is 100 USD + 8 USD fee for the Navajo Nation. The fee is NOT a gratuity for the guide! Here’s a link to the photography tour I took, which was excellent and half the price of others I found Antelope Canyon Tours.
The next day, I took a photography tour of Lower Antelope Canyon with Ken’s Tours. This tour was 47 USD + 8 USD fee for the Navajo Reservation. This tour was also a full 120 minutes in the lower slot canyon, and we even got some extra time because it was our guide’s last tour of the day. There were only two of us on this tour at 12:30PM because three people didn’t show up.
There are other companies that offer regular and photography tours, and some have very similar names. Prices vary, so choose carefully. If you book with Ken’s Tours, ask for Dezzie or Fern as a guide.
Enough Logistics, What About the Canyon?
What about Antelope Canyon? I think the pictures speak for themselves. This amazing natural wonder is ever changing, yet easily accessible. For a long time, no one knew about these slot canyons except the Navajo, and while the Navajo recognized how special they were, they weren’t considered a tourist attraction.
While I was visiting Horseshoe Bend, another widely photographed natural wonder near the Navajo Reservation, I met a man from Tucson who told me about his first experience visiting Antelope Canyon. He told me he visited Antelope Canyon in the 1970s. Twice. Fresh out of college, he went on a road trip by himself in his Volkswagen beetle. He stopped for gas and asked what there was to see in the area. A Navajo man who worked in the gas station told him to go see “the skinny caves.”
He drove off, almost getting stuck in the sand before reaching “the skinny cave” now known as Upper Antelope Canyon. He walked through the slot canyon, mystified by the formations, wanting to know more about them. But there was no one to ask. He didn’t see a single person in Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon on that day.
Fast forward eight years. This same man takes his new bride to see “the skinny caves” on the Navajo Reservation. He assured her the “Indians” would not hurt them. This time, they saw one other person during their visit. They saw each other. Now there were two people wandering through the canyons, taking pictures, and wondering how this miracle of nature occurred. He said they knew it was erosion, but how? There was no water here. Little did they – and the Navajo – know how popular these slot canyons would become.
My guide at Lower Antelope Canyon, Dezzi, told us some interesting facts about these slot canyons. He explained that every time there is a flash flood, which can happen several times in a year, the water washes all of the sand out of the slot canyons. Without the sand, the canyon is too narrow at the bottom for people to fit through it, so after each flash flood, they shovel a depth of three feet of sand back into the canyon for the entire quarter mile length of it. Amazing.
Antelope Canyon was #1 on my list of things to see when I returned to the United States. I don’t regret making this my first road trip since returning. These slot canyons and the Navajo people make this part of the world truly special.
For more information about Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, or The Wave, check out these non-affiliate links