Antelope Canyon Arizona is No Longer Hidden, but It’s Still a Gem

Antelope Canyon 1

By Mary Lyons

In the 1970s, the slot canyons on the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona were still relatively unknown to everyone except the Navajo. While visiting Antelope Canyon recently, I met a man from Tucson who said he visited Antelope Canyon in the 1970s. Twice. Fresh out of college, he went on a road trip by himself in his Volkswagen beetle. He stopped for gas and asked what there was to see in the area. He was told to go see “the skinny caves” by a Navajo man who worked in the gas station.

 

Antelope Canyon 2

 

So off he went, almost getting stuck in the sand before reaching what is now known as Upper Antelope Canyon. He walked through the slot canyon, mystified by what he saw and wanting to know more about how it was formed. But there was no one to ask. He didn’t see a single person in Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon on that day.

 

Antelope Canyon 3

 

Fast forward eight years. This same man takes his new bride to see “the skinny caves” on the Navajo Reservation. He assured her the “Indians” would not hurt them. This time, they saw one other person during their visit. They saw each other. Now there were two people wandering through the canyons, taking pictures, and wondering how this miracle of nature occurred. He said they knew it was erosion, but how? There was no water here.

 

Antelope Canyon 4

 

Or was there? These two canyons, now known as Antelope Canyon, aren’t the only two slot canyons in northern Arizona and southern Utah. The soft sandstone here is easily eroded during flash floods that occur a few times a year. These slot canyons change every time it rains. Even a little bit of rain can cause a flash flood through the slots as the water bottlenecks and rushes through the narrow opening, washing away several feet of sand in the bottom of the cave.

 

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After each flood, the Navajo shovel three feet of sand back into the narrow slot canyon. Without it, no one would be able to walk through it because the opening at the bottom is far too narrow. When my guide, Dezzi, told me this, I couldn’t believe it.

Fast forward to 2017. I arrive for my guided photography tour through Upper Antelope Canyon. There were seven people in my group, but at least 100 people gathered outside the office of Antelope Canyon Tours, in Page, Arizona, waiting for their tour to depart from the office parking lot. My tour lasted two hours because I paid more to be on a photography tour. Regular tours last only 60 minutes.

 

Antelope Canyon 6

 

I have no idea how many people I saw in Upper Antelope Canyon. Probably hundreds, but because I was on a two-hour photography tour, the Navajo guide would hold people back or make groups wait so that there would be no people in our photos. Photography tours are limited to a certain number of people, and each person must have a DSLR camera and tripod. I booked through Antelope Canyon Tours at www.antelopecanyon.com. For a two-hour photography tour (all 120 minutes spent in the canyon!), the cost is 100 USD plus a fee of 8 USD to the Navajo Reservation.

The next day, I had a two-hour tour of Lower Antelope Canyon, which is probably the more famous of the two. I know there were hundreds of people there, but once again, because I was on a photography tour, there are no people in my photos. For this tour, I booked through Ken’s Tours at www.lowerantelope.com for 47 USD plus the 8 USD fee to the Navajo Reservation. My guide was a young Navajo man named Dezzi, and just like the day before, he kept the masses at bay while we took pictures. There were only two people in my group on this day.

 

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I’d like to say a bit about gratuities for the guides. Like tour guides everywhere, they are not getting rich doing this job, and they work so hard. They work on days when most people don’t have to. They miss holidays with their family because people who don’t have to work on holidays come to visit these canyons. They deserve a generous tip when the tour is complete. In my group of seven at Upper Antelope, I was the only one who tipped the guide. I realize some tourists come from cultures where tipping is not customary, but in the US, it is expected and it is often the major source of income for tour guides, rather than their salaries.

 

WHAT IS A SLOT CANYON?

A slot canyon is formed by water eroding away rock, usually a soft rock like sandstone. During rainstorms, the water collects at the opening of the slot canyon, which looks like a cave, and it rushes through, rising at it goes, creating a narrow opening throughout what would otherwise be a cave. Because the water is restricted by the rock walls, it rises rapidly, maybe up to more than 50 or 60 feet deep, and washes the canyon clean, bringing and removing debris.

 

Antelope Canyon 8

 

The canyon remains narrow, but wide enough to walk through, and the rock formations change each time it floods. This results in awe-inspiring formations which, in the case of Antelope Canyon, have been named by the Navajo. These formations and the light that floods through them are why they are photographed so often and why they have become so popular to visit.

 

WHERE IS ANTELOPE CANYON AND HOW DO I GET THERE?

