Words; Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge
If you ever doubted the power of social media, you need to visit Page, Arizona, USA. There are two attractions nearby that were hardly known by anyone other than locals twenty years ago. Then came Instagram, and Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend have become internationally known tourist attractions that everyone visiting the western USA wants to see.
Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon on Navajo Indian land. It has two separate, scenic sections; Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. The two canyons are distinct but are within a 10-minute drive of each other. You can choose to do both in one day and each will take roughly two hours. But it’s not as easy as that because you need to book ahead and tours are often running late.
Antelope Canyon was formed by erosion primarily due to flash flooding. Rainwater runs into the extensive basin above the slot canyon sections, picking up speed and sand as it rushes into the narrow passageways. Over time the passageways eroded away, making the corridors deeper and smoothing hard edges.
Antelope Canyon is a very popular location for photographers and sightseers, and a source of tourism business for the Navajo Nation since the first tour in 1997. All visits are through one of several licensed tour operators. It is not possible to visit the Canyon independently. You will need to rent a car or take an organised tour to reach Antelope Canyon since there is no bus or public transportation.
You cannot drive your car straight to the entrance of the canyons. Instead, you drive to your tour provider, park at their shop, and then your tour provider transports you to the canyon, either by car for Upper Antelope Canyon or by foot for Lower Antelope Canyon.
Lower Antelope Canyon
Because I was on a very tight schedule, I could only visit the lower canyon where two operators provide tours. As far as I can tell they operate almost identical tours at a similar cost. To a large extent the success of the tour depends on the guide. Our guide was very helpful in taking photos and told us stories surrounding the rock formations.
Lower Antelope is a more difficult hike than Upper Antelope. It is longer, narrower in spots, and there is uneven footing in some parts. Five flights of steep stairs are available to aid in descent and ascent. It is not recommended for people with walking difficulties, pregnant women or the very obese.
Antelope Canyon is visited exclusively through guided tours, in part because rains during monsoon season can quickly flood the canyon. Rain does not have to fall on or near the Antelope Canyon slots for flash floods to whip through, as rain falling many kilometres away upstream of the canyons can funnel into them with little prior notice.
Visitors start their guided Lower Antelope Canyon tours with a short 10-minute walk from the ticket booth to the entrance of the canyon. The trail leading to the entrance is both rocky and sandy, so appropriate shoes are necessary.
The Antelope slot Canyon tours are all-walking tours that are about one and a half hours long. Visitors walk just over 1,800 meters round trip. Visitors are welcome to take photos with handheld devices (no tripods, monopods, selfie sticks, or GoPros are allowed). It would be a pity to visit without some photographs because the canyon is really spectacular.
This Instagram favourite is a horseshoe-shaped incised meander of the Colorado River (think Grand Canyon) within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, about 6 km southwest of Page. Just like Antelope Canyon, social media has dramatically increased the number of visitors who come here and the parking lot has just been tripled in size to help accommodate the rush.
It is a 2.5 kilometre round-trip from the parking lot to an outlook point. The track is a bit rough in places and it descends some distance so it’s not suitable for wheelchairs or those with restricted movement. Make sure you take water with you when the weather is hot and there isn’t any shade. The overlook is 1,300 m above sea level, and the Colorado River is at 980 m, making it a 320 m drop.
There is usually a large, steady stream of people walking to and from the bend and once you get there everyone is jockeying for a photo spot. I’m surprised that people don’t fall over the edge on a regular basis because there is no barrier along most parts. You will be amazed by the view and by the craziness of some people taking extreme measures for their perfect picture. Most visitors get in, get the picture, and get out within an hour or so.
He has worked with Pelican Publishing, Viking Penguin, Berlitz, the Rough Guide, and the Nile Guide amongst others.
Along the way, he has started a newspaper, a travel magazine, a Visitor and TV Guide, and completed a PhD in tourism. His travels have taken him to more than 100 countries and his writings have collected a PATA award, an ASEAN award, an IgoUgo Hall of Fame award, and other recognition.
He is the author of the Experience Guidebook series which currently includes Experience Thailand, Experience Norway, Experience Northern Italy, Experience Myanmar, Experience Istanbul, Experience Singapore, Experience Melbourne, and Experience Ireland. They are available as ebooks or paperbacks from amazon.com