In our deliberations the day before, we found out that Upper Antelope Canyon had openings for a 4:00 tour on Monday. So, we knew what our plan was for the afternoon, but first we needed to get to the back country office before 9:00 to get a campsite for Tuesday night. We did this with no problem and then once again stopped at the campground office to check on cancellation sites.
We lucked out a second time and got a site, so we hastily wadded up the tent, sleeping bags and all, crammed it into the car and relocated. We didn’t burn too much time in that process and then headed North toward Antelope Canyon.
There are two well known parts to Antelope Canyon – Upper and Lower. Both are on Navaho land and are only accessible with a Navaho guide and tour group. It’s a horrible, but renowned, tourist trap. But, it had been on the radar for years, so we decided to pay the money and go.
Lower is supposedly the tighter quarters of the two and has slightly more repute as a famous photography location. We were not able to get reservations to Lower, but since we had no other activities for the day, we went to see what walk-up possibilities existed. We sat in the wait line (we were numbers 11&12 or so) for about 45 minutes seeing nothing indicating this would be a fruitful pursuit when apparently there was a group cancellation and the entire wait-line was promptly cleared.
I think the lower canyon did live up to the hype. It was a very deep slot canyon with years and years of interesting formations in the sandstone above your head. Many places were only a few feet wide and there were many spots where the sky was not visible. That said, the fact that we were in a group of 20 or so people and there was a group 15 minutes ahead of us and another 15 minutes behind us did take something away. They do offer “photography tours” which are less rushed with fewer people, but they cost twice as much and require a SLR and tripod (because that’s how we identify professional photographers). They were also sold out.
After Lower Antelope Canyon, we had a little bit of time, so we drove back out of town about 15 minutes to hike out to Horseshoe Bend. It was midday, so not the best time for viewing and photographs, but it was fun to see anyway. It’s a free visit and about a 1.5 mile round trip, so there wasn’t any huge investment in time or effort to go have a look.
The evening was our tour time for Upper Antelope Canyon. The upper canyon tours start in town and take a 15 minute ride back up to very near the Lower Antelope Canyon entrance before continuing up the drainage wash another 10 minutes or so to the canyon mouth. While Lower AC had a staircase leading down into it and back out, Upper AC was a direct walk in from a dry riverbed and at the other end, a walk back out into the continuation of the same riverbed with nothing man made in-between. In this sense it was reminiscent of Willis Canyon in Grand Staircase. It was the larger and more spacious of the two Canyons, and had a very different look since we were there much closer to sunset rather than right in the middle of the day. Though there was a pretty continuous flow of tour groups, it did not give the same shoulder-to-shoulder feel of Lower.
After returning to town, we stopped for pizza to kill a little bit of time and then stopped back at Horseshoe Bend for sunset. We arrived just as the sun was setting, but I don’t think we missed anything too spectacular. It took a few hours to get back to the Grand Canyon from there and we knew we had an early morning the next morning, so we did some quick packing and went to bed.