Antelope’s Swirls

Antelope's SwirlsAntelope Canyon, or more precisely, Antelope Wash, is a series of slot canyons in the Navajo Nation known for their extraordinary walls of sandstone. Located in the heart of the Colorado Plateau, this part of northern Arizona’s landscape is filled with nooks and crannies, each more spectacular than the last. What was once buried under the sea is now exposed to light and air, and especially susceptible to the relentless forces of erosion. What was once a sandy seashore is now layer upon layer of sandstone ready to be sculpted by nature.

Over the eons, water has flowed through the wash, carving and creating the slot canyons from the soft rock. Water, being water, doesn’t move in a straight line, and takes the easiest path; as a result, the canyon’s walls are wider in some places than others, and the floors often far from level. Also, along the way, the walls are made up of fine lines that meander and swirl throughout the canyon. These canyons are deep, too; the bottom is anywhere from twenty to thirty feet below the rest of the desert, although from the top, they are remarkably easy to miss because the top can be just a few inches wide.

Add in an enticing mix of sunlight reflecting down through the canyons, focused by the narrow opening at the top, and you have an exhilarating experience of color and light playing and dancing off the walls. Colors range from browns on a cloudy or overcast day, to yellows and oranges and red, and every shade in between on a bright and sunny day near noon. In the deep recesses of the canyons, you can even find purple tones. In short, the countless colors, combining with the long, sinuous swirls, make an enchanting setting.

This scene intrigues me because of the splash of colors down the canyon’s walls. The yellow at top, replete with some desert varnish, quickly blends into the oranges, then slowly into the reds. The passageway continues around the bend, leading, no doubt, to yet more colors that haven’t been named yet.

Should you explore slot canyons on your own, you need to be exceptionally careful of weather. Despite the beauty and allure of the canyons, they are above all extremely dangerous. Remember, water carved through solid rock. Should it be raining anywhere around the area, even seemingly far away, the water will quickly fill and tear through these canyons, making for one of the most dangerous situations you can find yourself in. Even on a perfectly dry, sunny day, the canyons have perils, namely in the form of rattlesnakes. They might not enjoy the beauty of the canyon in the same way that you or I do, but they sure do like a cool, shady spot, and, unfortunately, are not fond of being disturbed, which is where the real problem lies. Please exercise extreme caution in and around slot canyons.

Swirl your way to Antelope Canyon

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