Entering the Deep
My heart was pumping. The coolness inside this Arizona monument felt like a refrigerator compared to the hot sun overhead. My mind was entirely engaged by the beautiful shapes, colors and smooth texture of the canyon. I felt like a child exploring a whole new world.
“Everyone step back and get the cameras ready” said the Native Navajo tour guide. As we all gathered in a circle, the guide picked up a handful of fresh sand from the ground and tossed it in the air. All I could do was gasp in amazement with the beautiful site before my eyes. In all of my adventures hiking Arizona and site seeing, I had never seen anything as stunning as Antelope Canyon. I lifted the camera and snapped a shot of it…
Slot Canyon Geology
Slot canyons are one of the last frontiers left for us to explore. They are formed throughout the world by the process of erosion. As water passes through the rocks, it follows the path of least resistance. This means that it follows the same pathways and carries a small amount of sediment, or sand, with it. As this process occurs over the course of many years, the water carries sediment out and cuts a path through the rock. The results are canyons ranging in width from a few inches to even the Grand Canyon. In the US, most slot canyons are in the four corners and made of sandstone. slot88
The exploration of slot canyons has been a lifestyle for many years. The sport of exploring these canyons is known as “canyoneering” or “canyoning.” This sport entails many different skills including: abseiling (rappelling), climbing, bridging, stemming and hiking. Canyoneers need excellent reasoning skills in order to construct anchors and find the most enjoyable and safest ways through these canyons.
The ancient Native Americans, specifically the Ancestral Puebloans or Anasazi, could be considered the first canyoneers. Their petroglyphs (ancient art) can be found in some of even the most inaccessible canyons. Since the ancient days of yucca fiber ropes, the sport has developed worldwide and is one of the fastest growing sports today.
The photographed canyon is part of the Antelope Canyon system, one of the most photographed canyon systems in the world. Antelope Canyon consists of two main sections: Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons. Both slot canyons lay on the Navajo Reservation just outside of Page, AZ. Antelope Canyon is considered by some canyoneers as a “Sacrificial Canyon.” This is because of the high publicity that the canyons possess. Because of past incidents with flash floods, Antelope Canyon is now only accessible by guided tours to the upper canyon, or a ladder system in Lower Antelope Canyon. As with all outdoor sports, safety is key in canyoneering.
Safety in Slot Canyons
There are several factors that one must take into account when exploring slot canyons. The first is water. Many wonder why water would be such a risk in the desert but remember that water forged those slot canyons and will fill them up in the event of a rainfall. This is why weather must be taken into account. Heavy rain in areas even miles away could cause a flash flood in your canyon. Another weather factor is the sun. While most slot canyons are cool inside, getting in and out of them usually requires some time in the hot sun. Remember that in the desert, hydration is happiness. If you don’t have the proper nutrition or hydration, you could get into trouble fast.
The most common injuries that canyoneers experience are ankle and knee related. These injuries can be easily avoided by simply following one rule: No Jumping. Many people just jump into water-filled pools without knowing the depth of them. Or they jump off small ledges or boulders and get hurt. When you’re in a slot canyon, even the most minute and temporal of injuries can cause big problems. Remember that most canyons are hours away from any medical facilities.
Given the potentially dangerous nature that canyoneering possesses. The safest, most entertaining way to explore a canyon is to go with someone experienced. The best bet is to find a guide service to learn the ropes and get you safely through. They not only know the canyons and area, but are paid to keep your experience safe and enjoyable. For enjoying the beautiful Antelope Canyon, there are several guide services and the best part is that no technical gear or skills are needed (but I highly recommend that you take a camera and water).