I plan my shoots around the seasons, weather and time of day. This way I can be in a location at the prime time – shooting fall colors at the peak of the season or photographing the mountains at sunset. But there are other factors that are beyond my control that can work for or against me – clouds, wind, storms. Tumbleweed, my favorite photo from Antelope Canyon, was one of the shots were the wind worked in my favor. The resulting photograph is one that can never be replicated. But before I tell you about it the shot, you should know a bit about Antelope Canyon.
Where is Antelope Canyon?
I first saw a photograph of Antelope Canyon in the mid-1980’s while visiting an art gallery in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. At the time, the location of this canyon was a closely guarded secret among a few photographers. It took me close to a decade to find out where the location was. I actually found the location from a professional photography magazine. I was so inspired by the photographs that I had to go there. I was able to make the trip in 1996 and I’ve been there 3 times, and I would love to go back again.
Antelope Canyon is located in Page, Arizona in the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation is made up of over 17 million acres, which encompasses the entire northeast quarter of the state of Arizona, as well as parts of New Mexico and Utah. According to the Navajo Nation website, Navajo leaders recognized the need to preserve and conserve these lands for future generations for their enjoyment and spiritual well-being, and, in accordance with Navajo custom, to welcome visitors from all over the world. The Navajo Parks and Recreation Department was established in 1964 as the primary caretaker of the special lands set aside for preservation.
A Spiritual Experience
I know the canyon would be breathtaking. What I didn’t realize was how spiritual and moving the experience would be. The description of Antelope Canyon as provided by the Navajo Nation most accurately describes my experience.
“To older Navajos, entering a place like Antelope Canyon was like entering a cathedral. They would probably pause before going in, to be in the right frame of mind and prepare for protection and respect. This would also allow them to leave with an uplifted feeling of what Mother Nature has to offer, and to be in harmony with something greater than themselves. It was, and is, a spiritual experience.”
What to Expect
On my first trip to Antelope Canyon, admission cost $5, which allowed me to drive to the canyon entrance and spend the entire day taking in the beauty of the area. Today the area is much more restricted. Antelope Canyon is accessible only with a tour guide and there is a two hour limit. Tours are offered by several different companies and range in price from about $40 to several hundred dollars.
Despite the restrictions, I would absolutely return to this tranquil place if I had the opportunity and I highly recommend the area. All of the information needed to plan a visit can be found on the Navajo Nation’s website.
Right place, right time
The location of this photo, Tumbleweed, is midway through Upper Antelope Canyon. I set up my View camera to photograph the scene when a gust of wind blew a tumbleweed onto the rock shelf. You can see this in the lower right corner of the photo. I made an exposure and then another gust of wind blew the weed out of the scene.
The sun angle is best in May and June, which allows for the best colors. I photographed the canyon mostly in color but also in black and white. However, I haven’t made a successful print from the black and white negatives.
People come from all over the world to see Antelope Canyon. But it is not only known for it’s breathtaking beauty. It is also the location of the area’s most devastating natural disaster.
In 1997, twelve people were swept away in a flash flood.
As tourists photographed the canyon, a summer storm rained down on the desert about 15 miles away. The area had been receiving much more rain than normal, due to El Nino. By the time the flood water reached Antelope Canyon, it was muddy and filled with debris. The flooding happened so quickly that the tourists and their guide were unable to escape and they were washed away by the force of the water. There was only one survivor, the tour guide, Francisco Quintana. Read his powerful story here.
Since then, measures have been put in place to avoid potential disasters like this one. So don’t feel like you shouldn’t go.
If you haven’t visited Antelope Canyon, I highly suggest that you do so. The area is beautiful and unique and a truly spiritual experience. If you have visited Antelope Canyon, please tell me about your experience in the comments!