As soon as I saw a picture of Antelope Canyon I knew I had to see it.
Antelope Canyon is actually Antelope Canyons, as it’s split into two parts that are only accessible with guided tours, as they belong to the Navajo nation, and are also subject to flash floods.
Tours to the Upper Antelope Canyon are organised by different companies, while Lower Antelope seems to be a family-run business with just one company having access to it and taking no reservations.
I had booked a tour in Upper Antelope during the so-called “prime time” the central hours of the day, when the light coming in creates rays similar to spotlights inside the canyon. You are taken to the entrance by 4WD on a very bumpy road, that is actually the bed where rain water flows when there are heavy storms.
The entrance to the canyon is level with the ground and looks like theatre curtains, it’s amazing how water and wind managed to create such “flowing” shapes from stone. You feel the urge to touch it to confirm it’s solid rock.
Then you enter the canyon and the surprise continues: it is quite dark inside, in some points, where it’s narrower it is really dark, as the opening at the top is much narrower than the bottom of the canyon where you walk, so there isn’t much light coming in. The stone itself is a reddish-purple colour when you look at it, but when you take pictures the magic happens. The images gathered by our eyes are constantly adjusted by our brain, so the colour we see is more or less constant, but if you use a camera, it gathers the available light, and there is where all the colours come to life.
According to where and how you point your camera you can obtain different effects, without tampering with settings and white balance, just playing with the light reflected by the walls of the canyon.
I know the physics that is at the base of this effect, but I still find it amazing and almost magic!
I managed to get pictures of the famous and much sought-after rays in Upper Antelope, and I have to say it was worth it, even if it was really crowded, and I found being told what to photograph, from where and when, quite annoying. I know that guide was well-meaning, but I hate being told what to do (and to tell the truth, some people really needed advice, as they were using flash, spoiling the whole effect).
Then I went to Lower Antelope Canyon, which is said to be the opposite of Upper Antelope: Lower is an underground canyon with a V shape, so there are no light rays and access is a bit more difficult, as it happens through a crack in the ground, even if it’s well equipped with metal ladders. Unfortunately there had been a flash flood two days before I went and the canyon was still being cleaned, so I could only visit part of it.
But I was lucky to be able to. This canyon is a lot less crowded and the guide was less obtrusive, she would take pictures of you in the canyon, if you wanted, but wasn’t rushing you, or telling you what to do. She was actually helpful with people who asked for advice.
The canyon really is the opposite of Upper Antelope, it has a lot more textures and more colours are developed by the shape of the canyon. I think I will have to try and go back to walk it all!
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, it was a real lesson in the use of light and reflections, and the way we see. And if you go there I suggest you visit both canyons as they are different and equally interesting.