Monument Valley is the gateway to photographers’ dreams

10/25/2013 12:00 AM

10/25/2013 4:43 PM

Monument Valley is great place for a photographer to look up. Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, 125 miles to the west, are great places to look down.

The canyon and the bend – a narrow slot canyon and a deep, broad stretch of the Colorado River – are at the edge of Page, Ariz., a tourist town that serves as a jumping-off point for houseboats and water sports at Lake Powell.

To visit Horseshoe Bend, where the deep green Colorado River suddenly turns 270 degrees at the bottom of a big red gorge, you drive four miles south of Glen Canyon Dam on U.S. 89. Park and walk three-fourths of a mile over a scrub-brush hill to the edge of a cliff.

Be careful – there are no guardrails or fences. And be glad: It’s free, and the view of the twisting river is jaw-dropping. At sunrise or sunset, the play of land, water, light and shadow is doubly dramatic and challenging for a photographer seeking that perfect exposure. Details:

Upper Antelope Canyon, which is part of Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park, is carved in large part by monsoon runoff and is up to 120 feet deep with just a ribbon of blue sky above. The filtered light, rich colors and varied textures of the crevasse’s sandstone walls create remarkable effects – one moment, frozen flames; the next, stretching taffy.

You can’t enter without a guide, and you can’t enter at all if a lot of rain is expected upstream. (A 1997 flash flood in Lower Antelope Canyon killed 11 tourists. The week before our Aug. 29 visit, monsoons closed the area for two days and added several feet of silt to the canyon floor.) Since 2011, Navajo leaders have imposed a two-hour limit per canyon on all visitors. Depending on which of several permit-bearing guide companies you sign up with, guides can also take you to longer, narrower Lower Antelope Canyon and other areas.

Fifty-minute tours start at $25 to $35, but that doesn’t give you much time to shoot. We used Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tours and paid $106 each for a 31/2-hour tour. Guide Raymond Chee took us through Upper Antelope Canyon and a narrower area, accessible by ladders, known as Rattlesnake Canyon. If you’re claustrophobic, don’t attempt these tours. If you like semi-abstract nature photography, bring a sturdy tripod and expect to make long exposures.

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