Antelope Canyon 9Antelope Canyon is located on the Navajo Reservation in the northeastern corner of Arizona. It is close to small town called Page, which is not part of the reservation. This entire area is red multi-colored sandstone and Page sits at the edge of Glen Canyon dam and Lake Powell, only 12 miles from the Utah border.

To get here from southern Arizona, take I-17 north to Flagstaff, and then take Hwy 89 north to Page. If you’re coming from southern Utah or Las Vegas, you can take either Hwy 89 south or 89A east. 89A will take you along the Vermillion Cliffs for some spectacular scenery.

If you’re flying in, the closest major airports are Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Salt Lake City. From any of these, you can rent a car and drive and see some of the most incredible scenery the United States has to offer.

 

WHAT ABOUT ACCOMMODATION DURING MY VISIT?

Antelope Canyon 10Page, Arizona is, in my opinion, your best option for accommodation. There are hotels for all budgets, some with incredible views of Glen Canyon dam and Lake Powell. But I was on a budget, and I wanted to camp. I hadn’t used my backpacking tent in 15 years. After testing it out in my back yard, I researched campgrounds near Antelope Canyon. There are many options.

I booked at a full-service campground in Page called Page Lake Powell Campground for 28 USD a night for a tent site. A little pricey for a tent site, but each site has electric, water, a grill, and a picnic table, and plenty of space for at least two backpacking tents or one large tent. Oh, and each site has a tree. Page gets pretty hot during the summer. There’s also RV camping here, clean restrooms and hot showers, a camp store, cabins, and friendly staff.

There are many other camping options available in the area. There is camping even closer to Lake Powell near Waheap, which is actually in Utah, or a little further away you can camp at Lees Ferry Campground for 20 USD a night, but there are limited services here.

 

IS IT REALLY WORTH DRIVING THERE TO SEE TWO SLOT CANYONS?

First, there is so much more landscape to see in this region than just Antelope Canyon. Second, I will let the photos speak for themselves. There’s a reason Antelope Canyon is open year-round and a reason there are hundreds of visitors a day. Believe it or not, the crowds are smaller in winter. November weather is perfect, but December through February are cold and sometimes it snows. There are sure to be smaller crowds when Europe and Asia are in school. The week of Thanksgiving and Christmas are madness. I don’t recommend going during those weeks. I went the week before Thanksgiving when everyone was still at work and in school and it wasn’t really crowded.

 

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Not far from Page and Antelope Canyon is another famous and widely photographed natural wonder called Horseshoe Bend. Many people think it’s in the Grand Canyon, but it is actually on the Navajo Reservation. This incredible natural wonder is best photographed with a wide-angle lens and filter at sunset. I had neither of those things, but I did go at sunset and gave it my best shot.

 

Horseshoe Bend

 

A visit to Antelope Canyon is a must and should be on everyone’s bucket list. It is so worth the extra money for the photography tour, but remember, you must have a DSLR camera and tripod. No matter what tour you take, your photos will be beautiful and you will say, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

 

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54 thoughts on “Antelope Canyon Arizona is No Longer Hidden, but It’s Still a Gem

  • January 8, 2018 at 5:32 pm
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    I agree, no longer hidden but definitely a gem that should be visited… in the winter so people aren’t cooking in the desert 😉

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  • January 5, 2018 at 10:32 pm
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    Your pictures are amazing! I went to California-Nevada-Arizona on a road trip last October and I wanted to go to Antilope Canyon! However we had just 15 days on the road and it was way too far ☹️ But I keep it on my list! It has to be AMAZING 😍
    Thanks for sharing your experience!
    Hugs from Spain!

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    • January 7, 2018 at 3:12 am
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      Thanks, Alba! I hope you can make it back to this part of the United States someday. It can be a lot of driving, but so worth it. I went to Spain in 2006, to walk the Camino. Great experience. I was in Spain for 6 weeks and loved every minute of it.

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  • January 4, 2018 at 6:44 am
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    What a beautiful place to visit. I bet it looks more amazing in person. There are so many places to explore, thanks for sharing.

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    • January 7, 2018 at 3:13 am
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      Yes, I sometimes think pictures can’t do these canyons justice. But they are so photogenic. Thanks for reading!

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  • January 2, 2018 at 11:31 pm
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    Its so stunningly picturesque! That’s a load of information that you’ve given me as well. I didn’t know about all this natural phenomenon of erosion in the absence of water, or rather with rare flash floods! I’d totally go here. If I visit Arizona, this would top my itinerary!

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    • January 7, 2018 at 3:14 am
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      I think Antelope Canyon ranks right up there with the Grand Canyon, and they are pretty close to each other, so definitely worth visiting both!

