The next day of our trip we allowed ourselves a rare late start, with no alarm set and a breakfast of leftovers (trail mix, bagels, and a few slices of pizza for those party members who did not consume their entire half the evening before....ie, me). We were due at Antelope Canyon sometime around noon (at this point I can't exactly remember) and only had a 2 hour drive or so to get there. Danielle spent some time with the guidebook once we had loaded up the Highlander (after a more serious session of rock pushing than usual, as we'd actually been checked into this hotel room for more than our customary 10 hours) looking to add a stop on the way there. We passed some signs for Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and, after a quick check of our map, decided that we might have enough time to drive the 10 miles off the freeway, check out the park, and still be on time on our tour. We turned off the main road, however, with me noting that we didn't have time for the 10 miles to be traveled at 20 MPH. If the spur wasn't a decent road, we weren't gonna make it. Our good luck continued, however, and my back country driving skills (which have eroded since I left Pennsyltucky, but not by much) were more than adequate to hum along the road fast enough to ensure we'd have something like 30 minutes to spend at the park. After paying the modest entry fee ($5 at most if I remember correctly), we parked the Highlander in an empty 20 car lot and took in the scene.
Apparently this state park was actually created because enough people wanted to keep some sand dunes as is so that they could ride their ATVs on them. You can see a fence off in the distance in the above picture (basically right along the line where the vegetation ends) that separates the part you can ride your quad on from the part you can't. Danielle and I walked all the way to the fence (and actually a little past it) through the sand that was, true to it's name, rather pinkish.
After playing around on the sand for a few minutes, we walked our way back to this strange sort of observation deck (it had a sidewalk leading up to a large metal platform, on which there was actually a set of old style bleachers on which you could sit and watch...the sand) and read a little more about the park. By now, though, it was time to get moving, as we were getting close to "out of extra time" to make our tour. We were both glad we made the detour, but to be honest if you're making a trip out west and trying to fit everything in, this is one you can skip. For a one hour stop though, it was top-notch.
We arrived at our tour company just minutes before the scheduled departure and had little time to spare; as usual, though, there was rock pushing to do. Once we got into the tour company's office were were astonished by just how many people were milling about. The final head count for our trip was something like 70 people, all loaded up similarly into the back of trucks like the one pictured above. You see, Antelope Canyon is on Navajo land, and you aren't allowed to visit it without some sort of "guide". Basically, the Navajo have realized they can exploit this natural wonder for (a lot of) profit, and have acted accordingly. To be honest it didn't bother me that much at this point, but after getting ripped off to take a tour of Monument Valley later in the day, and then noting the extra 9% "We are the Navajo so you owe us more money" tax on our hotel room that night (which was like a Day's Inn and the second most expensive night of lodging for the entire trip, right behind Saturday night at the friggin' Bellagio), I eventually got a little bitter. Anyway, after confirming that we'd each paid our $35, we loaded into the back of our truck for a particularly bumpy and dusty 20 minute ride to the canyon.
Antelope Canyon isn't really a canyon in the traditional sense of the word. It's a slot canyon, basically just a narrow slot carved through a large slab of sandstone by rushing water during (infrequent) rainfalls. In some places the thing is only about a meter wide, and at it's widest point there was no more than 20 feet between the walls. The last serious flood of the canyon happened in 2004, and apparently events such as that are no joke. Rainfall accumulates and runs down a narrow (a few hundred feet wide) valley leading to the upper end of the canyon. Once the water reaches the entrance to Antelope Canyon, however, the effect is similar to what happens after cars go through a toll plaza. Only like 100 times worse. The water is funneled into the canyon, and in some instances actually fills the entire thing and overflows the top (the canyon itself is probably 50 feet tall. Fortunately the weather was bone dry on the day we visited, so there was no chance of us being thrown out of the canyon like rag dolls.
The walk through the canyon, which only took about 30 minutes to complete, was absolutely spectacular (other than the 100+ other people walking around trying to take pictures...we came at the most popular time of day, the reason for which should be pretty obvious from the picture above. At mid-day, the sun shines directly down into the slot). Our tour guides took turns throwing sand up into the light beams, which allowed for some pretty spectacular pictures to be taken. I don't think I can really do it justice here, but I'll put up a few of the choice cuts that our cheap-o digital camera was able to capture. Note to Danielle: if you think there are some better pictures among the 50 some in your album, just say so and I'll add them, too.
Eventually we made it all the way through the canyon and were back out in the desert, which was kind of weird and pointless. Everyone was just milling around and stuff, so I just went right back in and started the return trip, strolling very slowly and stopping often to get a closer look at the rock formations and the coloring of the sand stone. Everything was just surreal, so much so that eventually our guide had to come back in to find Danielle and I, as we were late for the trip back (oops). We did make it on the truck, though, and were actually rather pleased with our tour, even if it was the most expensive thing we'd done since we left Las Vegas. Once we returned to the office, we thanked (and tipped) our tour guide (as we'd been reminded that while we were being exploited pretty badly, not much of our $35 was going to make it to the tour guide's pocket), we grabbed a quick lunch at Taco Bell and headed to our next stop, Horse Shoe Bend. The place is well named, like most of the stuff in canyon country. It is basically a place where for some reason the Colorado River runs in the shape of a horse shoe. Danielle and I parked the Highlander and carried our lunches the mile or so down to the lookout/holy-freaking-cow-why-is-there-no-railing ledge. We sat a little ways back and enjoyed our burritos and tacos, and encountered another very intelligent raven. I've heard that ravens are actually very impressive mimics, and this one did not disappoint. He had apparently, through extremely repetitive exposure, learned to mimic the fake shutter sound of a digital camera, along with some other interesting sounds. Eventually, though, he found some food and flew it out of earshot to enjoy his meal in peace. Our camera really couldn't capture the spectacle, since it covered close to 180 degrees of our field of vision, so here are some stock images.
Moving right along (we had quite a busy day), it was time to drive to Monument Valley. I'm tired of writing for right now, though, so I'll end this part and pick up here tomorrow.