Breathtaking and tranquil. Hidden from view beneath the desert landscape on the Navajo Nation Reservation lies Antelope Canyon, a cathedral of natural beauty. Antelope Canyon is really two separate “sister canyons” that have been carved over millions of years by the water flow from Antelope Creek. Antelope Canyon is located on the Navajo Nation Reservation just south of Lake Powell east of Page, Arizona and not far from the Grand Canyon and its wonder.
Hidden beneath the barren desert landscape are two different canyons with mystical chapel-like carvings of majestic and narrow passages between the most astounding sandstone formations you will ever experience. The sun’s rays cascade through cracks in the desert surface highlighting showcasing some of its most precious specimens. Antelope Canyon remains forever secretive in location, magnanimous in presence and sacred to the Navajo.
The “Upper Canyon“, called “Tse’ bighanilini” by the Navajo meaning “the place where water runs through rocks”, is most popular of the two canyons and one of the most photographed spots in America where the stream bed runs 120 feet below the surface. Upper Antelope Canyon is often called “The Crack“. “Lower Antelope Canyon“, or Hasdestwazi- Navajo for spiral rock arches, is also known as Corkscrew Canyon.
Both slots carry the seasonal waters of Antelope Creek, draining from the south, into Lake Powell, and both carry imminent threat when rain falls on the Navajo land. This threat may seem deceptively minute when rains aren’t falling directly overhead; however, drainage coming from dozens of miles away will bombard these peaceful earthen temples in an instant. Safety now requires that all visitors must be accompanied by a trained, expert tour guide.
Although Antelope Canyon canyon is not steeped in traditional human history, the staggering beauty of the walls themselves provides stories no human could ever create. Stepping inside the narrow crevice of The Crack (Upper Antelope), you are surrounded by enormous walls, reaching 120 feet high. From the right angle, the walls evaporate and strong, silent faces lean forward, whispering amongst themselves the secrets of millenniums long since passed.
Winding through the inner reaches of the upper canyon, incandescent rays of the Arizona sun shoot through like laser beams to the sandy creek bed. The power of these beams causes the gentle curving walls to glow red hot, like so many burning logs in a desert campfire, while the shaded nooks are painted in softened shades of blue and purple. In Lower Antelope Canyon, a feast of camera-loving spirals swirl and wind along the sides of this shallower, V-shaped work of natural art. In its attempts to remain hidden, access to the lower canyon is significantly more challenging, with uneven terrain, long narrow stretches, and metal stairways. More photographers than tourists will venture through this sandstone cathedral, in search of the elusive capture that stirs the myriad colors and shapes of these walls to life on film.
Earth, sun, wind and water all actively participated in the formation of Antelope Canyon, and other slot canyons which populate the land surrounding the Grand Canyon. The Navajo Sandstone, worn down to a smooth finish from eons of flash flooding and erosion, holds tight to the truth of its origin. Pronghorn Antelope roamed the lands, and thusly left early explorers with no other obvious option but to name this particular accordingly. Members of the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation state that the land around this area was used as winter grazing ground for herds of cattle, however beyond that, very little is known of early occupation of this area.
The Navajo peoples were said to have used the privacy and energy of this canyon as a haven of renewing spiritual energy. While the pathways are sometimes packed with unwitting tourists today, Antelope Canyon is still considered a spiritual location, and the rules of the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department require that all who visit to behave in a manner of respect which will honor the beauty of this amazing hidden creation.
Photos Compliments of Mike Koopsen