Arizona Slot Canyons: See What Nature’s Paint Brush Has Created

Arizona Slot Canyons: See What Nature’s Paint Brush Has Created

Arizona Slot Canyons

Posted July 4, 2024

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Every year, visitors flock to Page, Arizona, near the Utah border to marvel at the mesmerizing beauty of the Arizona slot canyons on the Navajo Reservation. The Southwest is known for these naturally occurring winding canyons, and the ones in Arizona are particularly magnificent.

What Are Slot Canyons?

Long and narrow, slot canyons feature steep walls much deeper than they are wide. They’re carved out of different types of sedimentary rock–usually sandstone or limestone.

All slot canyons in Arizona are carved out of Navajo sandstone that’s been eroded by flash flooding and wind erosion over millions of years. The result is canyon walls with smooth, undulating curves. While looking at the walls, you can see how rushing water created the flowing designs over time.

Navajo Sandstone is noted for its stunning colors. Direct sunlight is reflected multiple times in slot canyons, and the intensity decreases with each bounce. Eventually, there is so little light left from the reflections that the light from the blue sky is more intense than the reflected light. So, the warm tones of reflected sunlight mix with the cool tones of the light from the blue sky, creating an “earth-tone rainbow.”

The Importance of Slot Canyons to Navajo Culture

The Navajo believe Wind People–Spirits of the Holy Ones, occupy slot canyons. Considered sacred grounds, slot canyon tours must be led by a Navajo guide.
Navajo legend tells us the popular Antelope Canyon creation connected nature and the spirit world. It was formed when the Holy People created unique rock formations and narrow passageways with filtered light beams shining through them.

The Navajo believe Antelope Canyon exists where the spirit and physical worlds intersect. When they balance these natural forces, they connect with nature, which is essential for leading a balanced and harmonious life.

The Navajo see Antelope Canyon as a place of great power and always approach it respectfully and humbly. Before entering, they pause, collect themselves, and prepare their mind and spirit to achieve a sound, respectful frame of mind.

Arizona Slot Canyons

Guided Hike in the Arizona Slot Canyons Courtesy of Detours American West

Arizona Slot Canyons to Visit

Slot canyons demonstrate how natural wonders occur over time. These slot canyons warrant a visit when visiting Arizona.

Arizona’s most popular slot canyon, Antelope Canyon features the Upper Antelope and Lower Antelope Canyons. Many visitors choose the Upper Antelope Canyon tour because it’s an easy hike. The Lower Antelope Canyon trail slopes downward and includes stairs that can be challenging for children and visitors with mobility issues.

Operators use limited entry permits and timed visits to offer the best experience. Tours can consist of up to 70 people but with just 15 people per guide.

If you prefer to avoid crowds, consider a hike through Mountain Sheep Canyon. This hike is especially popular with photographers because the lighting in the early morning and late afternoon enhances the colors of the sandstone creating dramatic shadows. As photographers, my husband and I booked a two-hour tour of Mountain Sheep Canyon with Black Streak Canyon Tours.

Michael Redshirt, our guide, shared the history of slot canyons and explained their formation. Along the way, we saw plants and wildlife, and he pointed out an area where owls are frequently spotted.

Mountain Sheep Canyon has some extremely narrow passages. In a few areas, the walls were so close that we had to walk sideways. The terrain is rougher than some of the other slot canyons, and there are two ladders. So, while this hike is ideal for moderate hikers, it may not be a good choice if your group includes inexperienced hikers or young children.

Owl and Rattlesnake Canyons

Owl and Rattlesnake Canyons are two other options. Some companies offer a package deal that includes tours of both.

As its name implies, Owl Canyon is home to a family of Great Horned Owls. So, if you’re very quiet (and very lucky), you may spot a few. There’s also an abundance of desert plants in early spring, summer, and early fall months. Visitors should be aware that the path isn’t well maintained.

Rattlesnake Canyon got its name because the trail twists and turns like a slithering rattlesnake. Its textured sandstone walls change colors throughout the year, creating excellent abstract photo opportunities.

Arizona Slot Canyons Navajo Tours

Arizona Slot Canyons Navajo Tours

What to Expect on Slot Canyon Tours

The impressive beauty of the slot canyons makes them one of the most popular destinations in the Southwest. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your experience.

  1. Page, Arizona, operates on Mountain Standard Time (MST), and most of the Navajo Nation operates on Mountain Daylight Time (MDT). So, ask which time zone the tour company uses.
  2. For inexperienced hikers or groups with young children or people with mobility issues, some tours may be too difficult. Ask your tour operator for advice.
  3. Some tours include a nature walk to the canyon, and others include transportation to and from the canyon entrance by jeep or truck.
  4. Wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes with good traction.
  5. Apply plenty of sunscreen–even during the winter and wear a hat.
  6. The weather in Arizona is hot and dry. Bring a water bottle.
  7. Use the restroom before your tour. There are no facilities in any of the canyons.
  8. Ask your guide for advice on how to get the best photos.
  9. Pets are allowed on some tours. Check with your tour operator to see if bringing your dog is OK.

Tips For Visiting Antelope Canyon

Busy throughout the year, these tips for specific tours of the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons will help you plan the ideal trip.

  1. Mid-day time slots from March through October are the most popular because that’s when the light is the best for pictures. It’s best to make reservations in advance.
  2. Book a tour of Upper Antelope Canyon if your group includes small children or people with limited mobility.
  3. Dress in layers. The temperature can drop 10–15°F once you enter the canyon.
  4. The only items you may bring on tours are a bottle of water and a camera. No bags, purses, backpacks, fanny packs, tripods, or monopods are allowed.
  5. Antelope Canyon is very dusty. If you use a DSLR camera, don’t change lenses once you’re inside.

Visiting the slot canyons is an experience you shouldn’t miss. Book your tour today to experience their otherworldly mystery and beauty.

 

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  • Marni Patterson is a freelance travel writer, photographer and videographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. She is a member of TravMedia, IFWTWA, and SATW. Living in Belgium as an exchange student for a year led to Marni's love of travel. Publications she’s written for include GoNOMAD, TravelAwaits, Matador, Wander With Wonder, Foodie Flashpacker, and Savory Traveler.