• Alyce Bender

Magical Heart of the Arizona Desert: Antelope Canyons


Revisiting my last photography expedition, to the American Southwest, primarily Arizona, I want to talk about one of my favorite places on Earth: Antelope Canyon.

To visit, you want to get to Page, AZ. When you roll into town its not going to look like much but, let me tell you, this is a town surrounded by natural wonders seen nowhere else. Home to Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, and a series of slots that include Antelope Canyon. These slots are primarily located on Navajo land. As such, you must have a permit from the Navajo Nation to explore them.

For the ever-increasingly popular Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons, a Navajo guide is required as well. This is in response to an incident several years ago, when eleven tourists lost their lives due to a flash flood through the canyon when they were exploring. Since then, the Navajo people have been running guided tours of the canyons and have added additional safety measures to ensure visitors could escape if a flood was imminent. That being said, I would like to point out here that these are slot canyons and everyone entering should be aware of potential safety issues to include claustrophobia effects.

But, moving on from that, depending on the time of year you want to visit, you will have to make reservations sometimes a month or more in advance to secure a spot on a tour. Summer, starting in March, it starts getting really busy, as summer is when the famous sun beams can be witnessed within the canyons. Having now toured this location both in March and November, I can honestly say, unless you just have to have an image of a sunbeam, go during the off season. Its not worth fighting the hoards during the heat of the summer for the same type of images. Personally, by going within the first week of March, the crowds were not there yet AND I got sunbeams. So win-win!

There are usually two types of tours offered: a tourist tour, and a photographer's tour.

Photo tip: If you are serious about photography, pay the extra and get on the photography tour! This gives you smaller group size, additional time in the canyons, guides will hold back other tour groups so you can get images without people in them, and you are required to take a tripod (which is a good thing!) on these tours. The tourist tour is for those with point and shoots, cell phone cameras, or family type groups.

Once you know when you want to go and the type of tour, make your reservations. Then show up and get ready to spend a couple hours in some of the most magical, vibrant, and spiritual-like wonderment that is the cool, shadow-halls of Antelope Canyon. Also, get ready for some of the most intense, difficult, fast-paced, and cramped shooting conditions you have probably experienced.

Photo tips: Know your equipment. Shoot bracketed images. Don't try to change lenses. Don't carry extra gear or a backpack. Carry your tripod, a wide or ultra-wide lens (widest you have), shutter remote or cable release, and a rocket blower. That's it. Any more and you will find moving about gets difficult, gear can get lost or damaged, and you just hands down wont need it.

In, November of 2015, when I visited for the first time, I used Adventurous Antelope Tours. Spent an eight hour day with my photog friend, Geannie, and our guide, exploring four slot canyons and could not have been more mesmerized. We visited Upper Antelope, Owl, Rattlesnake and Mountain Sheep canyons that day. This (below) was the crowning achievement of that trip. Entitled "Arizona Sunrise", it now hangs as a large, framed print over my bed.

After that day, I told myself I would be back. March of this year, I did just that. The Improve Photography Annual Retreat was being held in Phoenix, and with me traveling all the way from Japan, I figured I should make it a full photographic expedition by tacking on about a week to each end of the Retreat. Photo Tip: Sign up for the IP Retreat 2018 here, where it will be held in my previous backyard of Charleston, SC!

Photo Tip: The textures and contours of the canyons naturally lend themselves to some beautiful black and white images.

I planned for a full day and a half in Page for both Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Before arriving, I had already made reservations for an Upper Antelope photography tour with Antelope Canyon Tours Inc, so I knew I had that guaranteed. My approach to Lower Antelope Canyon was a bit different in that I left it a bit to chance and just booked when I reached town. Since I was not doing a full day tour of Upper Antelope, I was able to get a later afternoon tour of Lower Antelope with Ken's Tours when I hit town and then a second tour the next morning for different light conditions, before heading to my Upper Antelope tour. The light differences were noticeable and unique. While I loved the colors and more nuanced hues that the late afternoon light provided, the morning tour had the bright orange shades and the first sunbeams of the season!

When I saw those, I got even more excited for my Upper Antelope tour, if that was possible. Upper Antelope was just as I remembered and I had this really tactile feeling of being back in the company of a very good friend. Maybe because I had been before, but I did not feel as rushed here, even though it is the faster paced tour and has many more groups trying to move through. I was able to know I would come away with something amazing and so there were several times I just enjoyed being in the present rather then shoot.

By the end of the Upper Antelope tour, third canyon tour within twenty-four hours, I felt I had shot enough to hold me over for another couple years until I can visit again. I hope you too, have enjoyed the images I created over these two visits. If you are planning a trip to the area, let me know if you have questions. Next post, I will be continuing this discussion with information on some of the other locations I visited while in Arizona. I'm off to Hawaii tomorrow, so if you don't already follow me on Facebook or Instagram, look me up and get a sneak peek of that trip before I blog about it in a few weeks!

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