Jay Sousa: Crowd creates a challenge

April 21, 2012 

Jay Sousa

The Slot Canyons in Arizona and Utah are fissures cut into the Navajo Sandstone by wind and water.

They range in width from several feet to just inches.

Some are just a few feet long. Others, such as the narrows on the Virgin River in Zion National Park in southern Utah wind and twist through the brilliant red and orange sandstone for miles.

They are all a photographers' dream to photograph in. The best, however, is the slot canyon of Antelope Valley in Northern Arizona, just outside the town of Page.

The Antelope Valley Slot Canyon is on Navajo land, and the only way to see and photograph in the canyon is through one of many Navajo tour companies that offer tours to the canyon.

The 2½-hour photography tour is a bit longer than the regular tour and is only offered once a day at noon. High noon is the best time to photograph in the narrow canyon as the shafts of sunlight filter straight down the walls of the 60-foot deep fissure, setting the red and orange sandstone on fire.

The day and night before, we photographed Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River. My son, Jared, and I were at the company, Antelope Canyon Tours, in downtown Page at the meeting time. We soon met our guide, Lionel, and the seven other photographers on the tour.

Lionel escorted us to an old army surplus Humvee that was modified to carry passengers on bench seats in the back. After a 20-minute ride that started on paved roads and ended with a jaw-rattling off-road E-ticket ride through the Navajo Reservation, we arrived at the parking area in front of the entrance. I became instantly worried about a crowd inside as there were at least 40 trucks from other tour companies parked there.

The Slot Canyon is considered sacred to the Navajo and as such there are some rules that you must not break or you will be asked to leave, Lionel said.

Some of the rules include no eating, no flash photography, no loud talking, no nude photography and no bathroom facilities. After our briefing we were set to enter a magical world.

The entrance to the canyon is through an opening in the sandstone about 15 feet wide. It soon narrows to just a few feet and in some spots is just 2 feet wide.

A claustrophobic person might not enjoy the experience. Once inside, you feel as if you have entered another world, as the shafts of sunlight illuminate the wind-and-water-sculptured walls with a beautiful warm glow.

As glorious as it was inside, it was frustrating to photograph, as there were other tour groups coming and going in both directions.

Lionel did his best to try to hold back a group passing through the area we were photographing, but you had to work fast.

It was not photography for the faint of heart. It is critical that one knows their camera well and can quickly compose, focus and make a good exposure before someone walks through the image that you are attempting to make.

Another issue stemmed from the other photographers in the group. The eight of us were shooting in very tight quarters, all with tripods and big camera bags. It kind of reminded me of my days long ago working as a newspaper photographer at the site of a big news story, jostling for position to get the shot.

Finally, I had enough and asked Lionel if it would be OK if we took off on our own.

He agreed and just told us to be back at the Humvee at 1:50 p.m. or we would have a long walk back to town. Finally freed from the group, I was able to make four very nice shots before heading back to town.

To see some images from my Arizona and Utah trip, visit www.jaysousaphotography.com. Click on the tab labeled Galleries and scroll down to The Rangefinder.

Contact Jay Sousa at jay.sousa@sbcglobal.net.

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