Antelope Canyon is the primary tourist attraction in the vicinity of Page, Arizona, at the southern end of Lake Powell, but anyone who spends much time looking at the advertising will discover that there is not one Antelope Canyon; there are two. A little background first:
The lake was created by damming the Colorado River to flood Glen Canyon—a lengthy process that began in 1956 when President Eisenhower, in the Oval Office, pressed a button that remotely set off the first demolition blast. The Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1963, and the water began backing up behind it, but it took 11 years to reach its maximum depth. Since then the level has been going up and down depending on the annual runoff of melted snow from mountains far to the north.
The main purpose of the dam was to generate electric power, but the lake and much of the area around it were also declared the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which attracts many vacationers and tourists. Damming the river brought these good things about, but it also obliterated Glen Canyon, one of the greatest natural beauties of North America.
Lake Powell also flooded many canyons that had been formed by rivers and streams running into the Colorado. Antelope and Navajo Canyons are among them. Antelope is a long and beautiful “slot canyon” cut through the sandstone by a small watercourse called Antelope Creek. From the potential visitor’s point of view, it has three parts. (The canyon is continuous, of course, but I’m referring only to the places where tourists go.) The part nearest the lake is flooded and accessible to various kinds of boats, but farther upstream, on higher ground that belongs to the Navajo Nation, the other two parts of the canyon are dry-floored (though Antelope Creek can come to sudden life in a rainstorm—several people were drowned in a “dry” part of the canyon during one storm in 1997). Navajo guides conduct all tours in these two parts of the canyon—they are certainly needed for safety, but their work also supports living standards on the reservation, which (generally speaking) are not lavishly funded.
The flooded part of the canyon is not on tribal land. It’s open to individual boaters, kayakers and whatnot, and there are no ethnic restrictions on who can operate boat tours.
So far this is easy enough to understand, but the situation has produced some unfortunate problems in communication. If you look up “Antelope Canyon” in Wikipedia, you’ll find an article entirely devoted to the two upstream parts of the canyon on the Navajo reservation, which it calls Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. The article says not a word about the flooded part. Advertisements for the various dry-floored canyon tours concur in describing the two visitable parts as the upper and lower canyon, as if they made up the whole canyon.
If, on the other hand, you consult the advertisements for the boat tours that carry tourists into the flooded part of the canyon (which is quite long), you’re told that what you’ll be seeing is Antelope Canyon, period. No qualifier, and no mention of the dry-floored parts on the Navajo reservation. You’d almost think that each group of tour vendors hopes to prevent potential customers from finding out that the other exists.
Given the stretched-out itinerary we’d chosen for our trip, Lake Powell had to be a quick stop, and we had time for only one view of the canyon. We saw several reviews complaining about how crowded the dry-land tours often were. Our itinerary put us there on a Sunday, which was likely to see larger crowds than a weekday, and we only had a few hours—we had to drive quite a few miles later on the same day. We couldn’t wait until conditions for seeing the dry-floored parts of the canyon were perfect.
So instead we signed up for a boat tour operated by Aramark, a corporation that manages accommodations and restaurants in many national parks. At Lake Powell, they operate the Wahweap Marina, which includes a large resort hotel. Since the boat tour departs from that marina, we took a room in the hotel, and all we needed to do the next morning was show up in the lobby at a certain time and be bused directly to the boat.
This map shows where it took us. The Google map it’s based on doesn’t show the Navajo-operated marina at Antelope Point, so—since the gallery includes one picture I took while we were passing it—I added that.
I didn’t try to follow the twists and turns of either of the two canyons we visited, Antelope and Navajo; I don’t even know how far, in map terms, we actually got into either one. The arrows just show where we turned in. The Aramark website made it clear that the length of the trip into Antelope depended on where the water level happened to be—the higher the lake, the later the boat would have to turn around. I don’t know how our voyage compared with others, but we were pleased with the length of it and the amount of canyon we saw. As far as I can recall, the whole trip took a little, but not much, more than the 2 1/2-hour minimum described on the Aramark website.
Antelope Canyon, even in this widest part, is narrow and twisty, and the combination of rock and water made an interesting change from what we’d been looking on the previous days. Navajo Canyon is larger and not so twisty. Because we’d just spent so much time soaking up the beauty of Antelope, we found Navajo somewhat less captivating—that’s why the gallery has so many more pictures of Antelope.
The boundary between pictures of Antelope Canyon and pictures of Navajo Canyon is marked by this picture of three houseboats. On the way from one canyon to the other, as we passed close to the marina operated by the Navajo tribe at Antelope Point, our guide told us that some of the houseboats we were passing were privately owned. Houseboats seem to be the preferred vacation accommodation at Lake Powell; people can rent them or buy timeshares from any of several companies, but these were wholly owned houseboats, lavishly appointed by their owners. The one on the left is the reason I took the picture. Its furnishings include—as the guide pointed out—a helipad on top. Just the thing for commuting on weekends from Phoenix or Albuquerque.