We arrived in Page and went straight to the Clarion Inn. We were able to check in straight away and then headed out to get some food. I have a soft spot for BBQ and so was very interested in Big Jim’s Texas BBQ directly across the road from the hotel.
The queue of people waiting to get in put me off though, so we headed further down the main street of Page. Too much selection! We eventually selected a Chinese buffet and was wondering whether it being empty was a bad omen when a couple of tour buses came through.
We got up very early to make it to the check in for our first tour of Antelope Canyon. Our hotel was selected because of its proximity to the pick up point and in no time we were checked in and waiting for the driver’s arrival.
Upper Antelope Canyon
When we checked in for our Upper Antelope Canyon tour we were given a coloured ticket which indicated which truck we’d be in. We watched as the holders of the red, yellow and green tickets leave before Marlene introduced herself and collected the orange tickets.
She seemed a little brusque as she got everyone settled into the truck, ensured that the seatbelts were done up and briefed everyone on how the morning would progress. And then we were off!
The seatbelts went across three people each, so we had to squeeze together, each side had three belts, three per belt meant each truck could take eighteen people.
We drove out to the Upper Canyon car park which took ten minutes, passing the Reservation office and cars of people who had self driven out. The trail out to the Canyon entrance was another ten minutes drive on dried river bed.
We could see why all the staff were wearing scarves: the dust kicked up by the trucks swirled around getting into everything including lungs. In no time at all we were at the entrance, and I was amused at the precision with which the trucks were parked.
The entrance to the canyon was a two storey gap in the red rock, and once we got inside Marlene came alive, telling us how the canyon was carved out in flash floods and answering questions.
We moved through a pre-set series of stops, and at each stop Marlene pointed out the iconic picture to take, the settings on your phone which would suit the conditions and the best way to take shots. Ange had to remind me that this was the Photography tour.
The combination of the sun’s low position in the sky due to the early hour and the red rock made for some startling colour combinations, with gold merging with peach and deepening into the dark colours of bruise.
We chatted amongst ourselves about the best time to visit: come as early as we had and you avoided the crowds, but with the sun low in the sky you got more shadow and less light. While moodier pictures, you didn’t get all the details of the rock walls. Come later and the sun would be more overhead, so more light, but harder to get through and more people’s heads in your shot. Hard choice!
My favourite shot was of The Eye. Very cool. We weren’t in the right season for the famous sunbeams: you had to be in the Upper Canyon in Summer and we were there in October.
Marlene and the other guides were incredibly good at getting the guests out of each other’s shots and the focus on Photography meant that the guest’s aim of getting the best shots was shared with the guides. It was a bit unusual having such a singular shared purpose on a guided tour. Was very much appreciated though!
One section of the Canyon leant itself to couple’s portraits and Ange dutifully passed her phone to Marlene for her to take the shot of us posing. After taking the photo we moved off and Ange retrieved her phone to review the shot.
I wandered off to investigate the next area while Marlene worked her way through the group, taking photos of each couple or family group. After a while I worked my way back to the group and was immediately taken with the jovial mood of our group. Everyone seemed very happy all of a sudden.
Ange showed me our photos and somehow each of them (Marlene had taken a few shots) had us looking very grumpy. I think we had just flashed our smiles just after each shot was taken. Then Ange let me in on the joke. She’d gone up to who she thought was me, to say that we looked like a Victorian couple, only to discover she was addressing some other tall guy from a different group! Much hilarity!
We’d reached the end of the Canyon and Marlene made sure to get us good group shots at the entrance, doing a panoramic photo to capture the scale of the exit.
The Upper Canyon is a one way route and you exit by passing back on yourself and squeezing past the other groups coming in. The guides are good and instruct their groups to stay to the right allowing you a partial gap to get through.
Marlene has told us we couldn’t take photos on the way back (that would have definitely caused a traffic jam!) but that we could take a video, which explained the peculiar stream of people we’d seen exiting when we’d been in the Canyon. They’d looked like their phones were torches as they made their way like Indiana Jones through the darkness.
Sometimes we couldn’t get through the crowds because they were wandering around in a daze and a couple of times I came across the back of a group photo. Not wanting to spoil their shot I would duck down until they’d finished and then move forward, probably appearing in the background anyway: “hey Frank it looks like you’ve got four legs!”
