Lower Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona

lower antelope canyon page arizona

When you start looking up information about visiting Antelope Canyon , one of the first things that you will discover is there is an Upper and Lower portion of the slot canyon.

It was kind of funny to me, because I thought to myself, “wow, this place really exists!  And not only that, but there are two of them?!”

I think I must have seen a photo a number of years back of a narrow canyon with smooth yet gnarled, orange and purple striated sandstone walls that ended in abrupt jagged corners and a beam of volumetric light from above illuminating a small space on the ground.  It looked like such a special place.  I think a while later, my friend Sarah shared a photo of her visit to Antelope Canyon, and I realized, “wow!  people actually go there!  I want to do it too!”

Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon?

I started researching Upper Antelope Canyon vs Lower Antelope Canyon (Hazdistazí in Navajo) and learned that apparently Upper Antelope Canyon gets way too crowded.. and so does Lower Antelope Canyon.  But less so.  I also learned that if you pay more and bring a tripod with you (strange requirement, but sort of understandable since it’s a bit darker down there and it helps to stop down to capture all of that amazing detail) you can go on a self-guided tour of Lower Antelope Canyon – but the same isn’t possible for the Upper canyon.  I still wanted to see the Upper canyon, though, because that one beam of light that I saw in that one photo was taken in the Upper section.  I did more research and found that thankfully, there are light beams that come through Lower Antelope Canyon as well.  So, I decided to try the Lower canyon.

Do you need reservations?

Next came the question – do you book in advance?  Or just show up?  I didn’t want to get all the way to Page and not be able to see the slot canyon.  The website for Ken’s Lower Antelope Canyon tours tells you to just show up.  So that’s what we decided to try, though I was worried that it’d be hard to get a spot on a tour if I had nothing booked in advance.

Lower Antelope Canyon was a very short drive from our hotel in Page.  Heading East out of Page on Highway 98, you turn left at Antelope Point Rd, which is the first left if you’ve taken Coppermine road out of town.  If pass the power plant/Navajo Generating Station, you’ve gone too far.

Which tour company?

As of our visit in June 2014, there were two tour companies that had set up shop – Lower Antelope Canyon Tours and Ken’s Lower Antelope Canyon tours.  I think the price was the same at both places.  I was informed that the Lower Antelope Canyon Tours folks were operating without a proper permit from Navajo Parks, so we went with Ken’s tours.

We didn’t have to worry about making a reservation.  We waited about 15 minutes for a tour to start, and the followed our guide Brian into the canyon.  I had read about the tour groups being crowded when doing research before the trip.  Our group had about 12-15 people, which felt like an okay size.  It would have been great if there were less people, but people were patient and waited for each other to take photographs.  Brian was also very helpful in managing the group.

Before you even descend into the canyon, you can see the layers of sandstone in the rocks that lead the way.  Foreshadowing.  The canyon isn’t obvious – from about 20 feet away, you can’t even tell that it is there.

lower antelope canyon page arizona

There are steel ladders leading down into the canyon.  Past ladders had been swept away by flash floods – eleven tourists were killed in 1997 when a flash flood hit.  In 2010, tourists were stranded for hours when another flash flood hit.  Brian explained that these days, they get a radio message from Navajo Parks if a storm is expected.  It’s amazing to think about the amount of force that such a huge rush of water can exert – but it’s the same type of forces that carved the canyon into the stone in the first place.

lower antelope canyon page arizona

If you’re wondering how strenuous Lower Antelope Canyon is, it’s not too bad.  There is some climbing up and down ladders.  If you can handle that, you should be okay.  There are also some areas where there is not much head clearance.  I did bump my head lightly against some sandstone.

lower antelope canyon page arizona

I admit, I started to get pretty giddy after we had descended the ladders.  “Wow, it’s so crazy that this is real.”  The rocks really do have amazing purple, red, and orange hues.

