Upper Antelope Canyon

We saw Horseshoe Bend our first evening in Page, but we stopped in Page to see Upper Antelope Canyon. Flash floods, especially during the monsoon season, carve slot canyons in the pink Navajo sandstone, and the colors are exquisite.

Antelope Canyon is on Navajo land; people who want to see it must go on a tour authorized by the Navajo Nation. Above, people look up to see the sun-lit rock. The tour guides in orange shirts do a great job of managing the flow of many people through the slot canyon so we can all get our photos.

tours in Antelope Canyon

When you look up, here’s what you see. The sunlight decreases as it penetrates the narrow canyon, producing a gradient of color. The canyon walls are scoured by flash floods, and the sun shining down produces backlight to show off the swirling texture of the Navajo sandstone.

Antelope Canyon sandstone

During our 10:15 am tour, the sun is nearly overhead around the summer solstice, when it shines down to the bottom of Upper Antelope Canyon, showing off sunbeams penetrating the canyon.

At 11:11 pm, the sun shines on the canyon wall. The wood lodged in the alcove was washed down the canyon during a flash flood.

sun shining on the canyon wall at 11:11 pm

A half-hour later, the sun had moved, and three beams appear to shine down.

three lightbeams at 11:46 pm

The canyon walls here have taller ridges that catch the reflected light.

sunbeam lights the canyon walls

I went on a photography tour to get unobstructed photos of the sunbeams. To see the sunbeams, you need dust in the air to reflect the sunlight. Our guides would throw sand into the air and cordon off other groups for our group to get clear shots of the sunbeams. We were allowed and required to use a tripod. It’s dark, so you do need a tripod for the sunbeam shots. For example, the last photo was a 2-second exposure.

See the debris at the top of the photo, showing how high the flood water can get. From wikipedia,

Rain does not have to fall on or near the Antelope Canyon slots for flash floods to whip through, as rain falling dozens of miles away upstream of the canyons can funnel into them with little prior notice. On August 12, 1997, eleven tourists, including seven from France, one from the United Kingdom, one from Sweden and two from the United States, were killed in Lower Antelope Canyon by a flash flood. Very little rain fell at the site that day, but an earlier thunderstorm had dumped a large amount of water into the canyon basin, 7 miles (11 km) upstream.

We planned our road trip to catch the sunbeams at Antelope Canyon in late May, and Antelope Canyon was a high point of our trip.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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