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  • Writer's pictureBetty Girardeau

Another Religious Experience

Many of you will recognize where this image was taken either because you have been there, you want to go there, or because you have seen other pictures taken here. Yes, this was taken in Antelope Canyon, the lower canyon to be exact. I was fortunate to get to go through both of these canyons during a Wild West photo tour in 2014 with Paul Hassell. This tour was 11 days that started in Zion National Park and ended with three days at the Grand Canyon. During those 11 days I learned a lot about myself and what I was capable of doing with a camera, but equally what I could do physically. Our very first morning we hiked in the dark up an exceedingly narrow foot path with a rock face on one side and, often, a shear drop of feet on the other. We only had our flashlights to light the way. We hadn't gone very far, I knew at that point there was also no turning back, but I was wondering what I had gotten myself into and would I even survive the week. Other daunting experiences of those days included hiking with camera full camera and wet suit gear up The Narrows in Zion National Park, a river perfectly described by its name. If a sudden storm comes up the water can rise so swiftly that you can be swept away without warning. We hiked over sandy dunes at sunset and experienced a near sand storm when out in the desert another day. So by the time we reached Page, Arizona, for our experiences of photographing both upper and lower Antelope Canyons, I was getting pretty hardened to the whole necessity of trying to survive in nature in order to be able to get some amazing images. I have to say that I was unprepared for the emotional impact that both of these slot canyons had on me. The land they are on is still owned by the Navajo nation and they are the ones that "allow" and guide you through them. I specifically used the word "allow" because both of these canyons are akin to Notre Dame, the Blue Mosque, or Ankor Wat for them. But those places were built by man. The slot canyons were built, and continue to be built, by Mother Nature. Upper Antelope canyon is fairly easy to access. Lower Antelope, however, is entered through an extremely narrow break in a rock formation. And, once in the canyon, the trails are often narrow to the extreme and there are places where you have to go up or down the rock face on metal ladders, passing your camera gear to someone who has already descended or ascended. The lighting is from the sun that manages to get through narrow breaks in the rocky desert above to illuminate the canyon rocks in ways that are beyond description. These same rocky openings on the desert floor are what, in the rainy season, become the means by which water enters to continue its creation of the canyons below. Both canyons had a profound spiritual effect on me and I could easily understand why they are considered sacred to the Navajo. You look around and try to comprehend the shear power of the water that could carve through these rocks in such a beautifully magical way. I realized at one point that everyone was speaking in whispers. That really should not have been surprising because this is the kind of place where you can understand how small and insignificant man really is and that no creation of our own can ever be considered better than what has already been created by nature.

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