Day trip to Antelope Slot Canyon makes for memory of a lifetime

My second travel article for the week is up in the 8 January 2015 edition of the Fort Bliss Bugle.  Fort Bliss is within driving distance to a lot of spectacular places in the American Southwest, like the famous Antelope Slot Canyon. The link to the article online is here.  Enjoy!

Day trip to Antelope Slot Canyon makes for memory of a lifetime

By Amy Proctor, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle:

A “sand waterfall” pours to the ground of the slot canyon’s floor. The water-worn walls of the upper Antelope Slot Canyon are designed by flooding through the canyon over many decades, making for an ethereal experience. Photos by Amy Proctor, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle.

A “sand waterfall” pours to the ground of the slot canyon’s floor. The water-worn walls of the upper Antelope Slot Canyon are designed by flooding through the canyon over many decades, making for an ethereal experience. Photos by Amy Proctor, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle.

You’re driven onto Navajo land over sand and dust to an orangy-red plateau of rock that protrudes from the dirt out of nowhere. Then you’re led to a long, vertical, narrow, cave-like opening that begs for investigation. No one has to prod or coax you inside; the 100-foot high canyon walls call to your adventurous side, hypnotizing and mesmerizing, so you do the only thing any inquisitive person would do: you answer the call and go inside.

And you’ve just made an amazing memory that will last a lifetime.

Walking through the narrow walls of the Upper Antelope Slot Canyon in Page, Arizona, emits an ethereal feeling.  The 225 yards-long pass through the slot canyon feels very close as the narrow orange walls surround you with waves of pattern formed over many years by rapid floods gushing through the canyon during the rainy season. At the same time, people feel very small compared to the grandeur and height experienced inside  Upper Antelope Slot Canyon. Sky is visible looking upward as there is no ceiling to the gulch. This is the kind of place that, when pictured in magazines or photo galleries, makes a person say, “I’ve GOT to see this place before I die!” It’s definitely a bucket-list experience.

In fact, the Antelope Slot Canyon  is so photogenic, Australian landscape photographer Peter Lik just sold a black and white picture of his from inside the canyon to a private buyer for $6.5 million.

Tourists are dwarfed by the immensity of the walls inside the upper Antelope Slot Canyon.

Tourists are dwarfed by the immensity of the walls inside the upper Antelope Slot Canyon.

Luckily, the slot canyon in Page, is only a day’s drive from El Paso, making it one of those must-see destinations in the Southwest. Less than 10 hours from Fort Bliss, it’s a relatively easy trip to fit into a four day weekend.  Touring the Antelope Slot Canyon takes only three to four hours, depending on which tour you take, which leaves time to see a couple other iconic spots in Page, such as Lake Powell or the infamous Horseshoe Bend.

The Upper Antelope Slot Canyon is located in the Navajo Nation, which means that the Navajo act as custodians over this area.  The Navajo Nation holds more than 17 million acres of land stretching through much of Arizona and portions of New Mexico and Utah. Therefore access to the slot canyon can only be accessed through tour companies, which are owned and operated by the Navajo. The entire process becomes even more meaningful when the visitor understands and appreciates the history and culture of these Native Americans. Walking through the canyon with a Navajo guide can really be a great learning experience for children, too, as they experience the raw geography and customs of the Navajo.  It truly makes it more of an honor than just a tourists’ trip to walk on their lands.

Two main Antelope Slot Canyon tour companies offer guided scenic and photographer’s tours.  Scenic tours are generally an hour and 45 minutes long with groups including about 24 or so people, while the photographer’s tours are about two and a half hours and are intended for professional photographers with a smaller group of 12. However, amateur and hobbyist photographers do seem to make it into those tours as the aim is to give photographers of various stages an equal opportunity to have a smaller group with less interference shoot the slot canyon, but point-and-shoot visitors should stick to the scenic or sightseer’s tours. Antelope Slot Canyon Tours led by Chief Tsosie (www.antelopeslotcanyon.com) does not allow children under the age of 13 on the photography tour, whereas the Roger Ekis’ Antelop Canyon Tours   (www.antelopecanyon.com) does.

Things to know:

• High season is April-October in the canyon.  Summer months are very busy and tours completely sold out, so you have to book in advance of a few months. April-September are the months when the famous rays of light shine through the canyon at particular hours of the day, making an impressive display of light beams.

• Off-season in the Upper Antelope Slot Canyon is October–March. Because of the seasons, the rays of light do not appear during these months. However, the area is much cooler and it’s a more serene experience as crowds start to thin.  In December-February, you can probably book with just a couple weeks advance notice.

• Temperatures are 15-20 degrees cooler in the slot canyon so dress accordingly.

• The hiking difficulty level in this canyon is easy.  It’s more of a gentle stroll than a hike, even if you have a backpack, because it’s a completely flat, easy walk.

• If you’re bringing a good DSLR or mirrorless professional camera, don’t change lenses in the slot canyon.  There is dust everywhere and you’ll be risking ruining your lens and camera.  Consider bringing a raincover or rainsleeve for your camera.  Yes, it’s that dusty. These are inexpensive on eBay or Amazon. Use a wide angle lens for pictures if you have one. Consider buying an inexpensive camera lens dust pen to clear your lens during your time in the canyon. If you have a point-and-shoot or phone camera, ensure you stick it in your pocket when not shooting to protect it from dust.

• Bring water, especially in the warmer months.

The most important thing to know about the Antelope Slot Canyon is that you’ll regret not going, so take advantage of its proximity to El Paso!