Discover the secrets inside the Antelope Canyon

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Rain comes into this canyon like a whirlpool. Think about it like sandpaper. The sand mixes with water whirling through the canyon and sculpts the walls.”
(Leonard Nez, Navajo tour guide)

While everyone seems to remember that Arizona is the Grand Canyon state, a trip there wouldn’t be complete without seeing the amazing Antelope Canyon. This slot canyon has gained major popularity thanks to the social media and to some amazing images that have gone viral. One of the most famous, shot by Peter Lik, “Phantom“, has been sold for $6.5 million: unbelievable, right? You might have also seen it on Planet Earth II, the BBC series, that featured it in Episode 4.
This millennia old slot canyon form a dark labyrinth illuminated by tunnels of sunlight from above… and you can catch the best light only for a very few hours per day.

Let’s discover the secrets inside the Antelope Canyon!

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The Antelope Canyon is located East of Page, Arizona. We decided to book a hotel in Page for a few nights while we explored the area. From Page you can in fact easily reach the Horseshoe Bend, relax at Lake Powell (bring your swimsuit with you!), explore the Glen Canyon Dam, and even enjoy a 20 minute drive to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument which is absolutely full of scenic viewpoints. The main reason why I think it’s better to book your lodging in Page for a few days is that there’s a good chance that you will be able to see the Antelope Canyon. Yes, because water, in the form of flash floods, dig this beautiful canyon, sculpting its walls. And it’s that water that can be pretty dangerous. In 1997 twelve hikers died here: the limestone walls became a trap and the slot canyon filled with a wall of water 11 feet high. While their guide came out injured but alive, only one body was recoverd in the surrounding area. The others were swept away from the force of the water. The flash flood warnings are taken very seriously and even if it rains miles away from here, the canyon will be closed. I’ve met so many people who haven’t managed to get inside, because they had only booked for one night or two, and because of the flash floods danger, the Antelope Canyon had been closed. That’s also why I always suggest not to book your tour in advance: get to Page and ask the Navajo guides if the canyon is open, first! After all, I’ve read that in 2006 a flooding in the canyon lasted more than 36 hours. If the canyon is closed, you still have so much to see and do near Page and you can try your luck another day!
Pro tip: Bring some water with you and don’t forget to apply sunscreen. Inside the canyon it might be a bit chilly, even if outside it’s pretty hot, so wear a long sleeved shirt once you get in.
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Don’t just focus on the sunlight beams, look up to the ceiling and shoot away!

The Antelope Canyon includes two sections. The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon means “The place where water runs through rocks“, while the one for Lower Antelope Canyon is “spiral rock arches“. The two sections are a bit different. While the Upper Antelope offers more chances to catch the shafting sunlight beams, it’s also sometimes pretty crowded, even if the guides always make sure to let every group enjoy their tour. The Lower Antelope is narrower, steeper and less crowded. It has a wilder side to it and it’s definitely more quiet, but you won’t be able to shot the impressive photos you can get at the Upper cousin.

When we arrived to our hotel in Page, the receptionist informed us that there was the chance to get a discounted price tour with a Navajo guide. The price was definitely good and we decided to book it. Our “shuttle bus” was actually a huge and dusty jeep I associated immediately to some Indiana Jones adventure. Behind the wheel, Sam, our guide, kept on chatting with us: he was hilarious and knew so much about the Antelope Canyon… even if he scared me half to death. You see, I’m terrified by spiders and while laughing he said that the previous day he’d been to the hospital to get his antivenom shot, as a black widow had bitten him inside the canyon. When he saw that I was watching him in horror, he just shrugged, telling me that I had to be very careful to where I put my feet and to pay attention not to touch the walls. Let’s say I was extra careful for the whole tour. Because there really are black widows in there. Lots of them. We saw a careless photographer who was quietly laying against one of the pink walls… and a “huge” spider not too far away from him. Don’t ask. Any spider is huge to me, and I honestly felt the need to run away as fast as I could. It was, again, only thanks to Sam if I stayed. No matter what, he was always able to make us laugh out loud! After all, I was ready to run away, while he’d been already bitten (more than once, he stated proudly) and he was still walking the canyon barefoot. While the sand looked soft and powdery, I definitely didn’t feel the need to take my shoes off. Because… spiders.

The ride to the canyon on one of the open air trucks was awesome. Once again while the other bus was driven by an equally funny lady, Sam decided that we needed to be shaken up for a while. Before to start the engine he told us to cover our mouth and nostrils with a napkin: we soon discovered why. The run was bumpy, fast, full of sand (it took us two showers to wash it all away)…. we had SO much fun!

Pro tip: keep your camera inside your bag so make sure you won’t get sand in it during the ride on the truck.
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One of the most photographed areas inside the Antelope Canyon
You might think you need to be a photography expert to be able to capture the beauty of the Antelope Canyon. Tell you what, I’m not a photographer and I still made it. I have a few big canveses at home with photos from the Antelope Canyon and everyone who visits just stares at them in awe, telling me they look like a surreal painting.

