Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon | Beebower Productions

Through the Rocks

The Navajo call it Tse’ bighanilini or “the place where water runs through the rocks”. Upper Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona draws thousands of visitors each year. The unusual sandstone rock formations allow shafts of light to stream in illuminating ripples and waves that look like an impressionistic painting.

Thousands of years of flash floods rushing through the canyon sculpted the amazing walls of sandstone. And thousands of people have toured the canyon since the Navajo Nation decided to open the land to the public in 1997. In fact, the only way to see Antelope Canyon, located near the border of Arizona and Utah, is to join a Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation approved tour.

Dad wasted no time getting on a tour truck. Packed like sardines, He, Mom and the other tourists were driven out to the desert. When the truck stopped the only clue they were in the right spot were groups of people who seemingly disappeared into the ground. 

Capturing the Cathedral

The entrance to Upper Antelope Canyon is a narrow, winding slit only a few feet wide. From the outside, it looks like an ordinary dry wash in the desert. But once inside, the magical canyon comes to life.

The elder Navajos consider the canyon a cathedral where one should stop and prepare to be in touch spiritually. While Dad was in awe of the slot canyon’s grandeur, it was hard to be in sync with Mother Nature due to the sheer number of tourists running to and fro. 

The mass of humanity stretched through the entire quarter mile canyon. Dad realized it was going to be mighty tricky to capture a descent photo without folks stepping into his picture.

One thing was right about this trip, though. Dad visited during summer when the shafts of light that sneak down into the canyon are best seen. Lighting is the key to creating a memorable photo. Other than the shafts of light, the canyon is rather dim. Plus the streaming light also enriches the color of the walls. 

All Dad had to do was to navigate through the crowded tour to find a unique angle with a great shaft of light. Then he had keep people out of the photo long enough to get a good exposure and still keep up with his tour guide who was adamant that no one was lingering behind. He was, as Dad likes to say, sweating bullets to get this photo.

Just In Time

During the last 10 minutes of his tour Dad finally found the shot. He quickly turned his tripod into a monopod so no one would trip over it, braced himself against one canyon wall and waited for a break in the steady stream of people.

He managed to snap this one photo before the tour guide hustled everyone out of the canyon. A storm was coming and she was worried about flash floods. People have died in the canyon during flash floods, so it seemed like a reasonable thing to care about in the grand scheme of things. 

Dad, however, breathed a sigh of relief. While under the gun, he managed to produce a really nice photo under really bad circumstances.  One photo. Sometimes photography is like that. You’re lucky to get one great photo. Maybe he’ll get another one when he returns this fall to visit Lower Antelope Canyon. He’s just hoping to see fewer people and feel less like a sardine.

The Great Gallery

The Great Gallery | Beebower Productions

Problems and Plagues

Two minor problems plagued Dad on this photo quest:  getting there and capturing the image.    He ventured to Horseshoe Canyon, a remote location two and a half hours from Moab, Utah, where The Great Gallery tells the story of people who lived there thousands of years ago. 

Ancient artists chose well on the location for their masterpiece.  Few have the fortitude to travel to Horseshoe Canyon.  To see The Great Gallery, visitors must first traverse 34 miles down a hazardous dirt road filled with roving sand dunes and equally wandering cattle.

Dad’s visit in May coincided with a 30-year epic windstorm that pushed whole sand dunes all over the road.  Local ranchers rescued car after car full of unwitting tourists stuck in the roving dunes. 

Dad came prepared.  His 4-wheel drive vehicle and years of practice in Pennsylvania blizzards helped him safely navigate to the parking lot, otherwise known as a plot of desert sand, at the end of the road.  No rescues needed. 

Next problem on tap, the extreme heat.  Even in the early morning, temperatures hovered near 100 degrees.  In fact, the National Park Service closes the canyon during certain times of the year due to heat.  On this day, it would only get hotter on the trail to the rock art.

Dad, his bags loaded with gear and plenty of water, along with Mom descended almost 750 feet down into the abyss, part of Canyonlands National Park, to view The Great Gallery.  Going down was a piece of cake.  Getting out would be challenging.

The 7-mile, round-trip trail led them through a dry, sandy creek bed.  They quickly began seeing small pieces of rock art along the way.  Their anticipation grew as they got closer to the Gallery. 

The canyon that holds the Gallery is a steep, narrow space.  As he descended into the deep a gargantuan 10-foot tall, evil demon-like figure stared down at Dad from the canyon wall.  A closer look revealed an endless array of faces that popped off the stone for at least 200 feet.

Strange Findings

His first thought:  This is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.  But it’s pretty darn cool. 

Many of the figures looked like mummies.  Others appeared to be animals like dogs or goats.  All were painted in a red pigment. 

After admiring the artwork, the photographer in Dad got busy creating a photo plan.  The sheer size of the art posed a problem. Some of the figures in The Great Gallery are at least five to ten feet tall and the panel stretches over a long space.  It’s a significant piece of history that wouldn’t fit into one camera shot. 

The entire panel also was in the shade.  It wasn’t necessarily a problem, but it was another factor to consider.  After some contemplation Dad photographed the entire scene in chunks and then back in the office merged the panels in Photoshop to create a panoramic image with great detail.  Mission accomplished.  Now for the fun part.

Getting out of the canyon proved to be the real adventure.  The sandy streambed became a hamster wheel for Mom and Dad.  There was a lot of walking but little progress upward as the sand tried to suck them back down into the canyon.  To make matters worse all of that water they’d packed seemed to have disappeared.  By this time the temperature soared well over 106 degrees.

After a grueling workout, Mom and Dad finally made it to the “parking lot”.  Dad felt great about the images he’d captured.  Mom felt great that an air-conditioned hotel room would be waiting for them. And wouldn’t you know, the bottled water they’d craved on that long hike up had been hiding under some equipment in the camera bag all along.

If you enjoyed Dad’s photo from Horseshoe Canyon, you’ll like these photos too:

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