Saturday, July 20, 2013

Out in America's Never Never: What Water Does to Rock...

The Navajo flute player at work

The geology of Antelope Canyon is simple. Water (lots of it in a short time) and rock (specifically, the easily eroded but cliff-forming Navajo Sandstone). That's all it takes. There are other ingredients that make Antelope Canyon a memorable awe-inspiring experience: Sunlight and shadow for instance. The rock seems to glow with an internal golden light.
In the last post, I described the lengths we went to in order to arrive in Page, Arizona in time for our tour. These pictures should make clear why we tried so hard to add Antelope Canyon to our itinerary through America's Never Never, despite 140 mile detours. It is an extraordinary example of a sandstone slot canyon.

One thing that must be considered when visiting Antelope Canyon is whether you will visit the Upper Canyon or the Lower Canyon. The entrance fees are essentially the same, and you must be accompanied by a guide in each one.

The upper canyon is the most popular, probably for two reasons: it is a level walk on sand, and at the right time of day narrow beams of sunlight pierce the darkness of the canyon, which in places almost requires a flashlight (the entrance fee almost doubles for tours during those hours). It also requires being shuttled up a three mile long sandy wash that must be driven on to be believed. The lower canyon must be accessed by a series of stairways and ladders, and doesn't have the beams of light. But you park right next to the entrance and won't need to be shuttled. But it is my favorite for a different reason: the serenity. We've been herded like cattle in the upper canyon, shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other people. On our tour of Lower Antelope, we felt like we were the only people in the canyon (and we may very well have been).

By definition there isn't a lot of water in Antelope Canyon most of the time. It's a desert after all. The water comes during cloudbursts in the watershed upstream. The flash floods will send fast-moving slurry mixes of sand, mud, and boulders through the bottom of the canyon. Tours aren't held if there is a chance of thunderstorms in the canyons above. Tourists have been killed and injured in the past, and safety is a priority these days.
Simple geology, but a work of natural art. Enjoy the photos that follow, and look to the end of today's post for a special treat...

The flute player in the first picture? He played a beautiful composition that echoed off the glowing cliffs. I'm hoping he has some appreciation for the beauty he brought to our day. Here's a portion for your enjoyment!
There were other parts to this beautiful day. I'd show pictures of Horseshoe Bend, but I'm afraid I was grocery shopping while the crew hiked to see it (that's something that happens when you are the leader of a trip). Here is a post from last year's visit to the incredible entrenched meander...
I recalled the Navajo Beauty Way prayer...

With beauty may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty around me, may I walk.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely spectacular shots. No offense, but in some reality, the area is much like the High Sierra, almost impossible to take a bad picture. I do love the red rock country.