"Tse bighanilinil" is the Navajo name for "The Crack" - a renowned slot canyon that has become akin to a religious pilgrimage for serious photographers. How did this come to be?
In 1931, 12 year old Suzie Tsosie was herding sheep between Manson Mesa and Kaibeto. This was very much a deserted land in 1931. Present day Page Arizona did not yet exist until 1957 and Lake Powell did not begin to fill until completion of Glen Canyon Dam in 1966. As Suzie was searching for a lost sheep, she discovered a quarter mile long, twisting, water carved crack in the sandstone.
Before 1980, individuals required special permission from the Navajo land owners to gain access to the slot canyons. As fame grew, so did the requests for access. The prospect of commercialization began around this time.
The Tsosie family still owns this land today and operates Antelope Slot Canyon Tours catering to tourists, but specializing in satisfying the wants and needs of serious photographers.
In 2006, I pull into the parking lot located on the south side of Hwy 98. It's mid-morning on a Sunday in February and my truck is the sole vehicle in the parking lot. I meet a Navajo Guide at the booth and he explains to me that the cost for a guided 1 hour tour will be $20. A specialized photographer's tour lasting about 3 hours will be $50.
I'm guided by Delvin Tsosie - a not-to-distant relative of Suzie Tsosie. We hop into Delvin's SUV for a 3 mile bumpy ride along Antelope Canyon Wash. At the entrance to "The Crack" my selfish thoughts of having the entire slot canyon to myself evaporate with the sight of additional shuttle vehicles. Delvin explains to me that clients can also arrange to be picked up at their hotel in Page.
As I walk into the slot canyon, my mind recalls some past treks to the Paria River, particularly Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch. Delvin indicates that we will first travel the Upper Antelope Canyon in its entirety - about 250 yards. We encounter multiple photographers - all armed with tripods and lengthy aperture exposures! I feel like I'm running a gauntlet with aperture exposure times acting like traffic signals - red light start of 30 second exposure, green light as camera beeps signaling the end of exposure. With a rare overcast, lighting is tricky in the slot canyon today. A tripod appears to be a MUST to accommodate the lengthy exposure time. I snap-off my quick shots holding my breath trying to keep a steady hand. I'm sure these pros are mildly amused by these efforts from a pure amateur!
When we emerge out the south end of the slot canyon, Delvin indicates that he'll point out the features and photo angles used by the pros. Over the years of guiding them through this canyon, Delvin has picked up a few tips and he'll share them with me today. He also gives me a geology lesson explaining how this canyon was formed. Unlike ordinary erosion in which rocks of differing composition and hardness are chewed away at various rates forming a V-shaped channel, the uniform sandstone found in this area is removed straight down. Once a channel is first formed, all water will funnel into the channel and continue this downward removal pattern. A single storm is capable of removing a foot or more of sand from the canyon. The Upper Antelope Canyon measures 120 feet high and ranges in width from about 3 to 20 feet. Viewed from above ground, the canyon may only measure a foot or two across.
We re-enter the slot canyon from the south and Delvin starts to point out where to stand to capture the best features. As the lighting changes with passing clouds, so does the canyon, as if by magic! I snap off photo after photo hoping to get a couple of "keepers". We continue to make our way towards the north exit from the slot canyon. I shoot away thankful for having a 1 Gigabyte flash card installed in the camera. As we emerge, I glance at the time on my GPS. Exactly one hour has passed. We climb back into Delvin's SUV for the return trip to the parking lot. On the trip back Delvin explains that there are literally hundreds of slot canyons he's taken clients to photograph. Canyon "X" is particularly popular along with a couple of side canyons we drive by. We talk about Waterholes Canyon and some of the "name" photographers he's had for clients. Back at the parking lot I count 5 vehicles awaiting the next tour. Timing is everything I remark to Delvin thanking him with a well deserved tip!
The "Tse bighanilini" is a must-see for anyone appreciative of the natural wonders in Arizona. The "Hasdeztwazi" located across the highway is unique in its own way. I can't recommend one over the other - they're both spectacular. Take your time to enjoy the sights with your own eyes and a little less time through the lens of a camera. Although this isn't a hike in the classic sense, it's a must-do all the same. Enjoy!
2010-05-05 Anonymous writes: The Antelope Canyon Navajo Tour company is operatedd by the Begay Family, for about 20 yrars. My name is Dalvin Etsitty and not Dalvin Tsosie, We opersted from the entrance of the Tribal Park.My grand mother Pearl Begay was the person who was credited for finging Upper Antelope Canyon. Resd your website and see that you ran into the Chief, that is how his story sounds, new company. Thank, Dalvin Etsitty
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WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.