Upper Antelope Canyon is a well-known and iconic photographic location in northern Arizona. For many photographers, this is definitely a must-see destination. Even for non-photographers it is truly a marvel to behold and awe-inspiring in the truest sense of the phrase. The combination of the gracefully carved sandstone walls and the marvelous filtered light coming through those walls makes for one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Unfortunately, the canyons are small, the number of people who want to see them is large, and that is a formula for crowds. The Antelope Canyons (Upper and Lower) are located on the Navajo Reservation near Page, Arizona. They are only accessible with a Navajo guide, and there are a plethora of guides in and around Page. Stay any amount of time in Page and you will see pickup trucks modified to hold about ten people on seats in the truck bed filled with dusty, coughing tourists with bandanas around their faces.
One way to avoid this experience is to go on a photography tour with one of the better companies. They transport visitors in a closed SUV and manage the crowds in the canyon so there is at least a chance for decent photographs. Tours of Upper Antelope range from $35 to about $85, depending on the group size and length of the tour.
Whichever company is used, the trip to the canyon mouth is a few miles down a very wide and dusty wash that does not look very promising. At the end of the wash is a narrow crack in the canyon wall that serves as the entrance to the canyon. Once you are inside the canyon, the beauty and strangeness of the place is overwhelming. During mid-day in the summer months, the sun shines directly into some of the areas of the canyon, making light beams if dust is in the air.
The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon is Tsé bighánílíní, which means "the place where water runs through rocks." And run it does! A 4-inch rainstorm (which happens occasionally here) will turn into a 20-foot wall of water rushing through the canyon at 40 miles per hour! The guide companies all monitor NOAA weather and are very aware of flash flood dangers. Tours during the times of the light beams are the most crowded, and the net effect of tour guides repeatedly throwing sand in the air is easy to imagine. In spite of the drawbacks of this place, it is truly amazing to visit and should especially be a destination for photographers.