lower antelope canyon page arizona

There are pits in many of the otherwise smooth sandstone walls – this is due to rock impacts during flash floods.  There are small bumps  on some of the walls also, caused by limestone deposits over the course of time.

lower antelope canyon page arizona

The canyon is not too deep.  It’s maybe 50 feet from the surface at its deepest.  In most places, you can look up and still see part of the sky.  It felt nice and cool inside.

lower antelope canyon page arizona

Brian was a nice tour guide.  He stopped briefly at many points to show us various features in the canyon – a profile of a lion’s head, a woman’s face, a fish, and other interesting shapes.  He offered to take everyone’s photos at a number of interesting points along the way – and made sure to set everyone’s iPhones on the “chrome” filter setting to make the colors pop.  He had some general pointers for SLR users also, though they were mostly targeted towards the crowd who leave theirs set on auto.  He said he didn’t have any photography experience before leading these tours when I asked.  He seemed to have picked things up pretty quickly in his three months of experience.

lower antelope canyon page arizona

The walls look like pointy rainbow sherbet!

Photography tips

If you are curious what the lighting is like in there, I took most of my photos on manual mode with auto ISO.  I had the shutter mostly at 1/60 and aperture set anywhere from f/4 to f/13.  I tried some wide open just to see what the photos looked like, and I was disappointed.  All of the detail in the many layers of sandstone is worth stopping down to capture.   A tripod would definitely help, but you have to pay extra to bring one down.  I think this is due to space constraints.  (Oddly, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, to qualify as a “photographer”, you need to have a tripod and put down $50 for a special permit.  This allows you two hours in the canyon without a guide where you can explore on your own.  Not too bad of a deal, but I wanted to be able to experience the canyon with my Dad, and I wasn’t sure if they’d let him accompany me.)  In the photo above, here were the settings: 24mm f/11 1/60s ISO12800.  Crazy high ISO and you can’t really see any noise.  The Canon 6D is nuts.  Even at full resolution, the photo doesn’t look too bad.

Lenses:

I brought my 50mm and 24mm lens into the canyon with me.  I used the 24mm for 80% of the shots.

lower antelope canyon page arizona

I think that Brian said that each line in the standstone represents about 1000 years.

lower antelope canyon page arizona

There’s one light beam that comes into Lower Antelope Canyon.  In June, when we went, the sun shines through around 11am.

lower antelope canyon page arizona

Brian threw some fine sand up in the air to make the effect of the light beam more dramatic.  I asked him about the sand in the canyon – he said that in some places, there is a foot of sand between our feet and the rocks below.  When flash flooding occurs, the sand is all washed away by the water.  People dump sand back in to make it easier for us to walk through.

lower antelope canyon page arizona

Here’s what the canyon really looked like most of the time.  Though there were a decent number of people in our group, we all took turns when we got to special areas that would have looked better empty.  I remember there being a few people from Singapore, a couple from Italy, some Americans, and a few others.

The tour lasted about an hour.  The ladder out of Lower Antelope canyon was much shorter than the one we descended on the way in.  There are a few dinosaur tracks on the surface that Brian showed us on our walk back to the ticketing building.  We thanked Brian, said “ciao” to the Italians, and were then on our way to Monument Valley.

 

 

 

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Horseshoe Bend, Page Arizona

horseshoe bend, page arizona

Horseshoe bend felt like magic.

 

I don’t know how else to describe it.  It’s not an isolated spot, but the fifty or more other people there who are also admiring the view don’t take away from the magic.

 

But where is Horseshoe Bend?  It’s at the Northern tip of Arizona, just south of Lake Powell.  The nearest city is Page, which is only 4 miles away.  It was created by the Colorado river and the cliffs are about 1000 feet above the water level.  It’s a 10 minute drive from Antelope Canyon, so I’d definitely recommend seeing both of them if you’re in the area.

