The American Southwest is the “canyon capital of the world,” from the vast, massive Grand Canyon, to canyons so narrow, even the slenderest of people would be challenged to squeeze through some of them. It is in this latter category where you’ll find Page, AZ’s world-famous Antelope Canyon.
Antelope Canyon is an example of a geological curiosity known as a “slot canyon.” As the name suggests, slot canyons are tiny canyons formed when water finds its way into a crack or fissure in the bedrock. Occurring largely in deserts or areas with low rainfall, a slot canyon is the result of thousands of years of weather extremes. In the case of Antelope Canyon, an intermittent creek that now empties into the Colorado River would erupt in turbulent flash floods that wore away the sandstone rock face, followed by hot, dry periods where sandstorms buffed the canyon walls to a striated, swirled finish. Over time, these weather patterns lessened in severity, but this natural process of erosion continues to be a part of Antelope Canyon’s ongoing evolution.
Accounts of how Antelope Canyon was first discovered vary. One of the more widely circulated versions asserts that around the time of the Great Depression, a Navajo girl was herding livestock on her family’s ancestral lands near what is now Page, Arizona. Along the way, she wandered into a “crack” in a sandstone wall where the outside world fell silent, and divine rays of light illuminated the sculpted chambers of the cave-like formation through a gap in the roof. Some elders of the Navajo tribe maintain that “Long Walk” holdouts took refuge in Antelope Canyon in the late 1800’s, and that spiritual beings continue to keep watch over the area.
The most famous section of Antelope Canyon is Upper Antelope Canyon. A mere 100 yards in length, it sees hundreds of thousands of tourists a year, yet represents only a small section of Antelope Canyon. Its longer counterpart, Lower Antelope Canyon, sees slightly less people due to its physical challenges, but has become just as popular as Upper Antelope Canyon in recent years. In reality, Antelope Canyon is a complex, multi-faceted eco-system with multiple drainages funneling water into what is now Lake Powell, such as:
Antelope Canyon X
Mountain Sheep Canyon
Mystical Antelope Canyon
Slot canyons in the Page, AZ, area are located on Navajo Indian Tribal Lands, therefore, a guided tour is required to enter them, but no vacation to Northern Arizona would be complete without a visit to at least one. To fully appreciate complexity of these unique geological formations, and the power of the natural forces that created them, consider bundling your Antelope Slot Canyon tour with a boat tour of the canyon’s waterside from Antelope Point Marina.