If I could propose an 8th Natural Wonder of the World, my vote would be for the stunning Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona. Located on Navajo land, the man-made canyon structures that make up the Antelope Canyon are breathtakingly gorgeous with their curved, flowing shapes that seem to be suspended in time. Hiking down into the canyon is like taking a trip to another world, one of blazing red rocks, winding passageways, and heavenly beams of sunlight streaming through the cavernous openings. It consists of two separate canyons referred to as the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons.
The Two Canyons
The Upper Canyon is the most frequently visited of the two canyons for two main reasons: it is more easily accessible than the Lower Canyon, and it features brilliant beams of sunlight that penetrate through the canyon openings around mid-day. The Navajo people call the Upper Canyon Tsé bighánílíní, meaning “the place where water runs through rocks.” It is at an elevation of about 4,000 feet and the walls of the canyon rise 120 feet above the stream bed. Visitors can easily enter the Upper Canyon from the parking lot and the terrain is pretty flat, wide open, and easy to navigate through.
The Lower Canyon is referred to as Hazdistazí by the Navajo people, meaning “spiral rock arches.” This canyon is less busy due to its steep descent, thin slots to get through, and longer, uneven terrain. Long metal staircases have been installed inside the Lower Canyon to give visitors safe, secured access. Professional and amateur photographers alike are drawn to the Lower Canyon to capture the sheer beauty of what lies within. To capture the best lighting, tour the canyon in the early hours and late morning.
How They Were Formed
Formed over time by flash flooding and other weathering processes, such as erosion, the Antelope Canyon is composed of Navajo sandstone. When it rained, especially during the monsoon season, heavy rainwater collected in the basin above the canyon. As it traveled downhill, it gained speed and collected sand as it rushed into the narrow passageways of the canyon. Over time this eroded the passageways and created deeper canyons with smooth, flowing walls. The canyon is occasionally affected by flooding today, and so erosion and weathering continue to change the landscape of the canyons.
A Real Threat
While hiking up, down, and through the canyons presents risks such as tripping or falling, the canyons hold a much more serious threat inside. Flash flooding in the canyons is a reality and is the main reason that access to the canyons are only allowed through guided tours. During the monsoon season, rains can quickly flood the canyons with little, to no, prior warning. Even rains from dozens of miles away can rush downstream into the canyons, creating a very dangerous situation for anyone inside. In August of 1997, 11 tourists were swept away and killed in the Lower Canyon by a flash flood that resulted from a storm 7 miles “upstream.” The only survivor was the tour guide who had swift-water training. The canyon had only a wooden ladder at the time for visitors to climb up and out on. It was swept away as well. After that a metal ladder system was bolted into the canyon. There are now also deployable cargo nets at the top of the canyon, a NOAA weather radio at the fee booth, and alarm horns that are stationed to warn visitors of flooding. Flooding still occurs in the canyon. In October of 2006 a 36 hour-long flood happened and the Tribal Park Authorities were forced to close the Lower Canyon for five months!
There are many different tour companies that provide year-round guided tours into the Antelope Canyon. Visitors to the canyon consistently note that the Upper Canyon is always more crowded than the Lower Canyon and can, at times, feel rushed and claustrophobic. Some visitors also comment on how it feels commercialized and expensive (tours range from $40 to $88 + the $8 entry fee/person). Nevertheless, the awe-inspiring beauty is a must see and something that will surely top your list of destinations! Wear comfortable hiking shoes/boots, bring bottled water, and don’t forget your camera! For specific tour information, read on: