Lower Antelope Canyon, Exploring Nature’s Photogenic Fun House

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September 30th 2006
Published: October 5th 2006
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“Are you claustrophobic?” Jim, our photo workshop director, asks me.
“Well, not too bad. I’m more worried about heights,” I reply.
“There are a couple of steep places with ladders.”
“I guess I’ll go and if it’s too bad, I’ll wait in the car.”

I picture ladders attached to steep canyon walls with no railings. Or, maybe there will be steps notched into the wall. How will I carry my camera, notebook and water bottle? What if I fall off? These are the thoughts that plague my sleep the night before our next slot canyon adventure.

The following day, Jim leads our car caravan to Lower Antelope Canyon, located on Navajo land off Copper Mine Road. A large power plant looms near the site. The sun’s glare reflects off the desolate landscape of flat rocks interspersed with small, scrubby bushes.

We pay a $21.00 entrance fee and decline the Navajo guide. Jim knows the way. He leads us across slick rock to a narrow crack in the earth. “Can anyone find the entrance?” he asks. Pointing to the crack, Jim indicates that this slight depression is the beginning of our journey.

As we walk down the crack, there is only room to put one foot in front of the other. Soon, the narrow space begins to slope. A short flight of metal stairs takes us inside the slot canyon. “I can do this,” I say to myself.

My eyes adjust to the darkness. Canyon walls, etched by water from thousands of storms, twist and turn for a quarter-of-a-mile. “Oohs” and “ahhs” echo through the canyon as each turn reveals a new wonder.

Light shines down through cracks in the earth, creating a colorful palette, especially for the photographers. There are no words to describe the beauty of stone curtains colored purple, pink and gold from the sun’s light. In places, the walls ripple as if they are waves in a stone sea.

The photographers take their time, looking for spaces wide enough for tripods so that they can set up shots. Jim has the hardest job, moving forward in the canyon, then retracing his steps, stopping to advise students on the proper lens and setting for the perfect picture.

It is necessary to look forward, backward and up, as the view changes with each perspective. I stop to check the images in my digital camera. The photos I have captured are amazing. Pressing myself against the stone wall, I make room for another visitor to pass. We are not the only ones touring the narrow canyon.

At the next ladder, a muddy spot, remnant of a recent storm, demands my attention. I tread carefully to avoid a slip. In 1997, eleven people lost their lives in one of the canyon’s flash floods. I try to keep from imagining what it was like for them to be slammed against the narrow walls, probably crushed rather than drowned.

Our group spends two-and-a-half hours negotiating to the end where steep, metal steps lead out of the canyon. At least the stairs have rails. “Thank goodness I didn’t have to enter this way,” I tell Alan. “I would have never made it.”

After climbing out, our group rests at the top. Then, we walk the quarter-of-a-mile to where we began. Jim points out boxes sitting at the canyon’s edge in several locations. They hold rope ladders offering visitors a climb to safety in case a storm floods the canyon without warning. I’m thankful for the sunny, dry day.

As we step across the slick rock, it’s hard to believe that a colorful wonderland is hidden just beneath the earth’s crusty surface. But it is, and we have the pictures to prove it.

To read more about our photo workshop experience with Jim Altengarten, vist this page at my blog about baby boomer travel, My Itchy Travel Feet .

Additional photos below
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5th August 2008

great pictures
I really enjoyed these pictures! Iemke

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