Antelope Canyon – You’ve never heard of it but you’ve seen it.
Antelope Canyon is one of the most well-photographed and visited places in the American Southwest, but many people don’t even know about it. When we told people we were planning to visit it, no one knew what we were talking about. Then we Googled some photos and without fail everyone would say “oh, yeah I’ve see that before, is that what it’s called, Antelope Canyon?”
The Most Famous Canyon in a Town that Didn’t Exist
Antelope Canyon is easily the most famous of all slot canyons in the world, but finding it and seeing it was pretty difficult before 1957. It’s located near Page, Arizona on Navajo Indian Reservation Land in Northern Arizona, east of the Grand Canyon. Visitors from around the globe now come to Page, Arizona to see the famous canyon, but until 1957, Page didn’t even exist as a town. Page was created as a community for the families of the workers that were there to construct the Glen Canyon Dam that now holds back the waters of Lake Powell and the Colorado River.
What is Antelope Canyon?
Antelope Canyon is a naturally formed slot canyon with an upper (upstream) and lower (downstream)section, with the upper section being more dramatic and therefore more visited and photographed. The two sections are about 3.5 miles apart, separated by AZ-98. The canyon is not more than a few feet wide all the way from top to bottom. It was carved into Navajo Sandstone, the same sandstone as in Zion and the Grand Canyon, over millions of years. As the sun makes it’s daily path through the sky, some of the rays of sunlight penetrate partway into the narrow opening of the canyon from the top, resulting in some incredible displays of light and color. During peak summer, the sun is high enough in the sky that, in just a few areas of the 1/4-mile Upper Antelope Canyon, the sun’s rays reach the canyon floor. The resulting beam of light is absolutely stunning.
The Sardine Factor
As we did our research, we found there are only 5 tour companies that can take you in (since it’s on Navajo land, only tour operators are permitted). The tour companies are each allowed to “only” take 70 people at a time, so if you come at peak season, there may be as many as 350 people in the little canyon! Our tour guide with Antelope-Canyon Slot Tours told us that people are packed in like sardines and it’s more like a Disney adventure than desert solitude (more expensive photography tours have only 10 people).
When to See Antelope Canyon
Sunlight pouring into the slot canyon from above makes Antelope Canyon a magical place. The best times are in late spring to early fall. When we visited in April, the sunlight was good but not at its peak. On hearing about the sardine factor, we asked how we could see the canyon with as few people as possible. They recommended the early morning tour. At 7am, very few people want to tour because the sun is still low in the sky, but we were promised a great trip. So we decided to take the early bird. It turned out to be a great decision as we were the only two people on the tour and had the canyon to ourselves!!! Our guide was right, we got some great shots inside the canyon. All the photos you see in this blog are from our 7 am tour. We didn’t get the classic sun ray to the floor, but the trade off to be in that magical place alone was totally worth it.