On August 12th, 1997, eleven tourists were killed in the lower Antelope Canyon as a flash flood ripped through the popular tourist site. The skies were clear, but about seven miles upstream a storm had let loose a large amount of rain. There was little warning as the Navajo guide led his tour. The canyon filled up so quickly it destroyed the safety ladders and killed all but one, the tour guide himself who had training for such events.
It's hard to imagine anyone being killed by a flash flood as you walk through Antelope Canyon. There are simply so many people, the fact that the area could be in any way dangerous is far fetched. In fact, the rather commercialized feel to the experience makes it seem a lot like visiting a site in NYC rather than a beautiful desert escape. The area can only be accessed via approved Navajo guides, in part due to the dangers of flash flooding, and the groups are quite large.
The only way to get a decent photograph at all is to pay for a special photography tour. Essentially what you are paying for is a guide to stand behind you and keep the other tourists at bay as you take your photographs. But the experience is pretty hectic regardless.
When I got to the canyon with my Dad and Sylvia I was told that I would not be allowed to take ANYTHING except my camera and a tripod. This alone was pretty disappointing, but I was certain they had their reasons.
When the time came for our tour to begin, the guides divided everyone up according to specific tours and size and we headed to our vehicles. After a short ride up a river bed (a wash to be exact) we can to what looked a lot like a dead end. Yes, the entrance to this beautiful and legendary locale was as inconspicuous as a wall of stone. Never the less, it was there. And as we unloaded the vehicle and moved towards it, the canyons entrance loomed above.
This is when I started to get frustrated. The guide began rushing us into 'spots' where HE knew we would get our best possible photographs. "You need to set up here, Right here!" He yelled at us. "This is the shot from our website that you want!" Excuse me? No sir. I do NOT want the exact same photographs that YOU have. A few minutes later, and I do mean three or four minutes later, "Alright lets move! On to the next spot!"
From the very beginning I was rather annoyed and offended at the approach the guides seem to take to the photography tour. But All things considered, I can understand why. Our guide said he had been doing this for over four years now. And I can only imagine the kind of 'photographers' he has had to deal with. In my own group I had people asking me how to take pictures.
But I went into this entire tour with zero expectations. And I quickly got over my initial irritations as I began to understand the environment. Was it annoying to be taking once in a life time photos on someones else's time? Yes. Extremely. But my own skill and experience shined through and gave me the time I needed to effectively do whatever I wanted. While others were still messing with their exposures, I was moving on the other angle and areas.
Would I recommend the tour to others? I think I would. But I would preface it with a YUGE disclaimer. This is NOT the kind of experience where you can just relax and take photos on your own time. It is rushed, it is hectic, it is forced, but if you go into it expecting this you can get some incredible shots.
One of the things that I found annoying, aside from being rushed, was the fact that they kept setting you up for what they thought was THE shot. The shot that everyone took, that everyone loved, that everyone wanted. And yes, some of the spots and angles were in fact THE best ways to photograph that particular spot/angle. But after looking at all of my photos from that day, I can honestly say my favorite images are the least recognizable.