I know you have seen the pictures of the insanely beautiful slot canyons in Page, Arizona. They are everywhere from the travel channel, to facebook and instagram, desktop screen savers and wall art in offices and homes. As a native Nevadan, I am only about a 4 hour drive away, which is super lucky. But wether you live in the Southwest or across the world, these slot canyons, and all of the other natural treasures found all over Utah and Arizona have never been easier to get to and explore than now. With information all over the internet, cheap hotels and air B&B, multiple flights a day, now is the time to just do it. Because one day these natural treasures might be no more, and it's definitely not something you want to miss out on.
Personally, I made the road trip from Las Vegas, up to Page. But as someone who lives farther away, it is just as easy to fly into any major airports in Las Vegas or Phoenix and rent a car, or even fly closer into flagstaff or St. George. Once you get there, there are endless budget hotels that put you right in the beauty of Northern Arizona. You are not only miles from both Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, but close to Lake Powell, which is a marvel all on it's own. I stayed at the Comfort Inn, which was an extremely affordable and clean hotel that offered a free breakfast and would definitely stay there again when given the chance.
If your goal is to see the sights, you don't need more than a day, or even a day and a half to fit everything in. My venture to Page was at the end of a road trip that first started with Zion National Park and the Coral Pink Sand Dunes in Utah. I arrived in Page after sunset, checked into my hotel, and planned to see the sights in about a half a day.
The biggest part about your trip to Page, besides making sure you have somewhere to stay, is that if you want to go to Antelope Canyon, you need a reservation. These can book out months in advance, so if you are going during the peak times, April - September, then you need to plan ahead. There are always going to be last minute deals and opportunities, I myself am a more spontaneous trip taker, and have never had bad luck with finding tickets or reservations to things. But you at least need to try and make a reservation for your tour a few days if not a week in advance if it is a last minute trip.
I started my Page adventure out with watching the sunrise over Horseshoe Bend. I decided to go in January, and it was very cold. Yes it is the desert, but that doesn't mean they don't have winters. I was wearing fleece leggings, wool socks, a Patagonia snap fleece and a North Face fleece jacket, a hat and gloves, and I was FREEZING. Even with a coffee in hand, the 30 degree sunless morning chill was making it hard to not run back to my car. I was very jealous of the other travelers who had been smart enough to bring blankets. But I still enjoyed the view, and it was indescribable, the feeling of watching the sunrise, by myself, but surrounded by so many people there to do the same thing as me, in such a awe inspiring place. Horseshoe bend is one of those places that I truly believe lives up to the hype. It's CRAZY. You feel so small and tiny looking over the vast canyon, and all of the colors and shape of the rocks are just out of this world.
Now for those who desire to take pictures with something more than their iPhone, take notes. I brought my canon 5D mark IV, with a sigma art series 50mm 1.4 lens, and couldn't have been more mad at myself. Granted it's the only lens I currently own for that camera, so besides renting a lens for this trip, I was kind of stuck with what I had. Thankfully I also had hanging on my other shoulder, my Panasonic Lumix gx8 with an Olympus 17mm 1.8 lens. Since my Panasonic is a micro 4/3 sensor, the 17 mm focal length equals about a 35 mm focal length on a full frame. Even with the wider 35mm ish lens, I was still not able to get the entire shot in frame, no matter where I stood or what angle I shot at, and I was all over trying to get a decent shot. For shooting at horseshoe bend, you really need something wider than a 35mm, next time I am definitely going to bring at least a 24mm or ideally an 18 (or maybe even a fisheye) to get the full effect of the horseshoe. I wanted to take a self portrait in front of it, but with the lenses I had, I wasn't able to get a composition I was happy with. So, takeaways, bring a tripod, WARM CLOTHES if it's not the middle of the summer because the desert gets COLD at night, and make sure you have a very wide lens. (Peep those teeny tiny people in the top right of the picture below!)