We approached from the west and stopped for a minute at Glen Canyon Dam to enjoy the orange cliffs and reaffirm my fear of heights.  From there, it’s just 5 or 6 miles down Highway 89, slightly past Page.

 

There’s a parking area off of the highway, and then a 20 minute walk up and then back down to the cliff’s edge through some fine red sand.

horseshoe bend, page arizonaThere was a stream of people headed in both directions.  Many of the folks that were headed to the overlook had the same plan of catching the sunset over the bend.

horseshoe bend, page arizonaThe overlook was windy and sandy.  When the breeze picked up, I could feel little bits of sand pelting my face and skin.  It made me think of what millions of years of this light sandblasting does to stone.

Once you look over the edge, it’s amazing.

horseshoe bend, page arizona

Many folks had their phones or cameras out, but others were content to just sit and enjoy the view.  Some photographers had tripods set up.  One group of people were even taking a series of photos with different outfits and model poses.

Though there were a decent number of people around, there were plenty of places where you could squeeze in and peer over the edge.   It is kind of scary.  I was surprised to learn that only one person has died falling off of the cliff in the last 20 years or so.

horseshoe bend, page arizona

By the time the sun went down, the crowd had thinned out a bit.  We hung around and watched the sky and the bend for another 15 minutes, then walked back to the car.

horseshoe bend, page arizona

You could see the lights of Page in the distance.

horseshoe bend, page arizona

 

 

 

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Coffee in the Southwest: Las Vegas, Page, Bluff, Farmington, Santa Fe, and Flagstaff

coffee from my southwest roadtrip

A recent road trip in the Southwest yielded stops in a few coffee shops.  Sometimes for fun, sometimes out of necessity.  I visited places that offered good coffee and others that provided merely a vehicle for caffiene.

Sunrise Coffee, Las Vegas, Nevada

Sunrise is located in a small strip mall across from a sunny park in Southeast Las Vegas.  As I was walking in with my dad, a guy rode up on his bike and met with people who looked to be his parents.  I watched him lock his bike to a sigh in the parking lot – there’s no bike parking by the store front, but that is okay.

Other people sat inside with their laptops – a not too atypical coffee shop crowd.

Sunrise is an independently-owned shop that serves organic coffee and offers some vegan foods.

sunrise coffee, las vegas

I had their Espresso Blend from Mothership Roastworks.  I had low expectations for coffee Las Vegas.  I was pleasantly surprised by the coffee shop, which felt out of place at the strip mall.  The coffee was brewed well but I found it lacking some of the acidity that I was craving.  I like my espressos bright!

espresso at sunrise coffee, las vegas

I finished the last sip, put the dishes into the bus bin, and then we got on the road.

Beans Gourmet Coffee House, Page, Arizona

Sometimes when I am in a new place, I wonder if I am seeing the same things that a local would see.  In every new place, am I getting the equivalent of the Fisherman’s Wharf experience in San Francisco?  But, maybe Page really is a pretty small town, and there wasn’t too much that we missed.

 

I’m pretty sure I didn’t get the local experience in Page.  We were there to see Antelope Canyon, and the fact that others were as well is probably part of the reason for the row of hotels on the block where we spent the night.  I was pleasantly surprised to see so much foot traffic on such a wide road that was South Lake Powell Boulevard.  There were probably a lot of other tourists who needed to get food or stop by a drugstore, and I was happy that they were able to do so on foot, despite what appeared to be a lack of pedestrian-focused planning.

 

I had even lower expectations for coffee in Page than I did in Las Vegas.  Blue Coffee & Wine Bar had nice reviews on Yelp, but we could not go as they did not open early enough for us that Sunday morning.

Instead, we went to Beans Gourmet Coffee House.  There were two guys who looked like regulars sitting at the bar, and then three pairs of tourists sitting at their tables, working on or waiting for their breakfasts.  The regulars eyed my dad and I and gave a friendly nod.  The tourists minded their own business.

espresso at bean's gourmet coffee house in page, az

The interior was small – bright red walls with painted references to Italy on one side, and hurried staff behind the counter.  Not unfriendly, but definitely looking sort of stressed.

