For those who don’t know, I recently returned from 8 days of exploring the southern parts of Utah (with a few side trips to Arizona). Blog posts about the adventures will trickle out over time, because, well, writing them helps me cling to shards of that vacation buzz…you know…the buzz that real life tends to squash pretty darn quick. Here’s the first one, about squeezing through slot canyons in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
For the second one, I’m going to show you a place that, if you are anywhere near it at any point in your life, and you are physically able, you MUST visit. It’s that cool. I mean it. It’s called Lower Antelope Canyon, and it’s located in Page, Arizona. Here’s a teaser photo just to keep you reading:
The night before our scheduled tour of Lower Antelope Canyon, we bunked in Kanab, Utah. Kanab is a tiny border town with perhaps 4 decent restaurants (the one we ate at, the Rocking V Cafe, was wonderful and I highly recommend it). Kanab’s proximity to all the cool things in Utah and Arizona make it a good place to base a trip out of.
We had a few hours to kill, so I tried to find a movie theater within shouting distance; there was a one-screen old-style theater and after that, you’d have to drive 90 minutes to find the next one. I mention this because I gave fleeting thought to chucking it all and just moving there, but yeah, I find I like a bit more civilization.
Anyway, the next morning, we hopped in the car and headed east toward Page. The drive is a bit over an hour. Page is right on the edge of the Glen Canyon Recreation Area, which is full of vacation-y activities. It really does feel like the middle of nowhere out there in the desert.
Fair warning – if you don’t like crowds, this might not be for you, but honestly, I’d recommend you suck it up and do it regardless. The place is that magical. At any rate, this is not a rugged hike like you’ll find in other parts of Utah and Arizona. If you’re able to climb up and down a ladder, you can do these tours.
You’ll be assigned to a group of about 15 and then you’ll take an easy walk through sandy rock to the entrance to the canyon. There, a bunch of metal ladders will drop you down probably about 25-30 feet into the earth. And then, just like that, you’re in the canyon.
Slot canyons are cracks in the earth that have been carved into canyons by water and time. This photo, taken after we climbed out of the canyon, gives you a sense of the scale.
Lower Antelope Canyon has been made “famous” by a photo that appeared on Microsoft desktops at some point. Because of the way the light falls through the cracks in the rock down to the canyon floor, the photos you will be able to take down there, even if all you have is a smart phone, are nothing short of incredible. Our guide, an aspiring photographer, was eager to show us tricks on how to play with the light. His biggest bit of advice for those of us with DSLRs was to play with our white balance. In the photos that will follow you’ll see two color palettes, orange and purple. The orange was achieved by shooting in Daylight mode, and is most true to what it actually looked like.
The purple/pink is achieved by shooting in Fluorescent mode. The first time I did this, I laughed out loud because the result was so unbelievably beautiful.
The shot below is closer to what it actually looked like down there. The magic of the place comes from seeing the light beaming down from above – you can see the sky but you’re deep in the earth, and it’s breathtaking. Our guide told us not to photograph the sky because it would screw up the exposure, but I couldn’t resist.
The canyon is wide and the floor is sandy; the walking is easy. You have to watch your head occasionally, but really, the hardest part is not bumping into your fellow explorers because you’re gaping at the beauty and taking a million pictures. Here are a few of my favorites:
Below is the exact same photo taken with the two different white balance settings.
Can you see the lady with her hair blowing back?
It looks like fabric, doesn’t it? I promise, it’s solid rock.
I suspect this might be the place where the Microsoft Desktop shot was taken. Minus the bird poop.
What I find most cool about these photos is that many of them don’t actually look like what I saw down there. I have to use my memory for that. Which is why you shouldn’t just rely on my photos to show this place to you. You need to go. If you are at Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Glen Canyon Recreation Area, even the Grand Canyon…this place is worth the drive.
Do it. You won’t regret it.