Journey with Raven • Antelope Canyon and Lake Powell
Sensuous Curves in Stone
The jeep we hired turned south off SR 98 into a wide wash filled with sand the color of powdered makeup. It bounced along, following ruts in the dusty riverbed until it could go no further. The wash narrowed to a terminus consisting of a narrow ragged slit that plunged into the side of a sandstone cliff.
The trip to this point was unremarkable, and even now, the place itself seemed somewhat ordinary. But that would change once we stepped inside.
This is Corkscrew Canyon, the upper part of Antelope Canyon, and the source of some of the most interesting, most unusual, most dazzling sites we would see on the trip.
Corkscrew Canyon is yet another oddity of nature: a narrow slot canyon formed by seasonal torrents cutting swirls and hollows into the buff-colored sandstone. As the sun reaches its mid-day height, the light cascades down the narrow opening high above, finding the worn-smooth strata and the lips of whirls, bringing a warm glow to the narrow, confined space.
Being the shutterbug that I am, I was reluctant to leave the place after only half an hour, the time allotted for exploration in the tour; I could see two hours easily spent exploring the various niches and nooks formed by thousands of years of scouring action. Perhaps even more. The low light necessitates using a tripod, and exposures ranging from 4 to 16 seconds, so it's not a place where a point and shoot camera will work very well. The sheer number of views, possible angles, and changing effect of the sun as it moves across the sky, make exploring the corkscrew impossible in a short visit. I'm told that the ideal time for a photographer to go is during the off season around January. It's really tempting to go back.
In spite of the confined space -- in some places the passages are barely three feet wide -- it's odd that the place doesn't seem smothering. The warm glow and the soft curves caused a fellow visitor to describe it as "womb-like." I suppose there is something intrinsically soothing about that. I was simply amazed at how a few short minutes took one chamber from a dim ruddy passage to a vault glowing yellow-orange. The variety of colors to behold in so small a space is delightful.
Well, I was the last one back onto the jeep, of course. All too soon it was time to get back to Page, to figure out how we would spend the rest of the day.
It was now early afternoon, and we were trying to figure out what to do with the rest of the day. We dropped in on the Chamber of Commerce for some ideas. One thing that they suggested was a boat tour of Lake Powell. Another was a hike to a gooseneck of the Colorado river just down stream from the Glen Canyon dam.
To people who live in the desert, Lake Powell is something to cherish and covet, no doubt. To someone from the California coast, it's probably less spectacular. Owing to the nature of the terrain, it does have one of the longest shorelines of any lake its size, and there are other historical points of interest about the lake, but compared with the many other places we had visited, it seemed somewhat dull. Maybe we were just getting jaded.
The boat trip itself was respite, though, from many long dry hours on the road. The deep blue water was cool, and the air was moist for a change. Kudos go out that the captain of our tour boat, whose pilotage of the craft was singular. She navigated the thing into narrow side canyons that were at points mere inches wider than the vessel itself. At one such place, we saw desert varnish, or what she referred to as "Navajo paintings" on sheer cliff walls. Minerals based on iron and manganese accumulate over thousands of years, tinting the already ruddy stone various shades of brown and blue-black. With a little imagination, you can see shapes in the "paintings." Can you find the elephant and the dragon? How about the heron? By the way, to give a scale to the photo at right, the white stripe – the lake's "bathtub ring" as our captain put it – is eleven feet high.
It had been a busy day. We explored the Corkscrew in Antelope Canyon, and we spent the afternoon on Lake Powell. Once again the sun began to climb down from the splendid blue sky.
About five miles south of Page, along Route 89, there's a dirt road leading to a parking lot. A 3/4-mile hike over dunes will bring you to a gooseneck bend in the Colorado river with a beautiful view of the countryside.
As we arrived, the sun was already very low in the sky. The gnats were buzzing around in the evening air, and lizards were soaking up the last few minutes of sunlight. The shadows playing across the sandstone showed with vivid detail every last crevice, every niche
We stood at the rim, looking down hundreds of feet as the Colorado gently flowed past. Six million years of its handiwork opened up before us. Some may marvel at the feats of engineering manifested in millions of tons of concrete spread across this river a few miles north. I prefer to marvel at the sheer artistry of the river itself.
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