I try to go about each new adventure with the mindset that I may only be able to do it once, so gotta make the best of it. This is especially true for adventures further from home. On this upcoming trip to Page, Arizona that I had planned, the best way to experience Lower Antelope Canyon seemed to be via Photography tour. There was only one problem, the tour requires ‘photographers’ to have a fancy camera (read: DSLR) and a tripod and my travel buddy Sean had neither. What does one do in such a case? Well I could leave him behind to do the general tour but that somewhat breaks the code of ‘leave no man behind’ … not a good look for me! So I chose the only other option available of course, buy an extremely cheap tripod on Amazon and have him pretend to be a photographer. I am neither condoning nor promoting said action, but with the company’s strict policies and the idea that the definition for photographers are subjective (just like someone can somehow do one commercial and deem them self an actor or write a restaurant menu and call themselves a writer), it would seem he would just have to fake it before he makes it.
Having already paid all fees and now awaiting the tour, our guide came around to actually check our equipment! I’m not gonna lie, there was definitely a minute where I thought Sean could actually get kicked out of the tour; I mean the tripod cost $12 dollars on Amazon, had ‘Amazon basics’ written all over it, and didn’t look like it could hold up 3 ants much less a DSLR. It was a toy! Our guide James* (nor will I name the real guide or the tour company for real fear that he shall email me a ‘shame on you’ email) definitely had a puzzled look on his face when looking at the tripod, but attention was quickly deflected to some Asians in our tour group that didn’t even have a tripod! There was some quick negotiation that went on and when they found out that the tripod policy was real (thankfully we came prepared!) the other members were sent to gen-pop and we were escorted down to Lower Antelope Canyon.
Now a quick foreword for those nerds like myself who looked up Lower and Upper Antelope Canyon and are having trouble trying to decide which one to take. As I never did both, I really can’t give a definitive answer but here is a link to Kritin from ‘Bemytravelmuse’ who I found to be extremely helpful in comparing both:
My decision was simple. The biggest sell/difference for Upper seemed to be famous light beams that you just don’t get in Lower. However, I called in advance and light beams aren’t visible in early November based on the angles and sunlight. Also Upper is over double the cost and most reviews I read who did both seemed to prefer Lower, so that was a done deal.
So back to my story of the Canyon! We walked for a few minutes to what you could consider a ditch in the ground and saw the group before us heading in; yet from what we could see it just seemed like the earth was swallowing them. But you come to do the tour so you must follow accordingly. Within a few steps of ‘going under’ it’s a whole new world down there. Honestly, it’s mesmerizing to see the colors and the canyon formation instantly like you have fallen into an Apple Screensaver. All the pictures are real and beautiful; this space does exist and looks as good, if not better than the famous pictures I’ve been seeing for some time.
I had chosen the photography tour not only because I heard the guide would help us with camera settings best suited to photographing the canyon, but also because I heard the other tours were rushed. That we made the right choice became abundantly clear within the first few minutes of the tour. Not to defame the tour companies but the persons doing the regular tour were definitely treated like sheep, herded through the canyon as quickly as possible. Some disobedient sheep were reprimanded for their lack of discipline. To be honest, with the popularity of the tour and having to deal with crowd control in what can be a claustrophobic space I completely understand why this is the case. If for no other reason than the extended time we got for being V.I.P (read: Photographers), this tour was definitely the cat’s pajamas. So when James would talk about photo blocking and F stops Sean and I would just nod our heads in agreement hoping to not be put in the sheep herding pile. But we had little to worry about, the other three persons doing the tour with us seemed even less knowledgeable than us! After the hour and a half was up we climbed out the same way we went in, and went about our merry way.
For us that meant finding something else to do until the afternoon because check out was shortly after and the other main attraction, Horseshoe Bend, was something I wanted to capture at Sunset. With time to kill we Yelp’ed restaurants and found a funky restaurant joint called El Tapatio. I only mention this for two reasons. One, when in doubt don’t hesitate to use Yelp as it is your best friend and two, if you’re in the area and feel for Mexican then give it a shot! That’s as far as my food review goes. I think of myself as a foodie but only in the sense that I love food and not so much than I can describe spices and recipes to a T. With still a slight amount of time to kill we hit up Wal-Mart (the town hasn’t discovered Target yet) for a quick minute and then headed to Horseshoe Bend with enough time to properly appreciate.
It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when seeing Horseshoe Bend up close for the first time. Basically until you walk straight up to within a few feet of dropping off the precipice, you really can’t view it properly. So, if you’re anything like me the feeling is complete intimidation. This vast landscape with still water lay beyond us hypnotizing us and the other thought being “Dear Jesus, that’s a far fall. Let my knees not be weak”. The Bend is vast so even though there are dozens of people there you can definitely find places of serenity. After taking a few shots as close to the edge as we dared to go we sat by the canyon for a little just admiring and taking it all in. The truth is that in just a few short hours we had seen two masterpieces that require one to almost meditate for a little while, and clear your mind to take it all in. It occurred to me that whilst both were breathtaking, for certain reasons I preferred Horseshoe Bend. Not to take away anything from The Antelope Canyons as they are a phenomenon, but I preferred the vast landscape of Horseshoe Bend. Other than that it was done on our own time and even though others were around we were all in our own little world.
For my upcoming trip to Asia I had packed a Jamaican Flag to carry around with me and if I felt so inspired I backed it out and take some shots! I decided to give it an early debut at Horseshoe Bend, and so we took a few shots with the GoPro trying to figure out what could work and what wouldn’t. At some point we realized that with enough momentum if we lifted it in the air the flag would dance like we wanted it to. I was acutely aware that no one else was ‘flying any flags’ and that there were many persons watching. And again I’m at a loss for words in trying to describe the exact feeling as it started off as just a nice patriotic shot. But somewhere in the wind taking the flag, the sun setting, the canyon ledge a deadly drop a few feet away and persons whispering and acknowledging the flag, the moment became something magical. Corny, I know, but its funny how life can imitate art. An idea of something looking free actually makes you feel free. And with that great feeling and the day being over we packed up our stuff ready to hit the road again!