My espresso was served in a nice little Lake Powell demitasse, and I got a mango smoothie to tide me over until we could get a bite later.  The coffee was as expected – not horrible but not too pleasant to drink either.  Maybe not too different than a shot at Starbucks or Peet’s?

Bluff, Utah and Farmington, New Mexico

Comb Ridge Coffee – I was looking forward to checking this place out in Bluff.  Not necessarily for the coffee, but for to the fact that they were pretty much the only coffee shop in town.  I imagined they’d supply a unique, local vibe.  They’d be the curators or arbiters of the local scene in tiny Bluff.  And I was curious what their coffee offering would have been like.  But.. they weren’t open on Monday.  So we looked for another place.  And despite stopping in the parking lot, I didn’t feel like sitting down at Twin Rocks Cafe.  We decided to start driving and see what we could find along the way.

 

Nothing was on the way until we reached Farmington, New Mexico, two hours later.  At this point, I just wanted something – so I stopped into the local McDonald’s.

mcdonalds coffee in farmington, nm

Sadly, it tasted like burny flavored water.  Worse than I expected.  I wanted to believe that despite all of the negative feelings directed at McDonald’s for their food, their practices, and so on, that maybe their coffee would be okay.  But it wasn’t.  It was watered down enough to be somewhat drinkable, though.  So I suppose that’s a good thing?  I drank half of it and had to dump the rest out.

My dad wanted to visit the KFC nearby, so I paired my coffee with salty chicken tenders and a salty, buttery biscuit.  I did not use their “Honey Sauce”, which claimed “7% real honey

Betterday Coffee, Santa Fe, New Mexico

betterday coffee in santa fe, nm

Betterday is situated in a strip mall not too far from downtown Santa Fe – a strip mall with some pretty cool shops.   It’s next to La Montanita food co-op and a fancy (and expensive) looking butcher, The Real Butcher Shop, who boasts “We are Santa Fe’s first Whole Carcass, Farm Direct, Producer-owned butcher shop.”  The three make a pretty nice combo.  If I lived in Santa Fe, I think I’d spend a good amount of time at that strip mall.

The cafe is pretty open, a mix of wood and concrete with a few Cinelli frames hanging on one wall and some old road signs at the other end.

betterday coffee in santa fe, nm

I only had time for one coffee stop in Santa Fe, and had to decide between Iconik and Betterday.  I’d been told about Iconik’s beautiful space and I knew they roasted their own beans.. but I ultimately chose Betterday because I’d been craving a good espresso and I knew that I wouldn’t be let down by Stumptown’s beans.  Interestingly, the baristas were not nearly as hipstered out as I would have expected.  What does it mean if I’ve come to expect a certain type of barista with a certain type of coffee?

espresso at betterday coffee in santa fe, nm

And I wasn’t let down.. the coffee was great!

Late for the Train Coffee, Flagstaff, AZ

I had lower expectations for coffee in Flagstaff after browsing yelp reviews.  At least for coffee quality – the spaces could still be awesome.  It was interesting that a lot of the shops also were performance venues – places that would have been cool to check out some music or so if we had more time to spend.

The Late for the Train location I went to was sort of small and fairly crowded with a mix of people working on their laptops and others just sipping coffee outside in the sun.  They did not appear to have space for any types of musical performance.  The counter staff were young, female, and quite busy taking orders.  As was the case with the rest of Flagstaff, a number of mountain bikes were locked up outside.  I wonder why so many people get around with mountain bikes there?

espresso at late for the train coffee flagstaff, arizona

The coffee was.. as expected.  Kind of thin, darkly roasted, but with enough caffeine content to get me going.

That was the last stop for our trip.  We hung around town for a bit and then drove back to Las Vegas, for we had planes to catch to take us back home.

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