25 Mar Exploring the Upper Antelope Slot Canyon in Arizona
There’s no denying it. The Upper Antelope Slot Canyons are a spellbinding place.
Light beams shine down from above like a bright spotlight. Smooth curves twist and turn, creating paths of mesmerizing, swirling rock. Shadows play tricks on your mind by showing you a dragon’s eye or a heart shape unfolding through the formations before you. Surreal.
What’s not so enticing? What felt like hundreds of other people shuffling through the canyon with you, all being told to snap the exact same photos before being scolded for standing in one place for a second or two too long.
When we were working on a video project to showcase the highlights of Arizona last year, we knew that the Upper Antelope Slot Canyons needed to be included. After doing some searches online, we found that there are only a few companies that offered tours of the canyons—the canyons are located on Navajo land and access to the canyon is only permitted with a guided tour. We didn’t do too much research on which company to book with, and ended up picking Chief Tsosie Antelope Slot Canyon Tours.
Due to a tight schedule, we had to sign up for the regular 1.5 hour scenic tour in the afternoon for a cost of $48 per person. This meant that we would not be visiting during the prime time of day for the iconic light beams, and since it wasn’t a special photography tour where participants are limited, we would have to deal with large crowds.
Our day started out with a short show of traditional Native American dancing at the pick up point in Page, Arizona.
Next, we clambered into the back seats of the open-air truck and got ready for the bumpy ride to the canyons. When we arrived, we couldn’t believe the swarms of people waiting to have their turn inside the canyon towering in front of us.
We jumped out of the truck and followed our guide towards the entrance of the canyon. As we waited to go inside, I was in awe—both from the beauty of the canyon in front of me and the steady stream of people being herded in and out.
When it was finally time to take our first few steps inside the canyon, we were rushed through an assembly line of photo taking. We were told where to stand, what settings to select on our camera, which way to point our camera, and how fast to walk. While I appreciated the tips—these guys do tours day in and day out so they definitely have some great insight—I didn’t appreciate the bossiness and the rushed vibes we felt the entire time. The theme of the tour was quick snap a photo and then quick get out of the way. Look here, look there, click, click, click.
As you can probably tell, we had some major mixed feelings about the tour. We liked that our guide had some great tips on how to best capture the canyon on camera, plus the canyons were undeniably beautiful. But, at the same time, I felt like we were being herded through the canyon and that the tour groups were a major annoyance to the guides. There was a lot of rushing, plenty of finger pointing and almost no creative freedom to snap photos other than the ones suggested by the guides.
We left feeling conflicted between joy from witnessing an unremarkably beautiful natural landscape, and frustration from a less than spectacular tour experience.
That said, would we recommend visiting the Antelope Slot Canyons? I would answer that with an enthusiastic, YES! But, make sure you go into the experience with the right expectations—know that you will feel rushed and that there will be crowds.
Better yet, if you have a DSLR and a tripod, splurge and hop on one of the photography tours. The photography tours have much smaller group sizes and get priority inside the canyons, but they do have strict rules on the type of equipment you must have to be able to go on the tour. Check out Alex in Wanderland’s hilarious recap of a friend sneaking on one of the photo tours with a broken DSLR and make sure to read her entire post to hear more about what the photo tours of the canyon are really like. While she had some similar complaints with the tour guides, the overall experience on the photo tour definitely sounds like it was worth the splurge.
Despite my reservations about the tour itself, I’m so glad we were able to finally see the famous Antelope Canyon with our own eyes. Staring up into the beauty that surrounded us, almost made me forget about the shortcomings of the tour, and for a few fleeting moments, I felt as though we were the only people in the magnificent canyon.