We came out into the open, blinking a little at the sudden brightness, and joined our group. I headed over to have a chat with Marlene. You see while we had booked both the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon tours, we hadn’t organised transport between them.
I’d kind of hoped we’d be able to be dropped off at the entrance to the Upper Canyon and scamper across the highway and the short distance to the Ken’s Tours for the tour of the Lower Canyon. But… we hadn’t checked with anyone whether that would be ok.
Marlene looked a little surprised at the request and said it wouldn’t be possible – that they couldn’t drop anyone off. It sounded like it might have been an insurance liability issue. She said that she’d check with the Tours Office on the way along the river bed back to the carpark.
There would not be enough time to get a cab from town and make it back in time for our time slot. It looked like that money would be wasted and we wouldn’t be able to do both tours today. And if they were booked up today and tomorrow, then we wouldn’t be able to get into the Lower Canyon at all.
Bugger we thought, as we climbed onto the back of the truck. We made sure to change our seats so that we were closest to the exit – just in case!
On the way back I made peace with the situation. I briefly contemplated leaping off the back of the truck as we stopped to get onto the highway, but if there was no traffic to wait for it was possible for me to jump out and for Ange to be stuck on the truck. And I’m no gazelle, so best to hope the Tour Office came through for us.
We came to the car park and the truck didn’t slow or stop, so I had assumed we were out of luck. But then the truck stopped to wait for traffic to enter the highway. I looked at Ange and could tell she was thinking the same about jumping out anyway. And then Marlene got out and came to the back of the truck. The Tour Office had said as long as we didn’t get out on Reservation land, it would be ok. She made sure to tell us that we were no longer covered by their insurance as she lowered the steps and let us off the back.
I could have kissed her, but instead gave her the tip we would’ve given her anyway (really good guide – thoroughly recommended) and descended the steps. Ange soon followed and we bade our companions farewell and broke into a jog to cross the road. “Be careful” Marlene called out as she headed back into town.
If it wasn’t for the fences, we could have gone straight to the low slung buildings which formed Ken’s Tours, instead we found ourselves going two sides of a triangle. I stayed in jogging mode – more of a staggering lope than any sort of athletic motion, but it ate up the distance and I turned to Ange and indicated that it looked likely we would make the time slot for our tour.
Cars drove past us to and from Ken’s, the occupants turning to each other in wonder at some weird couple jogging on the road in the middle of the desert. In the distance the power station sent steam up two of the three spouts. And in the distance as far as the horizon, tussocky plants and desert.
Lower Antelope Canyon
After high-fiving in relief at making it to Ken’s for the 10 am tour, it took us a little while to figure out what we were supposed to do. We figured out that you checked in at the ticket booth and they then gave you a letter and a number which represented your group/guide, and then you had a little time to wait. They had timed entrances to the outdoor waiting area so we headed down to wait under the awning for our time to enter the Canyon.
Our guide’s name was Ryan and he was a font of knowledge of the area, having been brought up in the area and having played in the Canyons before they became such a tourist attraction. His patter was appreciated as we had to wait quite a while for our turn.
He told us why: the entrance to the canyon was down a metal staircase – which we were forbidden to take photos on – and people could only move at the pace of the slowest member of their group. We were in a pretty strict order, so if we found ourselves surrounded by the group in front we should wait a bit for Ryan & Co to catch up and likewise if we fell behind we should speed up a bit.
There were guides down there operating to smooth out the gaps between the groups – getting people to speed up if they dropped behind too much. Ryan played a bit of the traditional flute while we waited – none of the other guides did that.
The Canyon was entered and exited by similarly steep metal staircases – unfortunately no other options for those with accessibility issues.
Up close you could really see the walls and how they were literally scoured by wind and flooding.
The light was a lot better in the Lower Canyon, but I couldn’t tell immediately whether that was because of the later hour or if the gap at the top of the Canyon was larger and let more light through.
After a brief corridor, the Lower Canyon opened out into a large cavern. Packed full of people. It was a holding pen and we were waiting there for the other groups to filter out and into the Canyon proper. The focus on getting shots pointing upwards meant there was a constant danger of people stepping back onto your foot, so I kept my wits about me and avoided most accidents.
The onward route consisted of yet another steep ladder going up this time as we changed elevations. Ryan amused us with stories of yesteryear when there were no stairs or steps and to get around you had to climb the rock.
As we continued I realized that the Lower Canyon was wider at the top and therefore there was more light getting in. This made for slightly less dramatic contrasts, but more golds and oranges.