Now for antelope canyon. There are two options, upper and lower. I went to upper because the lower was closed for restoration when I went. But if I had the choice, I still would have went with upper antelope for one reason, they no longer offer photography tours in lower antelope canyon. What is the difference between the photo tour and the regular tour you might ask? Well, you are allowed to bring a tripod and a backpack into the canyon on the photo tour, but not on the regular tour. This is important if you are trying to capture quality images. If you just want to take pictures on your iPhone, then the photo tour is not for you. The iPhone takes AMAZING pictures in the canyons, don't get me wrong, I took tons! (Panos are awesome for this) But if you want to get those high quality shots you can hang on your wall, then you will need a tripod.
The canyons are DARK. When shooting in low light, you need a longer shutter speed to get a picture that isn't total darkness. (You could shoot in auto, but if you are paying the $90 to go on the photo tour, you better take that camera off auto and try and shoot in manual!) A very important aspect to photography is your aperture. When taking landscapes, you want a small (high number) aperture. This allows you to have a larger depth of field, and more of your image will be in focus. You won't want that creamy dreamy bokeh that is often desired in portraits, because you no longer have a single person that is the focus of the image, but the entire canyon wall. Smaller apertures mean that you are letting less light in, which means you need to compensate that by allowing either your shutter to be open longer to allow more light in, or bumping up your ISO to make your sensor more sensitive to light. The problem with bumping up your ISO is that you create more noise in your pictures. I didn't desire that, I wanted clean and sharp shots, so I pulled out my tripod and took 30 second exposures. This means that my shutter was open for a whole 30 seconds, which was necessary to get a proper exposure with all of my other settings and the available light present. And the pictures did not disappoint.
I only brought one camera and lens, which is all anyone should bring, and there are many reasons. The canyons are COVERED in sand, and changing a lens is not the smartest idea for risk of damage to your sensor. Not only is there sand everywhere that you will literally never be able to get out of your shoes (and everywhere else), but the canyons are CROWDED AF. I was on a photo tour, so there were 5 in our group plus our guide. But there were at least 20 other tours all going on at the same time, with hundreds of people all in a very tight and narrow space. There is barely time to think and set up a shot, let alone change a lens out. My advice is to think about the lens you want, and just have fun with it. I brought my 50mm (obviously because it's the only lens I currently own) and was incredibly happy with the shots I got. If I had to do it over again, I would go with a 35mm (maybe a 24mm). I like to shoot prime, but if you have something like the 24-70mm, that would probably be a great choice! I would go no longer than a 50mm because you won't be able to get the shots that you have seen before, the canyons are just way too narrow and crowded. The most important aspect will be your tripod, so know how to use it (especially in portrait, or vertical, aspect), and get comfortable with taking those long exposures!
If you just want to have a fun time exploring and seeing sights and taking a few pictures on your iPhone, I recommend lower antelope! Also, don't forget to try out taking some awesome vertical panoramas on your phone. Make sure to turn your phone horizontally (landscape mode) and then take the panorama up and down to maximize the file size and quality of your image! Here are some awesome panos my tour guide took of me while I was busy messing with my tripod!
Other tips for your Antelope Canyon Experience -
There is sand EVERYWHERE. And it's sand that has never seen the sun, it's cold and wet and just want's to get in your shoes and never leave. I wore trail runners and wool socks, and my feet were frozen after the two hours in the canyon. Granted, my shoes had a mesh top that easily lets sand in. Don't wear sandals or shoes with mesh if you don't like having cold feet.
You can do everything in about a day, even hit horseshoe, and both canyons, a morning and a mid day tour. Take your time, fit everything you want to see in, but Page doesn't have much else to offer, so try and add Page into a larger road trip, hit up Zion, Powell, monument valley or any of the other crazy beautiful areas all around.
Have fun. Yes it's fun to take pictures, but how many selfies in front of a rock do you need? Try to take in the beauty of where you are and think about how freaking cool nature is and how a slot canyon even gets made!
Listen and be friends with your tour guide. They know these canyons better than anyone and it's their job to show you all the hidden imagery and tell you about the history and nature. What they have to say is actually very interesting, and it's cool to learn about as well as see.
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