Having traveled to some amazing places in the U.S., we often see ads with jaw-dropping outdoor photos, and we know exactly where the photograph was taken. Nearly every shot of a grizzly bear standing at the top of a waterfall trying to catch salmon as they fly past his muzzle was taken at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park. And when a woman with a bottle of shampoo in hand flicks her luxurious hair in front of a sandstone backdrop that looks like it’s from another planet, we know the ad agency photoshopped her into Upper Antelope Canyon.
Just outside of Page, Arizona, Antelope Canyon connects with Lake Powell a few miles upstream from the Glen Canyon Dam. While the canyon is filled with water where it joins Lake Powell, it quickly becomes a dry wash as it winds through the sandstone landscape to the south. On Navajo land a few miles south of Page, the wash disappears into two magnificent slot canyons: Upper Antelope and Lower Antelope.
Driving east on Highway 98 you’ll see parking lots on either side of the road: Lower is on the left and Upper is on the right. You can only visit these sites as part of a Navajo-led tour. When we were there in 2013, we did not make advance reservations and were able to buy tickets for time slots later on the same day we arrived. I wouldn’t count on tickets being that easy to get today; look at any of the photos of these places, and you’ll understand why visitors flock to them. No longer do the Navajo have to rely on word-of-mouth or the occasional family sedan driving past a sun-faded billboard to learn about their attractions. Instagram has done the promotional work for them. They’re also easy to get to; visitors can drive on a paved road to the entrance of each.
(At the time we wrote this post in 2018, we’d read several blog posts suggesting that visitors reserve tickets online several months in advance. Check Upper Antelope Canyon or Lower Antelope Canyon’s websites for the most up-to-date information on ticket availability.)
You can see from the photos why these places are so amazing: sunlight barely makes it through the narrow openings at the top of the canyons and bounces off the sandstone walls causing them to glow. It’s hard to take a lousy photo inside the canyons; the colors and shapes make the images look like abstract works of art. If I stare at my pictures of the canyons long enough, I start to see images of faces or animals.
Both Upper and Lower are worth a visit, and in our opinion, equally impressive. But there are a few differences between the two. At certain times of the day (and only from late March to early October), beams of light shine directly into Upper Antelope. With a little help from the tour guides who toss dust into the air, the beams make for dramatic photos. There are no beams of light in Lower Antelope, but it does have The Lady in the Wind. I was worried we might not be able to find her when we toured the canyon, but she’s easy to spot.
Another difference is that at Upper Antelope, guides drive their groups a couple of miles from the ticket office to the entrance of the canyon. At Lower Antelope, guides and groups walk a short distance from the ticket office to the entrance of the canyon and climb down a series of stairs to the bottom. While the stairs are not treacherous, they can be an issue for people with limited mobility. Upper Antelope has no stairs. When we visited several years ago, tickets to tour Upper Antelope were more expensive than for Lower Antelope.