The crowded photography tour of Upper Antelope Slot Canyon near Page, Arizona.
The Mobil gas station doubles as store, gift shop and one of many Antelope Slot Canyon tour centers. The tour guide is Eugene, an articulate, humorous, efficient and very knowledgeable Navajo gentleman. There are seven of us on the photographic tour. Instructions are given before being loaded into a large, comfortable, air-conditioned, 4 X 4 truck.
The Antelope Slot Canyons are not out-of-the-way places. They are on Navajo land a few miles south-east of Page and accessed by guided tour.
The Upper Antelope Slot Canyon is one of the most photographed canyons in the world. Many movies have been made here. The slot canyon is busy every day in good weather and closed when there is inclement weather which might compromise safety in the canyon. The upper canyon is a quarter-mile long and 130 feet deep. The entire length can be walked in about 15 minutes.
Upper Antelope Canyon was first discovered in 1931 by a young Navajo girl herding sheep and was kept secret by the Navajo people, as a spiritual place, until the 1960s.
Best light inside the canyon is at midday, thus the photographic tour. There are hundreds of slot canyons in the American South-west and Antelope is among the most popular and most easily accessible.
From the entrance station, it is a 3½ mile (5.6 KM) drive down a rugged sandy wash. The truck's huge tires are churning in sand. The entrance to the canyon is a vertical slot in the cliff face. The people entrance is the river exit. No-one is allowed anywhere near here in wet conditions.
To be trapped in this canyon during a flash flood would be potentially catastrophic. A Memorial Plaque at Lower Antelope Slot Canyon delivers the message. There was a flash flood two weeks prior and it lowered the flat, sandy floor of the Upper Antelope Slot Canyon by about 6 feet (1.8 m).
The slot canyon is a magical place. We are not alone. There are probably 200 people in here attending through a number of tours. Other guides are giving commentary as well as playing native wooden flutes which create haunting music reverberating through the narrow, winding canyon. The commotion adds significantly to the experience.
Eugene's performance is amazing. He is giving specific military-style instructions while racing back and forth, herding other groups from both directions to give us a brief, clear space for pictures. Eugene knows exactly when and where in the canyon the sunbeams will break through, as the sun passes overhead, and he positions us accordingly.
Many of the sunbeams are narrow and fleeting. Eugene flings handfuls of dusty sand from the canyon floor into the beams to make them more visible to the camera. The temperature is pleasantly cooler inside the canyon as this organized pandemonium continues for the next hour and a half.
The tour fee can be justified to watch Eugene at work. When the tour is over, the mood is one of amazement and subdued excitement. The photographic tour of the Upper Antelope Slot Canyon is a worthwhile and awesome experience.
Photography in the slot canyon is challenging. Exposure times in low light are long. The sequence is to take your turn, get in, take your picture and get out. The pace is hectic. Substantial photographic experience is helpful.
On the return trip, Eugene stops the truck in the middle of a wide, dry, red-sand wash to take a ground level photograph of 'mud chips' which are created by the dry cracked surface curling up in the hot sun. Quality photographic gear is important. A uni-pod will be helpful.
Back to the tour office at 1 PM, there is just enough time to return to the hotel for lunch before driving back for the nearby tour of the Lower Antelope Slot Canyon beginning at 2 PM.