Gold Canyon, Az

Gold Canyon, Az
New Years Day 2015, Gold Canyon, AZ

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Upper Antelope Canyon

Friday was Upper Antelope Canyon tour day.  We were pretty excited as the pictures we had seen of the canyons were so filled with light, shadows and amazingly vivid colours that they didn't look real.   The Canyons are on Navajo land which requires a day pass of $8.00 each to gain admittance to their land and then another $40.00 each for the tour.  A bit pricey however if it was anything like the pictures well worth the price.

We arrived at 10:00 as the website had requested, an hour before our scheduled departure time.  Our transportation from their staging area to the site of the canyon was by way of 1/4T trucks.  They had outfitted them with benches on the sides of the boxes and a canopy for shade.  We had to drive about 3 miles down the bed of a dry wash to the canyon site.  The temp was only in the mid- 50's and with the truck going 30-40 mph it was pretty breezy and cold sitting in the back of the truck.  Fingers and ears were numb by the time we arrived.  The trucks were outfitted with extra large and under inflated tires and I expect a softened suspension so the ride on the soft sand was bouncy but not jarringly rough.   Each truck contained 12 people and there were 9 trucks going for the 11:00 tour plus a special Photography Tour (they had to pay $80. each).  There were probably 8 tours each day (only one Photography Tour per day, I think.  There are 2 other canyons that they provide tours although I don't think they are as popular.  There are also 2 other tour companies, all run by the Navajo band, that provide tours to these 3 canyons.  Then there is the Lower Antelope Canyon where a 4th company is the only one providing tours.
Bottom line, a real nice source of cash flow for the Navajo's.

We arrived at the entrance to the canyon, which is actually on the down river side of the wash, where  the water exits the canyons during floods.

Flash floods and high winds can result in closing of the canyon.  The floor of the wash and canyon is a very fine sand, about the size of grains of salt.  All the rocks and canyon walls are sandstone, so basically the same sand as is loose on the ground but compressed and hardened over millions of years into rocks.  The unique lines in the rocks have been formed over the years by erosion caused by wind, sand and water.

The sand on the floor of the canyon is deposited or washed out downstream during the periodic flooding.  As a result the floor of the canyon can change levels from season to season.  A few years ago a flash flood saw the water levels almost fill up the canyon, about 30 feet of water.

The best time to tour the canyons is around noon as the sun is the highest and results in sun beams entering the canyon from gaps in the ceiling.  As you can see the results are truly amazing and well worth the cost of admission.

We weren't alone and if there was one criticism of the tour it was the large number of people in the canyon.  The interior space isn't very big as you can see and the picture above is one of the larger caverns.  Much of the canyon is no more than 5 feet wide.

 Here you can see one of the sun beams hitting the floor.  You can see the fine sand hanging in the air making the sun beam visible.  I had to suppress the urge to stand in the beam and say "beam me up Scotty".

The BBC was actually filming here for a documentary to be released sometime next year.  Some of the professional photographers have done quite well selling pictures to National Geographic and various travel magazines/websites.  One picture was sold for over $1 Million.

 The indirect sunlight made for some interesting photo opportunities.  Although due to the number of people it was get in position, snap a picture and get out of the way for the next people.  The tour guide was actually very good, showing us the best picture opportunities and suggesting settings for our cameras.  We took about 400 pictures, me on my DSLR and Lori on my iPhone.

One of the tour guides was throwing sand up into the sun beam to enhance its effect.  Had to keep my camera lens covered when not snapping.  We had fine sand in our ears, hair and all over our clothes by the time we were done.  Some people had their cameras in plastic bags to protect them from the sand and only took them out to snap pictures.  Although as many pictures as I was taking the camera wouldn't have been in the bag very much.

Here is the end of the canyon or where the water would enter during a flood.  As you can see its not a very large opening and given the size of the dry wash the resulting torrent of water going through the canyon creates enough force to shape the interior over the years.

Thats it for the Upper Antelope Canyon.  I'm going on a Photographers tour of the Lower Antelope Canyon and will be able to bring my tripod but not my wife.  Only people with DSLR cameras and tripods are allowed.  No spectators.  The above pictures were taken handheld and even though I set the ISO to 800-1000 some of the shutter speeds were pretty slow, up to 1/2 second.  I hope the use of a tripod will make for crisper pictures although I am pretty happy with the above results.