Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tse' bighanilini and Hasdestwazi, "the place where water runs through rocks", and "spiral rock arches."

Glen Canyon was a beautiful, magical place that was unceremoniously flooded under the waters of Lake Powell (and I'm pretty sure John Wesley Powell would have been appalled that his name was given to the lake). Despite the gigantic eyesore of Glen Canyon Dam, there are some incredible places to explore in the immediate vicinity. One of them is Antelope Canyon, one of the Tribal Parks managed by the Navajo Nation. The two parts, upper and lower, of the canyon are called Tse' bighanilini, which means "the place where water runs through rocks", and Hasdestwazi, or "spiral rock arches."
Natural arch within Lower Antelope Canyon
Each of the canyons is worth a look. The upper canyon is justly famous for the noon hour beams of sunlight piercing the near total darkness of the deepest passages. It is also level from one end to the other. But it also requires a ride from town that includes an unbelievable race up a pure stretch of loose dune sand. And it is crowded, especially during the aforementioned noon hours when you might find yourself standing shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other people. It's not a place for the claustrophobic.
On our recent tour, we opted for the lower canyon. It doesn't have the piercing beams of sunlight, and it is not level, requiring steps and ladders for access. But you don't have to be ferried up Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and it tends to be far less crowded (in my three trips, anyway).

The tours of these incredibly beautiful works of nature begin beneath the shadow of the monstrous coal burning power plant just outside of Page. The coal mines are sixty miles away, but the energy infrastructure is here near Glen Canyon Dam. We were given a short safety lecture before walking down the end of the lower canyon.
It's hard to believe that such a treasure lies hidden in these folds of crossbedded Navajo Sandstone. The canyon is more than a hundred feet deep in most places, but only a few feet wide at the top. The guide politely asked us not to jump across the top of the canyon, prompting me to wonder what story was behind that rule...
Antelope Canyon drains an area of dozens of square miles, but the rushing waters of the occasional flash floods are forced to cross two ridges of Navajo Sandstone. The rock is cemented well enough to form vertical cliffs, but at the same time the sandstone is easily and quickly eroded by fast-moving sediment rich water. The result is an incredible labyrinth of looping and curving channels.
The natural curves of the canyon are accentuated by the crossbedding of the Navajo Sandstone. The Navajo formed as a gigantic sand dune sea that extended from Wyoming and Colorado to Nevada and eastern California. The crossbeds are the preserved slipfaces of the sand dunes. The dunes were present during the Jurassic Period, when dinosaurs wandered across what is now the southwest United States.
The narrow canyon can be dangerous. Storms that are dumping floodwaters upstream might not be visible from the parking lots. After a horrific tragedy in 1997 that caused the deaths of eleven people, rescue measures have been put into place, and tours aren't offered when rain threatens the headwaters region.
The canyon is full of abstract shapes and forms, and a photographer could wander for hours through the passageways (two hours to be exact, for an extra fee). Photography is allowed and encouraged by the guides, and they offer advice on shutter speeds and the like. It's been said that one can't take a bad picture here, but believe me, it's more than possible! The sharp contrast between light and dark wreaks havoc with photo framing. It challenging, but wonderful fun as well.
My favorite pictures occur where the sunlight is indirect and reflecting from above. The resulting yellow and golden hues are beautiful; the rocks seem to glow with inner light.
The texture and light are unique. If you are ever in Page, don't be afraid to put out the tour cost (between $20-35, with a $20 premium for those noontime tours in the upper canyon).
As is usual with my visits to the canyon, I have more pictures then I have words. Enjoy!

For the second time in my three tours through the lower canyon, our guide offered some beautiful flute music in the deepest part of the canyon. Here's the video:

Then it was time to go. We climbed up the last ladder into the blinding sunlight.

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