Saturday, September 6, 2014

Another World, Part 7 - Lower Antelope Canyon

                                                                             You are not here to verify,
                                                      Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
                                                      Or carry report.  You are here to kneel
                                                      Where prayer has been valid.

                                                                               -- T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

                          . . . where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder
                  than your deepest dreams waits for you beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.

                                                                               -- Edward Abbey, Benedicto

It seems a most unlikely setting for one of the most beautiful places on earth:  desert and scrub brush.  Yet tucked into the folds of the earth of northern Arizona is Lower Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon located just a few miles east of Page, Arizona, within sight of the controversial Navajo Generating Station.

Along with its nearby counterpart, Upper Antelope Canyon, Lower Antelope is one of the photographic wonders of the world.  On a trip with Road Scholar last May, I was able to spend two hours in the canyon with only eleven other photographers.  It was as close to photography Nirvana as I will probably ever get.

The canyon is about the length of three football fields, full of twists and turns, cut into 190-200 million year-old Navajo sandstone by water.  For a scary, dramatic video of a flash flood in Lower Antelope Canyon, click here.

From ground level, the canyon is virtually invisible because it is so narrow:

Arrows and white line show where the rim of the canyon is in the same picture as above: 

The canyon is located on Navajo tribal land, and is a source of tourism revenue, so the journey begins at the visitor center:

Then it's about a 1/4 mile hike to the lower entrance to the canyon:

Looking back up the way you came, you begin to see the upper walls of the canyon itself:

The canyon is about 50 feet deep, so to get in you have to climb down 5 sets of very steep stairs:

                                                                                                        (Notice the staircase even further down, and the person in the shadow on the lower right.)

Looking back up the stairs, you can see the water-carved sandstone layers that will create the beautiful shapes inside the canyon . . .

Finally, you reach the bottom of the stairs and walk through a short, narrow passage . . .

 . . . and step into another world:

And then . . . you can't help but look up . . .

. . . and around . . .

So why do these walls have such a magical glow?  It's because they are illuminated by sunlight reflected off an opposite wall:

Notice the different colors and levels of brightness on the walls receiving reflected sunlight.  The sandstone walls are basically the same material and the same color, but depending on how many times the light has been reflected, and the angle at which it hits, the illuminated wall glows with different color and intensity.

Together, the light and the ancient layers of fantastically shaped sandstone create a world like no other.

In most places, the canyon is very narrow (which is why it is called a slot canyon):

Image courtesy of Eldon Griffin; used with permission.

It twists and turns for 900 yards, and around every turn there's a new view, each seemingly better than the one before.

Take it slowly now . . .

As you travel further into the canyon, amazed at every turn, time seems to stop.  The light and the shapes and the overwhelming beauty of the place conspire to transport you. 

Eventually, of course, we came to the end of the canyon and climbed back into reality.

But the beauty of Lower Antelope Canyon and the six other worlds I visited for this series of posts will be with me forever, and I hope that some of it will be with you, too.  Thank you for coming with me on these journeys to another world.

Image by Anne Cisson; used with permission.

There will be more journeys and more images and their stories posted here in the future, but for now I leave you with a stanza from W. H. Auden's wonderful poem, "Atlantis."

                                        Stagger onward rejoicing;
                                        And even then if, perhaps
                                        Having actually got
                                        To the last col, you collapse
                                        With all Atlantis shining
                                        Below you yet you cannot
                                        Descend, you should still be proud
                                        Even to have been allowed
                                        Just to peep at Atlantis
                                        In a poetic vision:
                                        Give thanks and lie down in peace,
                                        Having seen your salvation.