"Light Beam in Antelope Canyon"
April 2012, Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Antelope Canyon actually consists of two separate canyons - upper and lower. The upper canyon is slightly more spectacular but far more crowded than its lower counterpart. Both canyons lie on Navajo land. Upper Antelope can only be accessed by booking a tour with one of the many Navajo tour companies in nearby Page. The lower canyon can be explored without a Navajo guide, although there is still a fee to be paid.
On this particular day I was able to explore both canyons. I started in the upper canyon after booking a spot for a "special" (read expensive) photographer's tour. There were about a dozen photographers on my tour, so we all piled into a rickety 4WD tour vehicle and headed to the canyon. When we arrived the tour guide warned us not to change lenses once in the canyon. He explained that there are constant streams of sand which would be falling on us from the high sandstone walls once we were inside. I took his advice and only brought in one lens.
We approached an ugly rock formation perhaps 80 feet tall and 1/4 mile wide. Surely we were in the wrong place I thought. Then I noticed a vertical crack in the rock about 4 feet wide extending all the way to the top. The guide led us through the opening and into another world.
The slot canyon opened up into a much larger chamber once inside. As we kept going the walls once again constricted, sometimes to the point where one person could barely fit through. The canyon was absolutely stunning, serving up a feast for the eyes including breathtaking colors and sinuous sandstone walls. I had never seen anything like it before. However, the place was absolutely packed with people from multiple tour groups. There are numerous tour companies in Page, and they all ruthlessly compete with one another for business. My special photographer's tour was advertised as being limited to 20 people or less, and indeed it was. However, any illusions that I initially had about having only to contend with a handful of people were quickly shattered. My tour lasted 2 hours, but it was a very frustrating time. I was only able to capture two noteworthy images the entire time because there were just too many people shoe-horned into that relatively small 1/4 mile long slot.
Regarding the image above, I'm thrilled to have gotten it. A stunning ray of light broke through to the canyon floor in front of me. I quickly set up my camera, but there were about 5 people standing in the way. My Navajo guide aggressively herded them all back into the recesses of an adjacent chamber, ruining their chance at seeing the event. Apparently he was aware at the frustration I had felt, and no doubt he thought his tip would suffer. I composed the shot and took it as fast as I could. A minute later and the beam had left just as quickly as it had come. I felt bad for the other people, but I too had been herded throughout the morning out of the way of other people's pictures. The Navajo tour companies need to get their acts together and start figuring out a way to stop running over each other as they compete for business.
After my tour ended I ate lunch in Page, gratified that I had gotten at least two amazing shots. After lunch I went to Lower Antelope and spent two hours inside. The whole time I never encountered more than 20 people, and I was usually alone. I didn't have to rush my shots, and the experience was much more enjoyable. All in all it was an amazing day, but it could have been better.
Light BeamLight RaysPageUpper Antelope Canyonshutterstock