First of all, remember that there’s a good chance that your guide will help you. Sam spent the whole time explaining how to photograph the canyon, where to stand if we wanted better pictures and even shooting some for those who really weren’t able to do it themselves. The Navajo guides, as I already mentioned, do a great job at managing the groups, balancing the needs of the tourists who just want to explore and those of the photographers who are desperately looking for the best shot.
While it’s great (and I have many of those myself) to shot a sunlight shaft image,try to focus also on the light that illuminates the graceful curves and shapes of the canyon. Mother Nature did a great job at carving this beauty, remember to really look at it in stead than just taking hundreds of photos: you won’t be disappointed!

The best time to get in is around 11-12 am because the light will be just about perfect. I’ve been told that in the busiest periods there are long lines of tourists trying to book the tours around this time. We were pretty lucky because it was September and there weren’t many people, but if you really want to get in to shoot the best images and see the light playing over the pink-orangey curves inside the canyon, it’d be a great idea to get early on site, just to make sure you can get in by 11 at the latest.

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There’s a lot of dust in the air
Pro Tip: If you want to be extra careful, you might want to bring a plastic bag for your camera. A ziplock one will be perfect to keep it safe from the dust and it can also be used for the extra pair of lenses in case you’re bringing it with you.

Many of the agencies in Page also offer specific photo tours for the Upper Antelope. They cost much more than the regular walking tours, but I don’t particularly see any reason why you should book one, unless you find a particularly great agency that you know will make sure you get all the shots you want to. But… it’s the same thing Sam did with us and I know it’s standard behaviour: if you ask, the guides will help you with your camera settings and will also make sure to take a few shots for you. I’ve read somewhere that you can only bring a tripod with you if you are going on a photo tour, but again I’ve had a different experience. We brought a smaller tripod that we could fit in our backpack, asked our guide if it was allowed inside and he was perfectly fine with it.

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This Canyon will never cease to amaze me!

Photography tips to shoot beautiful photos inside the Antelope Canyon:

While bringing a small tripod with you is a great idea, using your flash… well you might want to avoid that. Work on your exposure and ISO to take better photos! Also try not to walk in front of someone who’s still shooting, I know you probably don’t mean it but it can be pretty rude and annoying.

A zoom lens will guarantee some great shots, but even if you bring an ultra-wide or a moderate-to-long telephoto zoom, remember that you should stick to that for the whole one hour tour. Changing lenses will in fact get dust on your camera and your sensor, because the canyon is very dusty. Plan in advance and make sure to get out if you really need to change your lenses.
Pro tip:  Buy a can of compressed air at Page and use it to clean the dust and sand off your camera when you get back to your hotel.
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While everyone is busy taking photos of the sunlight shafts, look up.
The light filters into the canyon through narrow gaps and offers dramatic views of curves and limestone waves. The canyon will treat you with a pleasant surprise at every turn. The ceiling also hides a few “secrets”, like the corkscrew heart or the outline of Abraham Lincoln’s head. Of course it will take a bit of imagination and a guide who will point those out to you (it took me a few tries before I recognized Abe Lincoln’s “chin”) but it’s yet another fun experience offered by one of the most beautiful canyons I’ve ever seen.

What about you? Have you been to the Antelope Canyon? Do you have tips you want to share with the others? Do tell!

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  • Wonderful

  • Antelope Canyon is super high on my bucket list!! These pictures only help move it higher!! I can't wait to get there!!

    I currently have a travel link up going on and this post would be a great addition if you wanted to join in on the fun 🙂 http://www.lifessweetwords.com/2017/04/traveltuesday-15-sail-away-fun.html

    Happy Saturday!

  • I would love to go to Antelope Canyon! Super-useful post, I'll definitely come back and have another read when I go 🙂

  • Amazing photos, congrats! We will be heading to the US next year (hopefully), and your post just made me put this Canyon on our itinerary.
    Thanks!

  • Great shots. I plan on a trip to Arizona in September, I might make a side trip and check the canyon out.

  • I still seriously can't believe the canyon looks like this. It looks like art in the photos. I really want to check this out now and just stare at the rock formations.

  • I've always wanted to visit the canyons in Arizona, but now I have to reconsider because I am terrified of spiders!! I'll just live vicariously through you!

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  • Wow! The Antelope Canyon is just breathtaking! I could stare at your photos all day the rock formations truly are mesmerizing! You've definitely moved this to the top of our travel bucket list!!! The photographer tips will come in very handy as well, such great advice, that we probably would not have thought of, thanks!

  • What an otherworldy place. And I love your tips on protecting your camera!

  • I was fortunate to visit two years ago and it is beautiful seeing it in person. However you were really lucky that you got to go with less crowd. It was crazy when I went with the large crowd and we were literally shoulder to shoulder. You did a great job capturing the beauty of Antelope Canyon.