The (Split) Personality of a Canyon, Part 2: Secret Canyon

If one were to continue up the sandy wash that Water Holes Canyon becomes, and, after a couple of miles take the correct branching tributary, you might well find yourself at the mouth of Secret Canyon. You might also find yourself arrested for trespassing. A much better — and legal option — is to hire Slot Canyon Hummer Adventures for a photography tour. (As of this writing their website is under re-construction.)

If you want to see this slot canyon, the above mentioned firm is currently the only game in town. The photo tour is expensive ($150/person) but unlike Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon you are very likely to be alone, with your guide. It was worth the price of admission in terms of photographic opportunities and the peace and quiet.

Our guide Mike was waiting for us with, yes, a Hummer (model 2). What a tank. We barreled down Highway 89 until, between Horseshoe Bend and the Water Holes Canyon bridge, we turned east onto a dirt road that was gated and locked. Mike, of course, had the key. As we plowed along the dirt road and eventually debouched into the wide sandy wash that is Water Holes, Mike amicably chatted about the tribal and commercial histories of the area. The Hummer did short work of a couple of deeply sanded hilly sections and after about a total of 1/2 hour we arrived at the end of the “road.” An obvious trail carried us for a 1/4 mile or so and deposited us at the mouth of Secret Canyon.

It was mid-morning and we could feel the cool air emanating from the dark recesses of the slot canyon. Unlike our previous day’s Upper Antelope Canyon experience, it was exceptionally quiet here. Mike led us in and pointed out a few structures and angles but generally left us to our own devices. He was astute enough to understand that we knew, more or less, what we were doing.

Secret is relatively short but the two hours in-canyon seemed to pass quickly. The light was exceptional and the are a couple of overhead structures that are fascinating to explore, photographically. In particular, one protuberance called the Tongue made for an interesting portrait “session.” Another I dubbed the Volcano provoked some creative framing. The textures are outstanding (seemingly more grainy than in Antelope) and the lighting very moody. There was one section where capturing the canyon floor in your frame provides a beautifully sinuous leading line.

Ninety percent of my slot canyon shooting (in all 4 canyons over the 4 days we were in the Page area) was accomplished with a 16-85mm lens. In retrospect, I find that most of the images were taken in the 16-30mm range. I never saw a need for any longer of a lens, but in both Lower Antelope and in Secret, I swapped bodies/lenses and opted for the ultra-wide 10-20mm for my reverse walk back through the canyons. That super wide provided some expressive and unique compositions.

Though Secret Canyon is indeed in the upper reaches of, and only a few miles from, Water Holes Canyon, it should be clear from these images (and the previous post’s) that the two canyons are worlds apart both experientially and photographically. Different personalities make life richer. As with people and puppies, so too with canyons.

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