One doesn’t need to travel to Mars or the Moon when otherworldly landscapes exist right here on earth. Just east of Page, Arizona, USA, located in the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation, is a terracotta-coloured slot canyon called Antelope Canyon. Here, you will find the kind of supernatural beauty that, were you to see it in a photograph, would have you crying ‘Photoshop’.
But Photoshopped this place is not. Located just a few hours from the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon consists of two main sections – Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. Like the Grand Canyon, these two slot canyons have been carved out of the earth by water, but in the case of a slot canyon, that water is of the rushing, roaring kind. Where the Grand Canyon speaks of years of gently flowing waters and tender drama, Antelope Canyon speaks of flash floods and fast, furious spectacle. In fact, the flood waters that created Antelope Canyon originated from thunderstorms over a mesa some 25km away, the strength of the resultant waters such that they forged a path through sandstone with enough power to turn it into narrow corridors of molten-coloured rock.
While Upper Antelope Canyon is more often visited, and photographed, in part thanks to easier access and in part due to the ethereal beams of light it boasts, Lower Antelope Canyon, pictured here, has its own magic to reveal.
Called “Hazdistazí” or “Hasdestwazi” in the Navajo tongue, meaning “spiral rock arches”, but nicknamed “The Corkscrew”, the magic of Lower Antelope Canyon has to be earned. Getting into the canyon requires visitors to climb up and down a series of staircases and ladders, and the canyon floor is far narrower than that of its loftier partner. But its sculpted, undulating waves and curves, in a colour palette that ranges from terracotta to orange to red, are more than worth the effort. Explore hollows that vary from one to three metres (3.2 to 9.8 feet) wide and up to 50 metres (164 feet) deep, as you marvel in yet another of Mother Nature’s unique creations. It’s pure art of the earth.
It’s not surprising, given its mythical proportions and presence, that Antelope Canyon, both Upper and Lower, is a spiritual, sacred monument of the Navajo people. Every four years, the Navajo people have the Canyon blessed as they give thanks to the natural elements that helped form this mystical space. With this in mind, know before you go: Antelope Canyon has been accessible by permit only since 1997 when it became a Navajo Tribal Park. What this means for you is that a guided tour is required to enter the canyon.
The reason for the guided tour policy is two-fold: 1. It is a sacred place. But 2. Flash floods do still occur, with multiple tourist deaths occurring in the past, and the guides are trained to keep you out of harm’s way.
Whatever the reason, many Antelope Canyon tour guides were born and raised on the Navajo Nation, making any tour here one filled with both wonder and a wealth of knowledge.