With the wider top, there were even parts where the bright blue of the sky could be seen, and with more light the striations of the stone became more obvious, and the subtle shading more nuanced.
The Lower Canyon was a lot longer than the Upper, with a one way system rather than doubling back, which made the crowding a little less obvious and allowed more unfettered photo taking.
While it wasn’t specifically a Photography tour, Ryan was still very knowledgeable about how to get the best shots.
We learnt that when it rained there was a very high chance of flooding – after all, that is what the Canyon is – and how the run off from rain makes its way down to Lake Powell. The sandy soil doesn’t absorb much of the water and so the rest cascades down through the Canyon, cutting further into it and changing the contours.
I looked around and asked how high the water gets and Ryan shook his head, seeing that I didn’t get it. The whole thing is full when it floods he said. I link to a video towards the end of this section – it shows the view from the top of the Canyon during flooding. Very scary!
Ryan continued and said that there were only two ways in and out – the entrance and the exit. I looked at the crowds and offered the opinion that they wouldn’t all be able to get out in time and he nodded. That’s why we have emergency rope ladders hidden along the route he said. I’m guessing the guides would somehow scale the cliffs and then drop them down for the tourists…?
Humans are made to see patterns and so a lot of the rocks have names like “Bruce the Shark” because it looks a little like Bruce the Shark from Finding Nemo. Some of the rocks look only very vaguely like their names, but we did come across one very famous feature – The Lady in the Wind.
We’d been told that there was no chance of capturing the sun beams that made the Canyon’s famous because of the time of the year, so we were very excited when, towards the last part of the Canyon, we noticed the sun was catching the dust in the air just right.
And then we were out. Ryan took a few more photos with us, and was kind enough to lend us his phone so we could order a taxi back to Page.
This is the flooding that Ryan was talking about. I could see why anyone stuck in the Canyon when this came through would be in very big trouble. Don’t forget: this is the view from the top of the Canyon – the bottom of it is anywhere from 40-100 feet below this level.
Which Is Better? The Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon?
I get it – you may not have the time or money to do both, or you may not want to scamper across the highway because you don’t have a car. So which should you do?
Well, if you have any mobility issues at all the decision is made for you – do the Upper Canyon. The flatness of the Canyon floor means that you will be able to get around easily and apart from getting onto and out of the truck, you should be golden.
If you’re ok with mobility I guess we should talk about the timing. The most expensive photo ever was apparently Peter Lik’s Phantom. But this required both a lack of crowds as well as the sun and dust to behave themselves perfectly.
If you are visiting between March and October between 11:30am and 1:30pm, these are the times for the sunbeams, so because of that you might want to capture your own $6 million photo and do the Upper Canyon.
For the length of the tour and the general quality of the photos though, my choice would be the Lower Canyon. You just get much more for your money. Ange agreed – she reckons it’s more interesting, longer, more adventurous and with better photos.
Big John’s Texas BBQ
There’s one taxi in Page, and they can pretty much charge what they like. The car they used is a little beat up, so don’t expect too much. We got the driver to drop us off at Big John’s and although the outdoor area was not completely packed, we elected to sit inside away from the smoke of the streetside smokers.
I’m not a fan of beans but the baby-back ribs came with them as a side so, when in Rome… Ange’s pulled pork bun hit the spot but I was a little underwhelmed by my ribs, being used to them being cooked in a sauce.
It doesn’t mean I left any meat on them though! And there were plenty of condiments available for flavouring should I have decided to go that route.
We shared a portion of brownie topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce. Decadent!
We spent the rest of the afternoon chilling in the hotel room, catching up on emails and doing a little work. Before long it was time for dinner and of all the cuisines on offer, Ange chose Italian. I would have been happier with something closer to the hotel, but that was purely because of all the walking we’d done during the day.
Strombolli’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria
We’d been in America long enough to realise that what they say about the portion sizes is true. Everything is huge and you can put on a lot of weight just by not adjusting your intake.
We decided we’d be smart about things and just order a couple of appetizers (while an entree in the rest of the world is the first part of the meal, in the US its the main event, so entree/main/dessert vs appetiser/entree/dessert).
One of the appetizers came with a whole side of spaghetti! The shrimp salad was a great effort at healthiness which meant we felt justified sharing a slice of New York cheesecake.
