We jump on a plane from China and head straight to the United States of America, more precise, in Arizona, in the heart of the Navajo land where we will visit the world famous Antelope Canyon.
Gaze for too long at these rock formations, and you begin to drift off and forget whether you’re looking at a geological phenomenon or a vast, abstract oil painting.
A long time ago, herds of pronghorn antelope roamed freely in Antelope Canyon, which explains the canyon's English name. It is not known exactly when people first discovered Antelope Canyon. According to local Navajos, who have lived here for some time, the canyon and the LeChee area were places where cattle grazed in winter.
Antelope Canyon is a narrow passage cut into the earth that expands to expose one of the most spectacular sandstone formations. It was formed by erosion of Navajo Sandstone, primarily due to flash flooding and secondarily due to other sub-aerial processes. Rainwater, especially during monsoon season, runs into the extensive basin above the slot canyon sections, picking up speed and sand as it rushes into the narrow passageways. Over time the passageways eroded away, making the corridors deeper and smoothing hard edges in such a way as to form characteristic 'flowing' shapes in the rock.
Flooding in the canyon still occurs. A flood occurred on October 30, 2006 that lasted 36 hours, and caused the Tribal Park Authorities to close Lower Antelope Canyon for five months.
Shafts of light burst through the roof of the slot canyon allowing sunlight to ricochet off the canyon walls and illuminate its rich colours and bring to life its hidden beauty.
To older Navajos, entering a place like Antelope Canyon was like entering a cathedral. They would probably pause before going in, to be in the right frame of mind and prepare for protection and respect. This would also allow them to leave with an uplifted feeling of what Mother Nature has to offer, and to be in harmony with something greater than themselves. It was, and is, a spiritual experience.
Antelope Canyon is the most-visited and most-photographed slot canyon in the American Southwest. It includes two separate, photogenic slot canyon sections, referred to individually as Upper Antelope Canyon or The Crack; and Lower Antelope Canyon or The Corkscrew.
The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon is Tse' bighanilini, which means "the place where water runs through rocks." Upper Antelope is at about 4,000 feet elevation and the canyon walls rise 120 feet above the streambed. Lower Antelope Canyon is Hasdestwazi, or "spiral rock arches." They are both located within the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation.
The road to Antelope Canyon is gated by the Navajo Nation and entry is restricted to guided tours led by authorized tour guides.
Photo credits: Alexey Stiop, Hasan Can Balcioglu, Marinabass, Pat Goltz, Jim Chen, Salvatore Conte.