There are several companies that offer tours of Antelope Canyon in and around the town of Page, AZ. We booked a 5:00 p.m. tour with Antelope Slot Canyon Tours for the upper canyon through the Visitor Center. We drove a few blocks from our hotel to the pickup location for the 4:30 check in. The tour was scheduled to take 90 minutes.
We were instructed to board trucks that had been specifically modified to transport people to the entrance of the canyon. The truck beds contained two rows of back-to-back benches that were arranged parallel to our direction of transport. Each bench had space for six people, while two lucky people were allowed to sit in the cab with the driver. Jan, Dawne and I were assigned to truck #2, while Stefan and Ann were assigned to truck #6.
We left for the 15 – 20 minute trip to the canyon and the paved road turned into a bumpy and dusty dirt road. People began to hang on for dear life and I began to question the decision to forgo the use of a seatbelt. When we arrived at the site, we found ourselves coated with a thin layer of red dust.
Antelope Canyon is actually a pair of slot canyons. The upper canyon is nicknamed “The Crack” and the lower canyon is nicknamed “The Corkscrew.” Access to the canyons is strictly controlled by the Navajo Nation, since the site is on their land. To view the canyons, you must participate in a guided tour.
Our guide for group #2 was Earnest Yellow Horse, who was very personable and entertaining. He pointed out distinctive rock features along the way – some were nicknamed after U.S. presidents, while others were nicknamed after animals. Earnest was the master photographer, with a keen sense for finding just the right angle to capture the light perfectly. Photography was difficult in the low-light conditions and tripods were strictly prohibited. Earnest offered to take pictures for guests using their cameras and smartphones. As it turned out, our best shots were taken by him.
I suspected that this must have been a very sacred place, where the Navajo people had been visiting for hundreds of years. However, Earnest explained that the canyon was only discovered in the 1950s by a young girl tending sheep. After many of her flock went missing, she finally found them huddled inside the cool canyon walls.
The canyons were formed by the erosion of Navajo sandstone and are still impacted by flash flooding today during monsoon season. We learned of the tragic story that occurred on August 12, 1997. Eleven tourists from France, the UK, Sweden, and the U.S. were killed in Lower Antelope Canyon by a flash flood. A distant thunderstorm had dumped a large amount of rain into the canyon basin over seven miles away. The water was then funneled toward the site and then ripped through the lower canyon, washing the tourists and their guide away. The lone survivor of the flood was tour guide Francisco “Pancho” Quintana, who had prior swift-water training.
Thankfully, we were transported safely back to town. We were covered in red canyon dust, but were none the worse for wear.