We woke up to the twittering of birds in a tree just outside our room in Lake Powell Resort. I made a cup of coffee and stepped outside onto the balcony. The sun was lighting up the hills and the air had a warm dryness to it. Today we would be visiting Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. The weather was perfect for the visit.
Antelope Canyon, near Page, Arizona, has rapidly become a premier tourist destination. It is a natural marvel— a slot canyon created by rushing rain water as it flows through a slot in the sandstone walls gradually carving out and reshaping the narrow opening into whimsical, meandering shapes. At places it is open to the sky, sometimes it narrows to just a few feet. As you walk through, the play of light and shadow allows for some fantastic photography. And the tour guides are masters of camera settings that capture these effects.
We traveled to the staging area in our motor coach and met our Navajo guide who led us to an open-sided four-wheel drive. Antelope Canyon is inside the Navajo tribal reservation and by law we had to have a Navajo guide. We took our seats and set off. After a bumpy, dusty drive we arrived at the entrance to Antelope Canyon.
We assembled in front of the entrance and our guide gave us some preliminary instructions. Inside the narrow canyon we would be packed close together, so we had to wear masks. We had come prepared.
We entered and let our eyes get accustomed to the sudden dimness after the glare outside. Our guide led us through the canyon. Around us were rough brown sandstone walls carved into fantastic shapes. We stopped at select spots to take pictures.
In certain places Antelope Canyon is only a few feet wide. It immediately became obvious why it is called a slot canyon. In essence it is a slot in the wall. At intervals we saw drift wood from past floods lodged above our heads. If there were to be an unexpected flash flood, and they sometimes do happen when the water level rises very rapidly, we could drown. I suppressed that unhappy thought.
We walked leisurely through the length of the canyon, about 100 yards, on a sandy floor swept clean by past floods, admiring the colors, taking pictures and listening to the guide telling stories about the canyon and life on the Navajo reservation. We blinked as we stepped outside into the glare of the Arizona sun.
In the past, tourists had to back track through the canyon colliding with incoming tourists going in the opposite direction creating a veritable traffic jam. To resolve this, a staircase was built at the exit that allow visitors to climb up a ramp and double back to the entrance where the vehicles are parked. You can see the wash basin shape of the canyon, a bit of the stair case, the vehicles and the entrance in the picture above. I had a long conversation with our Navajo guide as we were walking back.
The history of the Native Americans, the people living here well before the time of Christopher Columbus, is not a happy one. The incoming wave of new white settlers escaping or migrating from Europe wanted to settle on lands owned by the Native Indians. With their superior weapons— guns and a fortuitous ally, infectious diseases like small pox and measles against which the natives had no immunity, they overpowered the natives. Those that resisted were exterminated. Sometimes the killings were government sanctioned. In the end the remaining few were herded into reservations far from their own lands, into the most arid, inhospitable scrub lands with very little water. These were termed “native sovereign lands” with their own laws, governing council and police. However, the natives do not own rights to anything underneath the ground, e.g. gold, oil or uranium. Those rights belong to the federal government. Farming is almost impossible— lack of water. Many do not have access to electricity, running water or a proper sewer hookup. The Indigenous Americans are consequently very badly off, very poor and in bad health. COVID-19 took a big toll. Joblessness is high as is alcohol and drug usage. I saw the Navajo lands. Just look at the picture below. It is representative of the land around Antelope Canyon, dry scrub as far as the eye can see.
You can see rain in the distance which runs off the slopes and eventually flows through the canyon. But that is not enough for their needs. It is sad to see a once proud people reduced to such dire straits. Hopefully, things are now improving. Deb Haaland is the first Native American Secretary of the Interior and billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has given an unrestricted gift of 12 million dollars to the Navajo Technical University and an undisclosed amount to two other Native American foundations. Good news indeed!
On the ride back our Globus tour guide told us of the Navajo code talkers who helped the US army and marines in the Pacific during World War II. They transmitted messages in their native tongue which the Japanese found impossible to decipher. This story gained recognition when it was made into the movie Windtalkers starring Nicholas Cage. President George W. Bush in 2001 presented gold medals to the surviving members of the code talkers. Finally the Navajo gained some belated recognition for their efforts in the war.
We headed back for lunch covered in a fine coating of red dust. In the afternoon we visited Horseshoe Bend in Glen Canyon National Recreational area where the Colorado river makes a 270 degree turn in the form of a horseshoe, hence the name. Seen from above, it is an impressive sight. I noted the low level of the river and the aridness of the surroundings, brown rock as far as the eye could see. We watched a boat 1000 feet below our observation deck, tiny but clearly noticeable from its wake, carefully avoiding the obstacles in the middle of the river. Soon it was time to head back to the hotel, a drink and a nice dinner. It had been an eventful day, a learning experience on many fronts.