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Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona

April 23, 2013 by staff 

Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona, Antelope Canyon is the most-visited and most-photographed slot canyon in the American Southwest. The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon is Tsé bighánílíní, which means “the place where water runs through rocks.” Lower Antelope Canyon is Hazdistazí (advertised as “Hasdestwazi” by the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department), or “spiral rock arches.” Both are located within the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation.

Antelope Canyon was formed by erosion of Navajo Sandstone, primarily due to flash flooding and secondarily due to other sub-aerial processes. Rainwater, especially during monsoon season, runs into the extensive basin above the slot canyon sections, picking up speed and sand as it rushes into the narrow passageways. Over time the passageways are eroded away, making the corridors deeper and smoothing hard edges in such a way as to form characteristic ‘flowing’ shapes in the rock.

Flooding in the canyon still occurs. A flood occurred on October 30, 2006 that lasted 36 hours, and caused the Tribal Park Authorities to close Lower Antelope Canyon for five months.

Antelope Canyon is a popular location for photographers and sightseers, and a source of tourism business for the Navajo Nation. It has been accessible by permit only since 1997, when the Navajo Tribe made it a Navajo Tribal Park. Photography within the canyons is difficult due to the wide exposure range (often 10 EV or more) made by light reflecting off the canyon walls.

Upper Antelope Canyon is called Tsé bighánílíní, “the place where water runs through rocks” by the Navajo. It is the most frequently visited by tourists, due to two considerations. First, its entrance and entire length are at ground level, requiring no climbing. Second, beams (shafts of direct sunlight radiating down from openings in the top of the canyon) are much more common in Upper than in Lower. Beams occur most often in the summer months, as they require the sun to be high in the sky. Winter colors are a little more muted like the photo displayed here. Summer months provide two types of lighting. Light beams start to peek into the canyon March 15 and disappear October 7 each year.

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