Most of the people we’ve met on this trip have asked Greta which place has been her favorite. She always had a hard time answering that – how do you pick one favorite place? That changed in the middle of April, when we descended into Antelope Canyon.
It is absolutely the most surreal place we have visited. It makes Bryce Canyon look normal. It is a very narrow slot canyon, eroded by Antelope Creek (which empties into what is now Lake Powell, where the Colorado River has been dammed by the Glen Canyon Dam), and also by the wind blowing through. Many people don’t know about it, since it has only been open to the public for about 20 years. It is part of the Navajo Nation park system, and you have to go on a guided tour, of either the upper or lower canyon. When it was first opened, guides were not required, and a group of 11 hikers was killed by a flash flood. Since then, guides with walkie-talkies lead tours, and know how to get you out if a flood appears. They also have rope ladders positioned along the top, which can be thrown down in an emergency.
We followed a bunch of Buddhist monks into the canyon. I took this as a good omen.
The canyon as seen from above.
While the upper canyon is easily accessible, the lower canyon requires climbing down stairs, some tight squeezes, and a little rock scrambling. They are apparently comparable visually, but the greater difficulty in accessing the lower canyon keeps the crowds down.
At a certain point, you just stop taking pictures. As Greta said about Monument Valley, it’s impossible to take a bad photo here, and having yet another perfect photo won’t make a difference.
One of the aspects that makes it such an astonishing place is that the experience changes with every step. When you look at a big landscape element – such as the Grand Canyon or a mountain range – from a distance, it always looks pretty much the same, even if you travel a few miles. Antelope Canyon is a landscape at the scale of architecture – as you walk through, your perspective is always changing, and new vistas appear, the light and shadows change dramatically, people in your group disappear around a bend. The photographs might be beautiful, but can’t begin to capture the spatial experience of being surrounded by sculpted stone and moving through it.
It occurred to me here that all the architects who go to extraordinary lengths to make graceful curvilinear buildings should just give up. Stick to straight lines, humans are pretty good at those.
We passed by Antelope Canyon again on our way west, three weeks after our initial visit. (It is outside Page, Arizona, by the Glen Canyon Dam, the only place for hundreds of miles where you can scoot between the Grand Canyon and Canyonlands.) As we drove up to it, I asked Greta if she wanted to go into the canyon again. She thought about it, and said no. The first time you see it, it is completely astonishing, even if you’ve seen photos and think you know what to expect. A second visit couldn’t possibly match up; we’ve gotten pretty blasé about some things on this trip, and she didn’t want Antelope Canyon to fall into that category. I think if we wait a few years, the immediacy of the experience will diminish, and then we’ll be ready to visit again.