Avoid the crowds at the Antelope Canyon in Arizona and visit Secret Canyon and Canyon X instead


The Navajo Sandstone curved like flowing water. The narrow passage snaked like a meandering stream while above me the blue sky peeked through the narrow opening at the top of the canyon walls. The patterns and texture of the rock told the story of its creation by the rains and floodwaters of the summer monsoons in Arizona.

This was Secret Canyon, a slot canyon hidden in the hills outside of Page, Arizona.

What are slot canyons?

Slot Canyons start as narrow cracks in the rock. Over millions of years, rainwater and flooding widens and deepens the opening and the result is a narrow, tall passage through the rocks of the plateau, that can be miles long.

Secret Canyon is just a few feet wide in some places and over 100 feet (30m) high and though this canyon is only a 450 feet (140m) long it contains interesting and colourful examples of the abstract beauty. It is part of the drainage system of Upper Waterholes Canyon.

Getting to the canyon

Trey, my Navajo guide, was driving the truck along the wash of red sand as the road dipped and curved through the desert. Several miles after leaving Highway 89 we came to the end of the road where our transport stopped.

I would hike the rest of the way to the spilt in the canyon wall that served as the entrance to my destination. I was with a group of photographers on a tour to this unusual slot canyon located on private land of a local Navajo family.

It was discovered over 100 years ago and the Navajo have protected it ever since. It is also called Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon as it is near to that iconic viewpoint.

I passed the smallest natural arch I had ever seen. A miniature version of those famous sandstone formations in Utah.  After a short hike the mouth of Secret Canyon came into view at the bottom of a small wash.  I entered between the high rock walls.  The walls seemed to close in as they narrowed to just a couple of feet wide.  I somehow felt alone here even with my fellow shutterbugs nearby.

I wandered around marvelling at the way the water had carved the rock into so many different shapes and textures. The nooks and crannies hid long lost tumbleweeds. A barren tree branch had been swept into the confined passages only to be lodged against a narrow opening. How long had it been there?  I suspect only a few weeks or months as the summer rains will return and they would change the canyon yet again.

I had to get down on my knees and pointed my camera almost straight up to capture the blue sky against the reddish orange sandstone. The deep shadows and reflected light make shooting images difficult but with good equipment and technique capturing images of the natural beauty is possible.