The Grand Circle Tour – Day Eight (Part 2) – Antelope Canyon

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.

 

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Our transport vehicle

 

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.

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This was nicknamed The Baby Elephant.

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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.

 

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Jan with Earnest Yellow Horse.
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Ann enjoying the tour.
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Stefan with the guide from group #6.

 

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.

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I believe this was nicknamed King Kong.

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This was nicknamed The Bear.  Look closely and you can spot the raised arms of a bear looking up  toward the opening of the canyon.

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I believe this was nicknamed George Washington.
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This is my favorite photo and it was taken by our guide.  If you look closely, you can spot the namesake antelope in the middle of the shot on the left wall.  If you use your imagination, you can see a smaller one just above it on the right wall.

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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.

The Grand Circle Tour – Day Eight (Part 1) – Horseshoe Bend and the Chinese Tourist Invasion

Our plan for the day was to drive from Kayenta to the town of Page, with stops along the way to check out a couple of popular sites.

We stopped on the road into Page at a company offering tours of Antelope Canyon and found out that all tours were booked until at least 4:00 p.m.  Apparently the tours were more popular than we realized, so we decided to head to Horseshoe Bend and save the canyon for later.

Horseshoe Bend is a massive horseshoe-shaped meander in the Colorado River.  It is located five miles downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  It is about four miles southwest of Page and can be viewed from the steep cliffs overlooking the 1,000-foot drop to the river below.  It is the ultimate Kodak Picture Spot.

 

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The iconic Horseshoe Bend

 

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The ever-cautious Jan approaches the edge to snap some photos.

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The place was an absolute zoo, with a steady stream of cars and buses vying for open parking spots vacated by those leaving.  Statistically speaking, you are probably more likely to die after being run over by an irate Chinese bus driver, weaving his way backward through oncoming traffic, than you are by falling to your death off of the steep cliffs.  We witnessed one such bus driver making slow, backward progress, while honking and occasionally jumping out to scream and shake his fist at the other drivers.

After successfully finding a parking spot, we started the short hike to the edge of the rim. As we crested the first hill, we saw a sea of people that resembled a line of marching ants traveling to and from the rim.  Again, this spot was more popular than we anticipated. Based on the banter we heard, the majority of visitors were foreign and appeared to be overwhelmingly Chinese – probably day trippers staying in other locations.  We could not imagine what visiting would be like in the heat of the summer with the crush of high-season tourists.

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The Crew about to start the short hike to the edge of Horseshoe Bend.
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Steady stream of tourists heading to and from the rim.
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Tourists crowd the edge of the rim – the ultimate selfie spot.

The minor delays and frustrations were definitely worth enduring, because the views were absolutely stunning.  We walked along the rim and witnessed the beautiful, emerald-green river winding through the bend below.  We also spotted a few inflatable boats in the river, possibly carrying groups of Chinese tourists.

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The views from the edge were not for the faint of heart.  Peering over the edge was made even more nerve-racking by the lack of any guard rails.  This is another spot where pictures do not do it justice and you cannot capture the entire bend unless you have a wide-angle lens.

This sizeable section of rock really intrigued me.  It had cleaved away from the edge of the rim and was hanging precariously over the edge.  It would eventually fall to the river below.  That might happen tomorrow or that might happen in a thousand years.  It occurred to me that the many visitors crawling out to the edge of the rock to capture that perfect photo were oblivious to this fact.

 

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Taking bets – When will it fall?

 

As we were leaving, we were in for one final burst of excitement.  The hatch to our minivan popped open, launching Jan’s duffel bag out of the back and depositing it onto the dusty, dirt road.  I sprang from the vehicle and sprinted about 200 feet to retrieve the bag, thinking it was in imminent danger of being mangled by an irate Chinese bus driver.  Several bystanders were kind enough to point out that we had lost a suitcase as I ran past, huffing and puffing.  Once back in the vehicle with the bag, Jan was surprisingly calm.  He did quietly point out that it was probably my fault for not properly closing the hatch.  Although the conversation quickly turned to other subjects, I suspected that this was not the last I would hear of this incident.

SAD POSTSCRIPT:  A few days after our trip ended and we were safely back home, we learned that a 33-year old man from Phoenix fell to his death at Horseshoe Bend.