Saturday, June 11, 2011

The End of Antelope Canyon comes suddenly as you round this corner and the canyon walls melt away on either side to expose you once again to the sunlight which seems all the more harsh after the dim glow of the canyon. Walking through the canyon, its easy to imagine that you are in a cave. The lack of direct sunlight, especially when the sun stays low in the winter months keeps the canyon much cooler than the rest of the area. The Navajo guide that accompanied me told me that a shepherd had once used the canyon as a place to keep her flock safe from the sun in the summer months.

The canyon itself can become very dangerous after rainfall, with flash floods rushing through from rainstorms that may not even be overhead yet. The end of the canyon pictured here would be the upstream end. Standing there I tried to imagine water crashing around this bend, climbing 30 feet up the canyon wall. There is evidence for the height of these flash floods in the form of a tree trunk wedged between two rock faces 40 feet off the ground.

A slot canyon like antelope occurs when a drainage route for a large arid area passes over an especially hard region of stone. Rather than cutting a gently sloping V-shaped canyon into the stone, the flash floods rush through existing cracks in the stone. The path of erosion traces the crack and the canyon is cut deep rather than wide. The narrow, tortuous path creates eddies which in turn cut the curling crests that line the canyon walls, overlapping and blocking out the sun.

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