Northern Arizona Part 1: Antelope Canyon
Odometer (Legend): 532,450
Odometer (ILX): 112,154
Trip Distance: 572 Miles
Saddle up for a drive! We’re past due for some high adventure.
The area along the Utah-Arizona state line is one of the most oft-photographed locations in the southwest. The Grand Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, Monument Valley, and other landmarks offer endless opportunities for backcountry exploration in some remote – and stunning – desert landscapes. This weekend, I took a couple of friends to a little-known slot canyon located on the Navajo Indian reservation near the small town of Page, Arizona: Antelope Canyon.
Named originally for a herd of antelope that freely roamed the area, this canyon is a very sacred place to native people who live in the vicinity. From the Navajo Nation website:
To older Navajos, entering a place like Antelope Canyon was like entering a cathedral. They would probably pause before going in, to be in the right frame of mind and prepare for protection and respect. This would also allow them to leave with an uplifted feeling of what Mother Nature has to offer, and to be in harmony with something greater than themselves. It was, and is, a spiritual experience.
Like other canyons in the area, Antelope was formed over time by erosion from rainwater which has cut the deep channels in the sandstone rocks while also smoothing the edges to create the “flowing” appearance of the walls. Since 1997, the canyon has been accessible via tour guide only. Part of the reason for that is because the dangers of slot canyon hiking can be extreme: that same year, 11 tourists were killed by flash flooding in Antelope. Back then, the ladders going down into the canyon were wooden and got swept away. Today, metal ladders are bolted into place. The “upper” canyon that we hiked didn’t require any ladder access.
Caramel frappaccino in hand (or in cupholder, rather), I cued up the windshield wipers on the ILX on Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m. and set out for the rainy open road with three friends: Chris, Peter, and Stephen. Our drive northward on I-17 to Flagstaff was wet and foggy, but we arrived just in time to meet up with a car-full of other roadtrippers who would be joining us for our excursion. Jason of Driven for Drives brought along Alec, Jennifer, and Jouhl in his recently-acquired 2004 Mazda 6. Now with 8 of us in total, we had about 130 miles left to go before hitting our destination.
Highway 89 descends from Flagstaff’s pine-covered 7,000 feet in elevation to the barren, yet beautiful, red sandstone valley below at around 4,300 feet. We entered the Navajo Indian reservation which covers 27,000 square miles and spreads across Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. By this time, the sun had started peeking through the clouds and the scenery was non-stop. I kept a close eye on Jason’s Mazda’s headlights in my rearview mirror and he didn’t fall too far behind.
By about noon, we’d rolled into the small town of Page, Arizona. Page thrives on tourism thanks to being on the shores of nearby Lake Powell and close to Antelope Canyon. However, because January is off-peak, we found very little traffic or difficulty getting a table at lunch right away for our large group. The “super burrito” at Fiesta Mexicana hit the spot – and soon, we were ready to go canyoneering.
Much like the early pioneers must have arrived in covered wagons, we donned our sweatshirts climbed into the bed of a lifted Ford F-250 pickup with a blue canopy overhead and our tour guide from Antelope Canyon Tours gave us the lowdown. “It’s a 20-minute drive to the mouth of the canyon,” she said, “and half of that will be on a dirt road.” Sure enough, before long we were bouncing along in a sand-covered wash toward Upper Antelope Canyon.
This particular stretch of the canyon is only 1/4 mile long but has some of the most incredible rock formations I’ve ever seen. With each turn, our guide would shine her flashlight and point out different features & shapes: the face of Abe Lincoln, the “Heart of the Canyon,” a pattern that looked like it was woven, and many others. We did the best we could to get some pictures along the way but in the 120+ foot depths of the canyon and under mostly overcast skies, many times it was too dark for a photo to do it justice.
The next chapter of our day was a quick jaunt to the Utah state line just a few miles north on Highway 89, for the sake of a couple individuals in our party who hadn’t yet been to that state. Jason turned over the Mazda to me for part of that drive, and I fully enjoyed it! We had thought of touring nearby Glen Canyon Dam but the visitor center had closed at 4:30 p.m. right as we arrived, so we had a brief pow-wow in the parking lot to decide our next move.
And for that next move, you’ll have to tune in next time! It’s special enough that it deserved its own post. Thanks for coming along, and enjoy the rest of these pics and a short video in the meantime.
Road trippers Stephen, Peter, Chris, and Tyson
Approaching Flagstaff on Interstate 17 northbound
I’m okay with those gas prices in Flag!
Gearing up to head out
Suspension bridge in Cameron, Arizona: Built 1911, it’s 680 feet in length. It was damaged by an overload of sheep in 1937 (!) and was retired in 1959.
The “Little Colorado River” which that bridge crosses. Looks pretty muddy to me.
Lunchtime for some hungry travelers in Page at Fiesta Mexicana
Our limousines for the next portion of the trip
Awaiting our 1:30 p.m. tour departure in Page
Peter, Stephen, Chris, Jouhl, and Jason riding along in the back of the truck
Entrance to Upper Antelope Canyon
Inside the canyon
Views all around
Jouhl and Jennifer looking up
Tyson and Jason
Tyson, Jason, Jouhl, Stephen – and Peter in front
And the entire group, on our way back through
Back at Comfort Inn – Room 324 gave me a perfect view of the cars.
Utah state line with Jason
Lake Powell – 9 trillion gallons’ worth! I took the ILX across this lake on a ferry last year.
Glen Canyon Dam, completed in 1966
Hey, check out that milestone!
Until next time. Oh, and a shameless plug! Mom’s Lexus is for sale. Link!