The Paparazzi of Antelope Canyon


You’ve probably seen photographs of Antelope Canyon before. The smooth whorls of this narrow Arizona slot canyon grace coffee table books, calendars, and desktop wallpapers. There are so many photos, in fact, that it begs the question if any angle or lighting variation has gone unrecorded.

But nothing gives context to pictures like seeing a place with your own eyes, so on our drive from Monument Valley to Zion we spontaneously turn off highway 98 into the parking lot for tours.

Armed with a mere point-and-shoot camera, we climb into a four wheel drive with a Swedish family and our requisite Navajo guide, since the canyon is on reservation land. The car races down a dry riverbed, and the kids squeal in the backseat when we bank up a sand dune. Our family sighs in relief not to get stuck in the sand again.

The entrance already has a motley of vehicles parked outside, and stepping into the canyon feels claustrophobic not from the towering walls but because of the masses of people packed inside.  We move slowly along the path carved out by flash floods. Our guide helps us get some good shots, points out imaginative rock shapes (like the “Heart of the Canyon” and the “Wolf-Woman”), and plays the flute into an echo chamber.

Heart of the CanyonAntelope Canyon Texture

Wolf or Woman

My neck grows sore from craning up, looking at the glimmer of sky a hundred feet overhead while my hand trails over the curves in the rock.  I duck my head whenever the wind blows sand into the crevasse.  It rains down on us with a shimmering hiss.

Exiting on the opposite side of the canyon, I exhale some of my crowd-anxiety into the open air. The entrance to the canyon behind us is pockmarked with bullet holes.

The little Swedish girl plops down to play in the sun-warmed sand.  She keeps accusing the guide of lying in this high and petulant voice: “You’re making that up!” and “I don’t believe you.”

On the way back through the canyon, the famous light beams appear.  They look almost solid.  I expect them to illuminate some golden idol out of Indiana Jones, but instead they fall on packs of frenzied photographers.

It’s not a stretch to imagine these people wielding their tripods like swords as they vie for the best positions.  We dodge through this DSLR minefield.  Dad steps in front of a camera and the photographer curses, “Well, there goes that shot!”  

I hear one man, observing his wife, say in fond exasperation, “This whole trip is for her and her camera.”  

Behind us, there’s shouting, but I ignore it, simply intent on getting out of there (so much so that my two photos of the light beams are blurry messes).

Antelope Canyon SkyAntelope Canyon Light Beam

Back in the car, our guide is furious. He relates his version of events to us and anyone else who will listen. Another guide, of the last name Bighorse, was trying to protect his photographer crew by holding the rest of our group back. When our guide insisted on pressing on through the bottleneck, Bighorse laid hands on him.

This was no all-out fistfight, but there may have been a shove and a jostle, and our guide claims his shouts of “Don’t touch me!” went ignored.  He asks any witnesses to fill out a form to bring a complaint to the Navajo government against Bighorse. My dad was closer to the action, so he writes down his version of events.

And that’s how we got involved in a Navajo lawsuit in Antelope Canyon.


  • Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours
    We didn’t make reservations, just drove up to on-site parking lot and hopped on the next tour.
  • Ken’s Tours
    If you don’t mind climbing down ladders and some tight squeezes, I’d recommend Lower Antelope over Upper, especially if you’re visiting in late afternoon when the light is better there.  This is the only tour company operates in the canyon, so it’s much less crowded.  We did Upper at 10:30am because my brother’s afraid of ladders.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *