Waterholes Canyon. A Hidden Gem?
Have you ever heard of Antelope Canyon? How about Horseshoe Bend or Lake Powell? If you are a landscape photographer these landmarks are well known and are some of the most photographed areas near Page, Arizona. What if I asked if you knew about Waterholes Canyon? Probably not, huh. I have to admit that when I knew I was heading to Page, Arizona for a night my first thoughts were to photograph Horseshoe Bend in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and either Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon. Both are jewels of photography near Page and I had hoped to photograph them, especially Antelope Canyon, for some time. When I started to research the possibility of photographing Antelope canyon I quickly ran into a problem. See, everyone wants to visit Antelope Canyon, not just me. I quickly learned that it was going to cost me $140 or more just to photograph the canyon and I would be sharing the area with 100+ of my closest photographer and non-photographer friends. While I know that Antelope Canyon would be absolutely breathtaking, paying $140 or more was not in my budget. The expense along with being in a line like Disney World also convinced me not to book the tour.
After some more research I came across some information on Waterholes Canyon, just about 5 miles south of Page. You needed a Navajo hiking permit that cost $12 and that's it. You did not need a guide. It sounded too good to be true. I had visions that upon my arrival I would find that you get what you pay for and the canyon would be merely a nice hike in an otherwise forgettable place. Boy, was I wrong!
Wildflowers down in the canyon
At the top and in the canyon wildflowers were in full bloom. This only added to my excitement. The scramble down into the canyon was pretty intimidating. Climbing over a couple of boulders and down loose rock to get to the bottom, while not very hard, was enough to get your heart racing. But once at the bottom of the canyon, the beauty of the place takes hold. The reddish-orange Navajo sandstone soared up on either side while a sandy path led in both directions. When I picked up my hiking pass I also got a map that showed the area open for hiking. West of the bridge was off limits. I quickly checked it out to find a car that had crashed into the canyon was blocking the path. I had also heard that the area requires rappelling so I quickly started my journey east.
Blooming cacti at the trail head
The canyon is named for the waterholes that form after rain, but since rain had been scarce in the area I did not run into any of them. The canyon changed from deep slot canyons to open areas and back to deep slot canyons. At one point you had to climb a ladder to continue. The ladder was not that steady and could of been a bit taller but luckily I was able to get to the top and continue. It was coming back down the ladder that was the hard part, but I luckily made it down and was able to continue on my hike.
iPhone photo of the ladder
Navajo sandstone formations
The best part, aside from the cost difference, about Waterholes versus Antelope canyon was that I only saw four people over two and a half hours. Four people! It was absolutely beautiful and more than I imagined. I hope to get back and explore the area some more but for now I will just remember this great experience. For more of my images from this journey click here.
NOTE: Make sure you get the hiking pass before going. It supports the local people and it keeps you from having your car towed from the parking lot. Also, past the power lines to the east is private property and off limits and requires a guide. Please don't be "THAT" person and obey the rules so you don't ruin the chance for others to hike this beautiful area!
Keywords: Antelope canyon, Arizona, Arizona adventure, Jsilkstone Photography, Navajo, Navajo Nation, Navajo sandstone, Page, cacti, landscape, sandstone, slot canyon, waterholes, waterholes canyon, wildflowers
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