We got up and checked out of the hotel, walking down the road to our new accommodation, the Travelodge by Wyndham. Understandably the room wasn’t ready yet so we dropped off our luggage and headed back up the main road. We stopped off at the Lower Antelope Canyon tour office where we’d left from the previous day and asked for them to call us a taxi.
We whiled away the time looking through the souvenir shop next door, and then the familiar sight of the taxi hoved into view. We arranged for him to take us to Horseshoe Bend and pick us up and hour later to take us back to town. We agreed a fare and away we went.
I like to think widely when considering how to get around, which sometimes leads to unwise situations (like the scamper between Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons), and I was glad when we had rejected the options of walking or biking to Horseshoe Bend instead opting for the taxi.
The desert stretched in every direction and the constant blaring sunshine meant that it would have been a hellish hour walking there.
A brand new carpark was nearing capacity with tourists milling around and after walking up the hill we were greeted with a snaking trail leading to the edge of the cliff.
Below the cliff the iconic view was truly stunning. More concerning were the hordes of tourists getting closer and closer to the edge for that perfect photo. It made us both uncomfortable just watching them. There was a small safety rail in the center, but nothing around the sides and the taxi driver had told us that there were always reports of tourists who had fallen over the edge.
After looking down I could see why any mishap would be fatal – there were no lips or other features in the cliff which would halt the fall to the bottom.
As we waited for the taxi driver to come back, we overheard a kerfuffle between a pair of tourists returning from the Bend and their tour bus driver.
Apparently he’d been pretty clear on how much time they had and they were fifteen minutes late. Rude. If they were on their way to the Canyon(s) the passengers were putting the whole bus’s experience at risk!
Glen Canyon Dam
We got the taxi driver to take us back to town, but this time to the scenic view point overlooking the Glen Canyon Dam. We were just up river from the Horseshoe Bend, and some boats puttered around down on the river.
Apparently there was a tunnel which went from the clifftop level all the way down to river side. We tried to make out where that might start or end but couldn’t figure it out.
The taxi driver had left us at the Scenic overview, so after we’d taken photos and seen everything we could, we headed back in the hot sun towards our hotel by foot. We stopped halfway at Denny’s for a bite to eat, but it was hard going!
But after that we headed through the local golf course. We stayed off the greens and keep an eye out for players, but there was no one else around silly enough to be out and about in the early afternoon sun.
We made sure to make a lot of noise to scare away any snakes that might have been hiding in the long grass near the sides of the greens, and I don’t know if we were successful in scaring them off or there just weren’t any around because we made it to the other side without seeing any.
After a long trek in such blazing hot sun it would have been nice to soak away the heat and dust in the hotel swimming pool, but unfortunately the pool at our hotel wasn’t in use. A pity.
Our day started early, and after breakfast and checkout from the hotel, we walked the short trip to the airport. As we walked through the check-in counters I kept an eye out for Contour, our airline for our flight to Vegas. All the tour helicopter firms were well represented with large counters and I almost missed the Contour one, ticked away at the end.
We checked in and the lady behind the desk couldn’t be more friendly. She let us know that TSA was right beside us and that they’d open up in a bit.
Lo and behold the agents arrived and started setting up and before long we were going through what must be the nicest TSA checkpoint ever. The agents were respectful, communicative and friendly.
The seating on the other side was basic and would have only just accommodated a full flight. The fact that ours was only half full meant we had plenty of space. Certainly no lounges! It was amusing being so close and being able to see the land side seating area two feet away from us airside.
After the passengers had all come through, the TSA agents started to pack up their equipment and close the checkpoint. Not a lot of flights leave Page!
We walked across the tarmac to our plane, boarding via a ramp onto our Bombardier and settled into comfy chairs similar to business class on other planes. There weren’t a lot of seats and they were arranged 2-1, so I’d been referring to it as almost a private jet. And that’s pretty much what it was.
The customer service rep did a sterling job, very friendly and efficient but after going through with snacks there wasn’t much for her to do, surely one of the more cushy routes!
I spent most of the time staring out the window at the lakes and then the endless desert between Page and Las Vegas, perking up a little when I saw a sight seeing helicopter far below, chasing its own shadow across the wrinkle of a row of hills.
We were on the right side of the plane, so got the full sight of the Strip from Old Vegas all the way through to the Luxor as we came in to land. It was striking flying over the mountains after so much time over featureless desert to encounter a city, especially so much green standing out against the beige.