Photo Credit: Flickr - Phil Whitehouse
One of the most visited and photographed sites in Northern Arizona is Antelope Canyon. The famous slot canyon is located on Navajo land just east of Page and used to be a secret spot for photographers, but those days are long gone.
Antelope Canyon was formed from Navajo Sandstone that eroded away over time by repeated flash flooding. Especially during monsoon season, flash flooding in canyons throughout Arizona and Utah is not uncommon. If you're bringing professional photography equipment, you'll want to bring waterproof protective covers for everything.
You might be surprised to learn that only guided tours are available in Antelope Canyon now. Since the late 1990s, the land was declared a Navajo Tribal Park, and you can only visit as part of a tour.
Tours in Antelope Canyon
Tours are primarily booked out of Page itself and there are a number of tours that visit either Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon. It's important to note that you should book your preferred tour date as far in advance as possible. If you drive into Page and plan to book a tour for the next day, you're likely to find they are all sold out.
If you're a professional photographer or a photographer planning to bring a tripod, you'll need to book a professional photographer tour. Standard tours do not allow for tripod use in most cases and they are larger groups with a one-time run through of the canyon - no going back.
Check the tour details as some of the professional photographer tours require that each participant have their own DSLR and tripod. These small group tours are reserved solely for photographers so they don't have room to bring a photographer and their travel companion or spouse versus another paying photographer.
Also, the famous light beams don't occur year-round and typically are only visible for one or maybe two tours so expect the mid-day options to fill up very far in advance, especially in summer months when the light beams are present.
Wondering Which Canyon You Should Visit?
Upper Antelope Canyon is the most popular one, and is where you'll find the majority of the tourists. The entrance and length of the canyon are at ground level, so there is no climbing involved. The famous beams of light you see in most of the photos are typically taken from Upper Antelope Canyon. Expect crowds lots of them.
Lower Antelope Canyon is more popular with professional photographers, but getting down in the canyon can be a challenge. There are steep ladders, climbing required, and in some cases no footing. But, the reward is far fewer casual tourists.
Photography in the Canyons
Even professional photographers will tell you photographing the canyons is difficult. You need to know your gear and be well versed with wide exposure ranges. On the professional photography shoots, the guides are pretty helpful with more novice photographers, but you're battling so many conditions: dust, people walking in the light beam, dark canyons, and rushing as each photographer tries to get their shot. In some cases, you have seconds to frame your perfect photo before something or someone ruins it.
One of the biggest complaints from many photographers is the dust and the potential damage the gear will suffer. Expect to take your gear to a camera shop afterwards to be professionally cleaned or you may risk damage.
Flash Flood Risks Still Exist
Despite Antelope Canyon being accessible by guided tours only, the risk for flash flooding still exists. It does not have to be raining in Antelope Canyon itself as streams and canyons miles upstream can funnel large amounts of water into Antelope.
Back in 1997, a group of eleven tourists were killed in flash flooding and the ladder systems at the time were swept away. Today, you'll find bolted ladder systems, deployable cargo nets, and alarm horns stationed at the fee station. Despite increased safety measure, in 2010, a group of tourists still found themselves in the middle of an unexpected flash flood. No fatalities were reported, but several tourists couldn't be rescued right away and had to wait for the floodwaters to recede.
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