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  • January 2, 2018 at 7:26 pm
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    This is probably the most picturesque place I have ever seen, wow. It looks like a Macbook background photo! Thanks for explaining how slot canyons were formed , I had no idea what they actually were before reading this article! If I go, I would definitely want to take the time to visit both slot canyons rather than just one. May as well, right?!

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    • January 7, 2018 at 3:15 am
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      My thoughts exactly! These two canyons are just across the road from each other, only about 2 miles apart. It is possible to see both in one day, but because I wanted both photography tours, I had to do one per day.

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  • January 2, 2018 at 3:19 pm
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    This Canyon looks amazing! Would definitely love to explore more and the national parks; it looks like you got some amazing pictures from your trip too!

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    • January 7, 2018 at 3:16 am
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      It’s easy to get amazing pics of these canyons. Not all of mine were this good, but I took hundreds.

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  • January 1, 2018 at 10:07 pm
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    So true about the not so hidden gem, but oh my I would love to see this in person! Great shots, and nice that you also include stuff like where to stay. Thanks!

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    • January 7, 2018 at 3:18 am
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      The canyon is definitely busy, but still worth visiting. If you don’t mind the cold, there are a lot fewer visitors in winter. The disadvantage to that is the sunbeams don’t stream down into the canyon, but fewer people suited me just fine.

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  • January 1, 2018 at 8:48 pm
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    Wow this place looks amazing! I’ve never done anything like this before but I would love to.

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  • December 31, 2017 at 11:25 am
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    You are right that Antelope Canyon is no longer a “hidden gem” but the fact remains that no matter how many photos I see of it, and the ones by you are brilliant, I still want to visit and experience it for myself. This kind of natural beauty is just astonishing and the way the rocks play with the natural light makes this a dream destination for avid photographers like myself.

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    • January 1, 2018 at 6:22 am
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      Yes, Raghav, it is truly a unique place to see. It has been on my bucket list for many years and did not disappoint.

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  • December 31, 2017 at 9:29 am
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    Antelope Canyon is truly breathtaking! I love taking pictures so I know I would take so many!

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    • January 7, 2018 at 3:20 am
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      You should definitely book a photography tour if you love to take photos. I’m still just learning how to use my DSLR camera, but the guides on the photography tours are a big help.

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  • December 31, 2017 at 8:42 am
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    Antelope Canyon is such a great place to explore. I visited it this year in Spring and totally loved it. I too visited the Horseshoe Bend. Your article brought alive my memories. BTW Very pretty clicks.

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    • January 1, 2018 at 6:26 am
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      Thank you, Archana! I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. I took so many, not all good, but it is hard to get a bad photo in Antelope Canyon.

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  • December 31, 2017 at 2:41 am
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    You are such a lucky person to have been there! I am totally amazed by the beauty of that place and would love to see it some day, I loved your post! Thank you.

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    • January 1, 2018 at 6:27 am
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      Thank you, Anna! I am so glad you enjoyed it. It is an amazingly beautiful place.

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  • December 31, 2017 at 12:13 am
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    I’d love to visit Arizona someday. My husband has family there. It’s such a beautiful and warm, state year round!

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  • December 31, 2017 at 12:02 am
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    Wow, this is places looks truly amazing! It “slightly” reminds me of a place I recently visited in Colombia called Tatacoa Desert! If I was going to visit this place I would definitely choose to camp like you did. I can only imagine what the sky is like at night time 🙂

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    • January 1, 2018 at 6:30 am
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      Dan, I am leaving for Colombia in a week! I will try to check out Tatacoa Desert. I’ve already planned my trip, but I hope Tatacoa is near one of the places I’m staying. The Navajo Reservation and northern AZ is a great place for star gazing.

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  • December 30, 2017 at 11:57 pm
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    This is such a gorgeous destination. The photos you captured definitely make me want to visit there at least once in my lifetime.

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  • December 30, 2017 at 5:54 pm
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    We live in Mesa, Arizona and have just gotten to know about Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons. Love your photos but the photography tour is quite pricey and they might not approve my mirrorless camera (gave up my bulky DSLR). Would it be possible to tour both canyons in one day and is there a discounted fee if you get both or there are separate operators for each? Can I tuck in Horseshoe Bend to the day?

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    • January 1, 2018 at 6:36 am
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      Hi Carolina,
      I’m not sure if the mirrorless camera would be okay. I am not familiar with those. The photography tours also require a tripod. It is possible to do both tours in one day if you do one in the morning and one around noon or 1:00, but in winter they don’t offer as many tours as they do in summer, so I couldn’t do both in one day.

