The Southwest’s Best – Upper Antelope Slot Canyon and Zion National Park

We spent our last weekend before “the great move north” (AKA Seattle, the final leg of this tortuous PCS) on the Northern Arizona/Southern Utah border.  We planned to go to Page, Arizona to tour the Upper Antelope Slot Canyon, probably the most famous slot canyon in the world, but decided to tack on Zion National Park when we heard it would be in the 70s.  Most of the time the peaks of Zion are covered in snow/ice in the winter and hiking is iffy at best, but not with global climate change.  People were hiking shirtless!  (Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this when the east coast is currently buried under feet of snow.)

Before our slot canyon tour, a member of the Navajo Nation showed off his skills by performing a traditional hoop dance.  He is currently training to compete at a national competition in Phoenix.

Native American Hoop Dance

Native American Hoop Dance

Native American Hoop Dance

Native American Hoop Dance

The Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons are on Navajo land and thus the tours are run by the Navajo Nation.  You cannot see the canyon without a tour guide, so we called a couple days in advance to make sure we secured a spot.  Turns out, there were 4 large trucks on our tour and we were split in groups of about 10 to see the canyon.  The canyon walls are a little tight in places, so they try to spread the tour groups out so you have plenty of time to take photos without tripping over everyone.  We saw the Upper Antelope Canyon, the more popular of the two, but we heard that the light in the Lower Canyon is actually better in the winter.  Our views were pretty stunning, so I can only imagine what the other canyon looks like this time of year.

Upper Antelope Canyon

At its deepest point, this slot canyon is 150 feet deep

Upper Antelope Canyon

The darker streaks are formed from iron leaching

Upper Antelope Canyon

See the sad/grumpy face?

One of the main reasons a guide is required is for the safety of the tourists.  Although the canyons are not at all dangerous by themselves, they can be potentially deadly when flash floods arise.  Our guide said that researchers once tried to film the flash floods coming through the canyon by bolting cameras in the sandstone walls, but because the water was rushing at 45-50 mph, the cameras were ripped right out of the walls.

Upper Antelope Canyon

This was the narrowest passageway at about 3.5-4 feet

Upper Antelope Canyon

Boulders balancing

Like in Monument Valley, the Navajos have given names to a lot of the formations within the canyon.  Most are pretty obvious because of their shape, but it’s nice to have a guide to point them out.  We happened to be visiting on Valentine’s Day, so the next formation was rather fitting.

Upper Antelope Canyon

See the heart?

This formation is called the Monument Valley Sunrise because it looks like the sun is rising behind the mountains / sandstone formations.

Upper Antelope Canyon

Monument Valley Sunrise

What does this next one look like?  Navajo Nation deemed it the Dragon’s Eye.

Upper Antelope Canyon

The Dragon’s Eye

Upper Antelope Canyon

Love the undulating lines

Upper Antelope Canyon

Admiring the light

Upper Antelope Canyon

Looks like sand, right?  Or perhaps a wave…..

Upper Antelope Canyon

Exiting the canyon

The canyon is an out-and-back experience, so we spent about an hour or so going through the canyon in one direction and then just walked back through to exit.  We were encouraged not to stop and take photos in the reverse direction as to allow the next tour groups to get their chance.

Upper Antelope Canyon

This is how orange the sand is outside the canyon

Luckily, we finished the tour about an hour before sunset, so we headed over to Horseshoe Bend.  Horseshoe Bend is probably the most photographed stretch of the Colorado River and is located just outside of Page, Arizona.  There is a small parking lot located about a half a mile uphill from the bend, but at sunset, people park wherever they can find a spot because it is incredibly crowded.  To reach Horseshoe Bend, you can follow a marked path (it’s sandy, so I’d recommend some tennis shoes for good traction!) from the parking lot down to the river.

Horseshoe Bend

So many people awaiting sunset

Sunset at Horseshoe Bend

Sunset at Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend

Sunset at Horseshoe Bend

After an amazing day of site-seeing in Page, we woke up rather early (6 am) the next morning to drive over to Zion National Park in Utah.  It happened to be President’s Day, so Zion was free to all visitors.  This was awesome, but it also meant that the park was incredibly crowded.  We were extremely happy we decided to get up early for the hike because a) we beat most of the people to the top and there were hundreds making the trek up when we were coming back down and b) on our way out of the park, rangers were actually turning away cars because there was no where else to park!

After doing a little online research and talking to some friends, we decided to try the Angel’s Landing hike, which is the longest of the marked trails in Zion.  It’s about a 5.5-6 mile round trip out-and-back hike with some steep switchbacks in the first half.  The switchbacks are paved though, so it attracts a lot of day-hikers.  The second half of the hike goes “off-roading” if you will, climbing up a series of chains / rocky paths to reach Angel’s Landing, the culminating viewpoint. There is a landing that serves as the halfway point between the paved and chain parts of the hike (called Scout’s Landing), which is where a lot of people decide to turn back. Although Bobby and I did not find it incredibly difficult to make the entire trip, there are some places that would be quite scary for someone afraid of heights.  We saw some very young kids making the trek to the top as well, which I don’t think I’d recommend.  Bobby and I think we would probably take someone 10 or older, unless one of us was carrying the child in a pack :) .

Angel's Landing hike

The winding path below was the only semi-flat part

Angel's Landing hike

The winding switchback ascent on the front side of the mountain

Angel's Landing hike

Trudging up the switchbacks

Angel's Landing hike

Wally’s Wiggles (the switchbacks on the back part of the ascent)

Angel's Landing hike

Scout’s Lookout – halfway up

Angel's Landing hike

The spine to the top & the beginning of the chains

Angel's Landing hike

About 2/3 of the way up

Angel's Landing hike

This hike isn’t for those that are afraid of heights

Angel's Landing hike

The chains

Angel's Landing hike

Working our way to the top

Angel's Landing hike

And we made it to Angel’s Landing!

Angel's Landing hike

Eating lunch on the landing

Angel's Landing hike

We sunbathed for a while as well

Angel's Landing hike

Atop Angel’s Landing

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