The beauties and dangers of Antelope Canyon

Marion Fernandez

Sitting 5 hours north of Phoenix, Arizona, Antelope Canyon is a sight worthy of anyone’s bucket list. This natural wonder is often listed as one of the best places to see in the United States and its colors are well-known enough that many people would at least recognize that it was Arizona, if not the name of the canyon itself. What is it about this sandy and majestic natural work of art that draws so many people in? Here are the top things you should know about Antelope Canyon.

1. You cannot just walk through it

Taking a tour to the Antelope Canyon
Taking a tour to the Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is situated on the Navajo Nation Reservation and is considered sacred land. This means that going on the land without a guide or permission is completely unacceptable and should not even be attempted. Luckily, there are several tour companies who use Navajo guides to help visitors see the canyon without disturbing anything.

2. It is not just one canyon

While Antelope Canyon makes it sound like it is an all-encompassing area, the reality is that there is both an Upper and a Lower Antelope Canyon and they are different from one another. Most visitors opt to visit Upper Antelope Canyon because it is easier to trek whereas the Lower requires ladder climbing and more physical exertion. But the Lower Canyon is also cooler than the Upper, which is something you might seek on a hot Arizona day.

3. It is hot

Even in the shade you can’t escape the heat
Even in the shade you can’t escape the heat

Of course, Arizona is known for its heat, but tourists take for granted that just because a canyon provides shade that you should be cooler. You are in the desert. The desert is hot. In the summer months, it is even hotter and more uncomfortable. You will need to pack a lot of water with you and prepare as if you are going to be walking in the hottest heat, which means good shoes and ventilation in your clothes. Bring more water than you think you’ll need because dehydration is far worse than having a heavy pack.

4. You cannot go any time of day

Your tour will naturally be controlled by the guide that you are going with, but even with tours you can schedule a specific time. If you are thinking of going to the Lower Canyon, you will want to head out in the morning and miss out on the crowds. Many would recommend this as you can get some really good shots if you’re an avid photographer. Meanwhile, with the Upper Canyon, going at midday is when you will get the best views of the slopes of the canyon. When the sun is at the highest point in the sky, it casts down across the canyon’s walls.

5. Be an amateur photographer

Taking beautiful photos in the Antelope Canyon
Taking beautiful photos in the Antelope Canyon

While some travelers choose to not take photographs of amazing sights with the assumption that someone took it better already, you should not say the same about Antelope Canyon. The canyon is so picturesque that anyone can turn themselves into a masterful photographer. Take your camera or a smartphone with you and just be ready to capture all of the wonder and beauty of the canyon.

6. Use the bathroom first

This is a little tip, but it could make the difference between an uncomfortable adventure and an excellent memory. The ride up to the canyon is bumpy, there are no bathrooms throughout the tour, so use the toilet before you even leave. You feel much more at ease not worrying over whether you will find a toilet or not if you just go before you go.

7. It is not always safe

Listen to local guides and stay safe
Listen to local guides and stay safe

Something that is often overlooked at a lot of natural tourist sites is whether the site is actually safe or not. The safety, of course, depends on where you are, but in the case of Antelope Canyon, the concern is the possibility of flash floods. Sadly, in August of 1997, 11 people drowned in the Lower Canyon during a flash flood. Your guide should be well-versed enough to understand what the weather patterns are and whether it is safe to be there.

Never go to the canyon in the rain, you would just be setting yourself up for disaster. The waters from neighboring areas which receive rain will quickly flow into the canyon within a day or two, and fill the whole canyon up until nothing can be seen. To be exploring the canyon after a rainy day is extremely hazardous for your health and well being. In fact, after a flash flood strikes, the canyons are closed for at least a week as the sand which was washed away in the flood has to be replaced to make the canyon walk-able for tourists and visitors.

8. Eat before you leave too

Just like it is a good idea to go to the bathroom before you head out on your adventure, you should also make sure that you actually eat a meal before leaving. There are no shops to buy food from. While you can through a few snacks in your pack when you head out there, you should make sure you are not going to suffer from a growling tummy all throughout the tour.

9. This is not a hidden treasure

Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon

The canyon does feel like something special and unique while you are inside of it, but the truth is, it has been known about for a long time and is visited regularly every day. This is not a hidden treasure and you can expect to find other tourists with you, almost to the point where the canyon feels crowded. Do not worry about that though. The walls are so high that when you take pictures of the canyon you don’t have to worry that you are also capturing a bunch of strangers you have never met.

10. It’s sandstone

The amazing colors of the canyon, as well as its gorgeous and unforgettable curves, are all sandstone. It is important to know this because the canyon was formed by the water from flash flooding and rainfall flowing through the sandstone for thousands of years. While it is only sand, visiting Antelope Canyon is something you will never forget.

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marion-fernandez is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival