This post is the second in a seven part series about our trip through six national parks and other landmarks in Arizona and Utah over Labor Day Week in September.
After our visit to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, our next stop was Page, AZ, which is home to two of the most photographed attractions in the Southwest: the colorful formations of the Antelope Canyon and the dramatic landscape of the Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend.
- The drive from the North Rim to Page takes about 2.5 hours. We highly recommend doing this drive during the day so you can see the scenery along the way. The highway twists around a number of rock formations on the Arizona Strip, and when we saw them at sunset, the color of the rocks was just incredible.
- We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Page, which appears to be brand new. Our room was enormous and comfortable, and the hotel was conveniently located near a Walmart, a gas station, and a McDonalds (which, incidentally, is a great place for getting an early morning shot of espresso for only $0.65).
- We were very excited to see the beautiful slot canyons in this area, and we learned that it is very important to book a tour in advance. Our friend Stacey was able to get some amazing pictures of the Lower Antelope Canyon on the first tour in the morning when she visited. When we checked about a month before our trip, we found out that the tours to Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon were totally booked up (we visited on Labor Day). If you find yourself in similar circumstances, there are many other slot canyons that you can also tour in the area that are far less busy. Ultimately, we wound up touring one of these areas, another part of Antelope Canyon called Canyon X; it was an amazing experience.
- It can get very hot in Page; it was already well above 70 when we woke up, and it climbed to over 100 degrees later in the day. Even though most of the tours and walks in the area are short, be sure to drink lots of water and eat some salty snacks to stay hydrated.
After a relaxing morning, we drove over to the Antelope Canyon area east of Page around 10:30AM. We booked a tour to see Canyon X, which is part of the same canyon network as Antelope Canyon, but it is smaller, further away from Page (25 minutes), and is a newer tour, so it was not at all crowded. On a busy weekend, Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon can see hundreds, perhaps even thousands of visitors. On our visit to Canyon X, we saw only a couple of dozen.
From Canyon X’s website and descriptions of the other canyons, you’d get the impression that the tour times and schedule for the canyon is very strict. However, we were *not* herded like cattle through the canyons, in fact quite the opposite. I booked the photography tour online for both of us but in the end, Ruth paid the regular tour price and I paid the photography price since only I had a tripod and SLR. In some canyons, people with tripods have to take a different tour than people without tripods, but at Canyon X, we were both shuttled to the canyon by SUV at the same time and had the freedom to wander around together at our own pace. When we were done exploring, we got driven by ATV back up from the canyon entrance and then taken back to our car by SUV. All in all, we spend about an hour and a half at Canyon X.
You could tell that the community running the tours was very tightly knit. Our SUV driver gave us a great overview of the geography and history of the area, while guides in the canyon were very knowledgeable about camera settings for both SLRs and smartphones, and one of the guides was demonstrating the Navajo flute, which echoed beautifully off the canyon walls. There were also some intricate Navajo crafts for sale on site. Because this is a small business, we paid for everything in cash, including the tour, a tip for the guides, and the crafts we purchased.
There are two canyons accessible from this tour, and like the pictures we had seen, we found beautiful rock formations, light beams, and swirling patterns of color in both.
Some photography tips:
- Midday is a good time to visit the canyon. Rita, the owner of the tour company, told us that Canyon X is much deeper than the other parts of Antelope Canyon, so it could be super dark in the early morning or late afternoon, especially if it is overcast. You may also catch light beams at midday (even in September).
- The high sun makes photographing the swirling patterns above you harder because of strong contrast. If you do shoot upwards, then use part of the rock formation to block out most of the direct sunlight, and you’ll get a much more balanced photo.
- with an SLR, use an aperture of about 11 and the lowest ISO you can with a tripod to get the best photos. You may have to expose for between 2-30 seconds depending on how dark it is. In case you have a lot of light, use a remote to avoid camera shake.
- with an iPhone, use the HDR camera setting and the chrome filter to really bring out the orange colors in the rock or a black and white filter to highlight the texture. With an Android, the HDR setting seemed to do just fine (see the featured photo for this post).
After we had our fill of these amazing Navajo sandstone formations, we made our way back to Page for lunch. Unfortunately, since it was Labor Day, we didn’t have too many food options, but we had heard great things from our friend Stacey about the Canyon Crepes Cafe. Perhaps we’ll have a chance to check it out next time.
After lunch, we drove over see the Horseshoe Bend, an interesting curved canyon with the Colorado River running through it. On the way, there is a small scenic road you can take to get a glimpse of the Glenn Canyon Dam, which creates one of the largest reservoirs in the country (Lake Powell) and produces about 1.3GW of power, the second largest hydroelectric power plant in the southwest behind Hoover Dam. To get to the overlook, you have to walk very short distance over some slickrock. The railings can be too hot to handle on a warm day, so be sure to wear shoes with a good grip!
The river beyond the dam is also very pretty; the blue color of the water is just incredible.
Further down the road on AZ-89, you’ll find the parking lot for Horseshoe Bend. The round-trip hike to the viewpoint is 1.5 miles in the sun, so be sure to take at least 1 or 2 bottles of water even though you may only be gone for 45 minutes. If you’re interested in taking pictures of the bend, the afternoon is a great time to go: the walls of the canyon are not in shadow but are also not totally washed out (check this time series of photos of Horseshoe Bend for an idea of what it will look like at various times of day). When you get to the viewpoint, make sure to check your footing and stand away from the crowds. You’ll need to be near the edge to see the bottom of the bend, but the drop-off is very steep!
That ends our short but sweet (and very photogenic) day in Page! Stay tuned for the next part of our adventure in Zion National Park!