Canyon X: A Photographer's Dream
Can photographers still find slot canyons unspoiled by hordes of tourists? You bet!
Images of slot canyons evoke a sense of awe and beauty. Many years ago a photographer could enter slot canyons located in northern Arizona near Page with little concern for other visitors kicking their tripod, a ruined shot from an unexpected flash, or finding an errant head in their frame. Unfortunately, Antelope Canyon, the most popular in the region, no longer offers such a creative environment. Several licensed tour companies use their many transport vehicles to pack as many people into the canyons as they're allowed -- and possibly more. Two hundred tourists competing for their special photo does not offer a great photo op.
Charly Moore, owner of Overland Canyon Tours, offers excursions to several locations, with Canyon X providing an exceptional slot canyon photography experience. Overland Canyon Tours is the only company licensed by the Navajo property owners to access Canyon X. Charly only provides one tour per day. Each tour is limited to a maximum of only six photographers. Plus, you are in the canyon for a full day, not an hour and a half or two hours as other canyon tours offer. Could you ask for more? There is!
Charly is an accomplished photographer with a great sense of humor. He is happy to share his knowledge with those who ask for assistance with camera settings and finding the best setup locations within the canyon.
Three weeks before and after the summer solstice is when the sun is positioned overhead casting light beams into the slots. In my experience, there were approximately 90 minutes around midday when light beams penetrated to the canyon floor. Earlier and later in the day there is softer light to photograph the canyon walls with more contrast and fewer hot spots. As you might imagine, the winter season adds unusual character to the canyon walls, although it will be a bit colder 130 feet below ground level.
Charly believes spring and fall are the best times of the year; the days are shorter, cooler, and the color temperature of the canyon walls is also cooler. Having photographed in June, I often backed out some of the red in my images so as to not make them look intentionally oversaturated.
Overland Canyon Tours charge a bargain fee of $160 for its Canyon X Photo Tour. That includes pickup from your lodging, a scrumptious bag lunch, water, and Charly's affable personality and assistance. If you anticipate ever using your images for a contest, commercially or editorially, you must get a permit from the Navajo Nation. Overland Canyon Tours provides the $50 application available online. The Navajo Nation justifiably protects their property rights and aggressively pursues those who fail to acquire the permit. If you decide to acquire a permit after your time in the canyon, the cost is $200.
For more information, visit Overland Canyon Tours, or call 928-608-4072.
Fear not. There is not only hope, but a fantastic alternative. Canyon X.
Sound mysterious? Locating it is a real mystery, for this is one of the rare slot canyons that is restricted to a single tour company; access roads require a stout, very high-clearance, four-wheel drive Suburban; it is guarded by two locked gates; and you have to know where to turn off the highway. Access to Canyon X also requires a quarter-mile moderately strenuous hike through sand to reach the canyon.
But its worth it!
To further enhance your experience, Canyon X photographers are screened to determine their level of competence. Consequently, you can be assured that everyone in your small party is similarly capable and interested as you are about creating stellar images. This process also provides a congenial environment for making friends early in the day.
On their photo tours, point-and-shoot cameras are not allowed. You will want to bring a tripod. The longest lens I used was 100mm. I also brought out a 15-30mm lens for a few settings. Overland Canyon Tours has a limited number of DSLRs and tripods for rent.