One of the places I have wanted to see for a long time was Antelope Canyon, an incredible slot canyon with stunning curvy winding passageways illuminated by the rays of sun shining on falling sand, located in northern Arizona on Navajo Land.
When I started googling around, I discovered there are actually three canyons close by: Upper Antelope Canyon, Lower Antelope Canyon, and Antelope Canyon X.
Upper Antelope Canyon is called Tsé bighánílíní, ‘the place where water runs through rocks’, while Lower Antelope Canyon is called Hazdistazí, or ‘spiral rock arches’. Antelope Canyon was formed through hundreds of years of water running through Navajo Sandstone, eroding the walls of the passageways. In the old days, the herds of pronghorn antelope once roamed the area and traveled via the canyon to a nearby lake for water; hence comes the name.
The Navajo people consider Antelope Canyon to be a sacred site with deep religious significance and a symbol of Mother Nature’s gifts and power. Because of that, all three slot canyons must be visited on a guided tour.
With too many choices and too little time and money, deciding which one to see was tough. While most sources recommended the Upper or Lower one, we decided to visit the less-known Antelope Canyon X.
Antelope Canyon X
One of the biggest selling points of Antelope Canyon X was the smaller popularity among tourists. That meant smaller queues, less traffic, and less stress. I’ve read horror stories about tourists waiting 1-2 hours in the scorching sun to enter the staircase for the Lower Antelope Canyon and being rushed in both Upper or Lower Canyon with picture taking because the next group was coming.
Nothing like that happened in Antelope Canyon X. We arrived ahead of time and even managed to join the earlier tour. Our guide was patient, told us many interesting stories about the area, knew all presets for all possible phone and camera models, and helped us take memorable pictures. We had plenty of time to pose and take photos by ourselves with no other tourists in the frame.
We were lucky enough to see a small light beam shining through the opening. We hadn’t expected it as we visited early in the morning, and until the last moment, we were wondering if we would go inside the canyon at all, thanks to the cloud bursts and flash floods in the area. Some tourists we met on tour told us their trip the day before got canceled because of the danger that comes with a flash flood.
After exploring the first slot canyon and encountering a dead end, we followed our guide to the second one, which has an X opening at the ceiling, after which the site is named. Technically you could follow along the narrow, curvy, winding passageways further down to Upper and Lower Canyon. However, there was a sign preventing us from doing so, so after taking our shots, we turned around and returned.
On the way up, we noticed that the tour operator had a small cart, helping older or disabled people get to and from the canyon’s entrance. The canyon itself was wide enough for people to walk without issues.
We went for a regular tour, as we lacked time, but they also offer photo tours, where you will get more time and be allowed to bring a tripod to set up the camera.
If you want more information about the tours, the tour operator is Taadidiin Tours. It is a good idea to book ahead of time.
One of the most confusing parts of the tour was the time zones. We aimed to be at the assembly point an hour ahead of time, and somehow we ended up being 3 hours too early 🙂
Our hotel was located in Utah, so our phone’s clocks were set to Utah time. However, the watches in the hotel were adjusted to the Arizona timezone as all tourist attractions nearby are located there (Canyons too). And Arizona does not observe daylight savings time. However, the Navajo Nation in this state’s corner observes daylight savings time and springs forward to Mountain Daylight Time (MDT). But the Antelope Canyon X, even though it is in Navajo Nation, operates on Arizona time. Having to calculate the time to drive there and with our phones connecting and disconnecting from the network and self-adjusting, we had no idea what the time was. 😂😂
We were told to use this website to adjust to, but we failed miserably; maybe you will be better at planning 🙂
Upper Antelope Canyon
When people talk about Antelope Canyon, they most probably mean Upper Antelope Canyon, as it’s the most photogenic and easiest to access. The canyon is located at the ground level with less than a 2% incline.
Upper Antelope Canyon is narrow at the top and wide at the base. The wide passages make it easy to traverse, while canyon walls narrowing at the top help create the light beams when the sun is at the right angle; however, at the same time, making it darker than the lower canyon. The darker surroundings can make hand-held photography more difficult. Upper Antelope Canyon is brightest between 10 am and 1 pm; this is when you will have the highest chance of seeing the light beams.
The biggest drawback of the Upper Antelope Canyon is the crowds; however, from what I’ve read, both the upper and lower canyon suffer from similar crowd sizes.
Upper Antelope Canyon is also the most expensive of all the canyons and sells out fast.
Lower Antelope Canyon
Lower Antelope Canyon is more adventurous, as you need to descend several flights of stairs and ladders to enter the canyon.
Lower Antelope Canyon is shaped like a “V.” It is very narrow at the bottom, making it feel claustrophobic for some people but at the same time wide open at the top, feeling brighter and warmer than the upper canyon. Thanks to its build, it is unlikely you will be able to see any light beams on a tour of Lower Antelope Canyon.
I’ve read all three canyons are equally beautiful, enthralling visitors in the embrace of sandstone walls and narrow sandy passages.
When to visit
To have the highest chance to see light beams, you need to plan to visit the canyon midday from March through October. During that time, the sun’s position creates light gleams that reach the canyon floor illuminating the narrow orange, pink and gold sandstone canyon’s walls.
If you visit in December and February, you will encounter fewer tourists.
And if you plan your visit in the middle of the summer, ensure you have enough water on you as it is pretty warm.
You are not allowed to have anything on you except your camera and water. That means your backpacks have to stay in the car.
You are not allowed to have a selfie stick and tripod. The only way to bring a tripod along is to join a special photography tour. The reason for it is crowds and business of the place. The tripods block the narrow passages and take a lot of time to set up. The guides, at least in Antelope Canyon X, were helpful with picture taking, assisting all tourists in getting their perfect photo with loved ones.
To our surprise, you are also not allowed to bring GoPro with you. Curious as we are, we asked for a reason, and we were told that most people using GoPros were recording videos for Youtube, and some of those videos were not entirely respectful. As I mentioned, tribes in the area treat canyons as holy sites, and they don’t want to see people desecrating their sacred land.
Check the weather forecast, if there are heavy rains in the area, there is a chance your trip will be canceled. The slot canyons are highly suspectable to a sudden, strong influx of water when it rains a lot in the area.