      I think there are different operators, and I don’t think a discount is possible because of that. The two tours I booked were actually the cheapest. Ken’s Tours only operates at Lower Antelope. There are several tour operators for both upper and lower, so just google them and see what you find.

      The best time to visit Horseshoe Bend is at sunset, so yes, it is possible to visit it after you’ve done both tours. Hope this helps!

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  • December 30, 2017 at 5:51 pm
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    This place is definitely on my bucket list to visit!!! Great photos!

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  • December 30, 2017 at 5:09 pm
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    Wow they are breathtaking!! I really want to go!!

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  • December 30, 2017 at 2:04 pm
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    This is absolutely beautiful. It looks like we are headed to Arizona for our next family vacation.

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  • December 30, 2017 at 1:36 pm
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    I saw this place on insta and always been wanting to visit! One day for sure!
    your pics look so professional by the way.

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    • January 1, 2018 at 6:38 am
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      Thank you, Cheryl, but I am a 100% amateur photographer. It’s hard to take a bad photo in Antelope Canyon.

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  • December 30, 2017 at 10:28 am
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    Wow this place looks surreal. I would love to hike to antelope canyon… the colors are so pretty. Was it hard to get there?

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    • January 1, 2018 at 6:40 am
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      No, Paulina, it is easy to find. Very easy to get there from Page, AZ and it is very well publicized. But unless you are on a tour, you have to drive.

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  • December 30, 2017 at 6:50 am
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    We went in late spring to Antelope, just late enough in the year to get sunbeams actually entering the canyon. We were afraid of the bad weather that was moving through. The San Francisco peaks were covered with snow and it rained heavily overnight as we camped just outside the dam. The weather was perfect for our trip. The clouds gave great lighting for the photos and the sun poked through enough to get a few sunbeam shots. Antelope Canyon was a fun place for a photo safari and so different from what you normally see.

    Love you shots and the way you captured the scenery.

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    • January 1, 2018 at 6:43 am
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      Thank you, Jenn and Ed! I was very pleased with how my amateur photos turned out. The guides are so helpful and they understand cameras and settings. They really taught me a thing or two! Unfortunately, in winter there are no light beams that come through the canyon, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

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  • December 30, 2017 at 6:18 am
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    I have heard of Arizona but didn’t know about the antelope canyon. The antelope canyon are created due to erosion but there is no water in it. It’s amazing and the photographs are incredible.

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  • December 30, 2017 at 4:25 am
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    I’ve been here and it is one of my favorite places ever! Such a beautiful place!

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  • December 29, 2017 at 10:37 pm
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    Oh my gosh your photos are incredible!! I have never heard of this place and I know someone from Utah, definitely a potential honeymoon idea now. Thank you for sharing!

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    • December 30, 2017 at 2:15 am
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      Kat, if you love the outdoors, this is definitely a place to be for a honeymoon road trip. My pictures pale in comparison to some I’ve seen from professional photographers, but it is hard to take a bad picture in these slot canyons.

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  • December 29, 2017 at 9:27 pm
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    Your photos are amazing! It almost feels like I was there myself, if only I can be there too!

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    • December 30, 2017 at 2:16 am
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      I highly recommend putting this on your bucket list! While it is a popular destination, there are still a lot of people who have no idea it exists.

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  • December 29, 2017 at 9:17 pm
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    How beautiful! Your photos are stunning. I have never heard of Antelope Canyon and now it’s on my bucket list!

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    • December 30, 2017 at 2:22 am
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      That’s great, Monica! It’s so worth it. Try to go in March, April, Oct, or Nov when it’s not too hot or too cold.

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  • December 29, 2017 at 8:52 pm
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    These photos are incredible, what a stunning place. The price isn’t half bad either! Nikki

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    • December 30, 2017 at 2:27 am
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      It was totally worth the price for the photography tour. Sometimes I think I’d like to go back and take a regular tour to see the canyon without focusing on pictures. But the photography tour is so worth it.

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  • December 29, 2017 at 8:48 pm
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    I have always wanted to visit Antelope canyon, these photos are amazing!

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  • December 29, 2017 at 8:44 pm
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    I’ve never hear of a slot cavern. Arizona is on my domestic travel bucket list and it sure does look like that’s a place I’d enjoy seeing.

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    • December 30, 2017 at 2:29 am
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      There are so many slot canyons in northern AZ and southern Utah. Many of them have water in them, which sometimes limits the number of people who can walk through them. The great thing about Antelope Canyon is there’s no water so more people can walk through it.

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  • December 29, 2017 at 8:39 pm
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    Wow these photos are absolutely amazing!

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