Surprise Canyon (AZ)


surprise-canyon
Three years ago, we took the Antelope Canyon tour. As memorable as that tour was, hordes of tourists drawn by the fame of the canyon arrived from all over the world. To make matters worse, everyone was herded through the narrow passageways in numbers so thick that visions of being alone were delusions instead. Photographers were not allowed to bring tripods on the standard tours, but I discovered that by paying a bit more for a photographers’ tour, you got special dispensation.

In researching other tour opportunities in this area only a few weeks ago, I noticed that one company provided a Humvee tour to Canyon X that promised a relatively crowd-free experience to Surprise Canyon. The canyon would rival the beauty of the more famous slot canyon. As it turned out, only one other couple (from the UK) joined our tour on a day that was almost cloud-free, fortunate because of the downpour in the area only the day before. Getting to the canyon was half the fun; the Hummer negotiated rocky terrain, slick rock and sandy stretches, at one point tilting at what seemed like a pitch of 45°. Itself, the canyon is not very long. Nor was there any noticeable place with a hole in the rocks above to showcase a dramatic shaft of light for which Antelope Canyon is famous, maybe because the skies were somewhat cloudy. But the iridescent glow of the pinkish-orange sandstone was on full display. In retrospect, Antelope is the more spectacular because of its size and diversity but the crowds there can be quite the test. For experiencing a little of what these types of slot canyons offer, Surprise will fit the bill nicely.

Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River (Page, AZ)


One of the most awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping overlooks in the entire Southwest is the one that is a thousand feet above Horseshoe Bend, a meander of the Colorado River. Though it is spectacular at any time of day, the morning and late afternoon sun shows it to best dramatic effect.

The signpost to the parking lot can be easy to miss right off Highway 89. From the lot, there is a short hike of less than a mile over sandstone and a short sandy path to reach the overlook. It was unsettling (for me, at least) to stand at the cliff’s edge and peer down to the river. But, what a view!

Photographer’s tip: for the best time to capture the scene, my choice would be the late afternoon, although one cannot improve upon this particular sunrise shot. Photographers should be sure to take a wide-angle lens to capture the entire bend. I used a setting of 12mm on my Canon EF-S variable wide-angle lens, which would call for a 20mm standard focal length.