December 10, 2019
Antelope Canyon, with two slot canyons, upper and lower, sits within the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation, just a few miles from Page, Arizona. A slot canyon is a long, narrow, deep water channel with sheer rock walls, in this case, eroded into sandstone. The Navajo names for Antelope Canyon are Tsé bighánílíní, (the water runs through it) for the upper canyon, and Hazdistazí (spiral rock arches) for the lower canyon.
Although the Upper Antelope is more popular, we opted to tour Lower Antelope, which is narrower at the bottom and wider at the top than Upper is. It is also less accessible, as there are five ladders to climb through the tour. So far, the lower canyon is less crowded than the upper, but that is changing. We visited at a less crowded time, and were fortunate to be the only two people in our tour group. Our guide was able to take time to help us get some very good photos.
While waiting for the tour to begin, we were entertained by a Navajo Hoop Dancer.
When rain comes from the south, it floods the canyon, continuing the erosion that has created this underground treasure. It twists and turns through about 2,000 feet of length. Each turn brings a new opportunity to “ooh and ahh.”
Using a fairly steep ladder, we descended about 80 feet into the canyon. The maximum depth is about 120 feet. Before ladders were installed, hand and footholds were carved into the rock to allow access. In some places, you can still see these footholds next to the ladders.
Many of the formations have been given names, like The Chief, Fish, Rocky Mountain Sunrise, the Belly Button (where a large rock juts out of the side wall.)
This canyon cuts through layers of Navajo Sandstone, the largest layer of sandstone in the United States, covering parts of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Utah. It’s responsible for so many of the beautiful rock formations we see in those areas. Iron oxide creates the different colors, including black, brown, red, orange, pink, gold, and even white. We could see many of these colors in Antelope Canyon. Our visit was entirely too short.
Following our visit to Antelope Canyon, we drove to Marble Canyon, where we stopped by the Navajo Bridge to view the Colorado River flowing beneath us.
We drove alongside the Vermillion Cliffs, and came upon what appeared to be pueblo ruins on the side of the road. These “ruins” actually date back only about 100 years. Blanch and Bill Russell came to Arizona to treat Bill’s tuberculosis. While driving near Marble Canyon, their car broke down, so they camped among the rocks. Upon waking up, they were so impressed with the beauty of the area that they purchased the land. They then constructed a stone house under a large boulder, using wood to frame doors and windows. The Russells built a trading post and restaurant nearby in the village of Cliff Dwellers, but left after about a decade.
This was a pretty clever way for the Russells to make the most use of their surroundings.