As we drove across the desert all I could think of was water. We crossed miles and miles broken by the strangest structures — tall and weirdly formed and nothing like the flat land below that echoed of past oceans — this stretch from Arizona to New Mexico a graveyard of islands. I pulled over the car and sat on a cliffside and realized everything here was a memory of tide pools — the way the rocks were both rounded and sharp and the swiss-cheese holes that spoke of anemones and mollusks. All my life I’ve lived by the ocean and its presence has been big and unchanging. When I leave my coastal home it’s usually to travel to older places. I walk through historic cities and marvel at monuments that all tell so many stories from lifetimes before mine. They’re time machines with glimpses of other eras but they tell a human story and the years they show are finite. The SouthWest is no less a marker of history and mighty effort; it bears witness to a passing of time that I cannot wrap my head around. Instead of trying to I let it go and keep driving — allowing myself to luxuriate in movement. I lean the car seat back, put my moccasins on the dashboard, and eat up all these old roads with new appetite and childlike wonder.
In the NorthEast corner of Arizona there’s a small town called Page and this is where you go to get out of your car and interact intimately with time and water and sandstone. There’s two areas here to see and you can hit them both up in one or two days. The first is Antelope Canyon.
There are 2 parts of the Canyon open to the public; both require a booking with a Navajo guide (and an $8 fee to Navajo nation), and the main differences between the two are these:
- Upper Canyon is larger at the bottom of the slot, narrower at the top — causing these kinds of light rays. This is the more popular of the two which means you absolutely need to make a res in the summer if you want to get into either a normal or photo tour.
- I went for Lower Antelope Canyon (narrow at the bottom; wider at the top) and opted for a photographer’s tour through Ken’s Tours. I’m so glad I did, as our group consisted of only 3 people (including myself) while the regular groups had dozens. Our guides let us in through the opposite end of the canyon from the main tours, and we had a lot of quiet time alone with the canyon to take photos and admire the setting.
- Photo versus Regular Tour: From what I could tell of a regular tour (especially during the summer) you’re going to be in a large group that’s walked through the canyon at a pretty rapid pace with occasional pauses to quickly snap a group photo. That being said, the group tour is cheaper and there are a lot more of them available.
- Photo Tour Rules — On the other hand every single tour company (for Upper and Lower) has really annoying rules about taking a photo tour — such as requiring a tripod and a DSLR camera that is (specifically) NOT mirror-less. This is supposedly to keep the tours small and separate the pros from the hacks. Fortunately if you’re like me and didn’t arrive with a tripod you can “rent” one (the sweet teenager manning the ticket stand didn’t actually charge me the $10 rental fee). Later one of our guides kindly offered to carry the tripod for me throughout the rest tour as holding the bulky thing was just getting in my way of actually taking photos, and I got the distinct impression that neither of them would have noticed or cared if I hadn’t brought the tripod in to begin with. In conclusion, the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules (amirite Barbosa?). Also if you own/like to shoot with a tripod you’re not going to have a problem here.
On the opposite side of Page from Antelope Canyon there’s a bend in the mighty Colorado River. If Antelope Canyon tells a story of rock giving way and being shaped by water, Horseshoe Bend is the opposite — somehow forcing the river to change course around it. I don’t have the geology knowledge to tell you what makes this rock so special, but the sight is incredible to witness. The viewing area for Horseshoe Bend is a 5 minute hike from a parking lot off the 89 freeway South of Page and is impossible to miss. Go at sunset or sunrise for the prettier views and because it gets hot out there during the day. We reached the bend in the evening — racing the final rays of light up and over a red hill that began to glow with all the colors of sunset.
I’ve tried to write here about time and water and all the colors in the world but it may be that only images can do this place justice. Go and see for yourself. Antelope Canyon shot by me; Horseshoe Bend by M.B. Maher.
Has anyone been to the Upper Canyon? Experienced this part of Arizona? Please share your experience in the comments — and until next time connect with me over at instagram, pinterest, twitter, or facebook.
Thank you for reading!