Where the Antelope Roamed…

13 10 2014

We had pushed my mom’s boundaries with the Observation Point hike, which left her pressing her back against the cliffs and motioning others to pass on the cliff-side. The Narrows hike up the river was much more her speed, and left her with a calm wash of satisfaction and we drove out of Zion. Our road trip had some interesting, though brief, stops over the next 24 hours.

 

We left early in the morning, up the winding road and through the mile long tunnel that marks the eastern entrance to Zion National Park. I sat in the passenger’s seat, almond chai in hand, deleting blurry pictures from my camera while Bethany drove through the southern Utah desert. I occasionally looked up to navigate our next turn, beautiful scenery becoming a wavy blur against the recent memories of such grandeur. The colors became muted, and the dramatic elevations disappeared in the distance. To break up the day’s drive, I suggested we stop at a ‘ghost town” along the way. It was called Paria. It was a 6-mile road that made us grateful for renting something with 4-wheel drive. The dirt path was little more than a seldom-traveled wash, leading to a sign commemorating where the ghost town was burned down in 2006.

 

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Our destination for the day was Antelope Canyon- a much photographed natural wonder carved out of the red earth of tribal land near Page, AZ. I had been warned that this would be quite the opposite of our previous few days: with no hiking to speak of, and a crowded line of people being herded through the slot canyons by native guides who charged $35-55 per person for the one hour photographic free-for-all.

 

10636531_714576971958263_1171351300819935453_o1559495_714576315291662_384460193911045020_oOur guide was particularly gritty. When it was our turn to go, we were loaded onto an open truck bed, modified with two vinyl-padded benches, back to back. We rode 20 minutes through the city, then turned onto the dirt road that lead to the spot. In the distance we saw clouds of dust, spewn by a serpentine pattern of other vehicles, jostling through the desert without any direction, other than to get another load of tourists in and out as quickly as possible. Some were open like ours, others were enclosed Suburbans. None seemed to follow any identifiable roads, and each took their own favorite way to get there. I felt the dust hit my legs as we traveled, the seat belt pinching against my stomach with each bump. We were buckled in tightly, with 2-3 strangers per belt. When we arrived after another 15 minutes through the desert, our tour-mates were excited to get off, and unhooked themselves to step down from the truck. Our guide leered at them for not waiting for her to undo the metal clasp herself. She seemed to hold a grudge against all 20 of us after that, and spoke only to give us the standard tourist facts that she was obliged to share. She made me feel like we were not wanted there.

 

10494481_714576285291665_8775032588126890410_oAntelope Canyon is a powerful, beautiful space. I did manage to take some photographs that almost capture its essence, but in no way was this a peaceful commune with nature. I found myself feeling annoyed and frustrated by the crowds of oblivious and rude tourists. Yes, we all want our 30 seconds to take that money shot of the swirling, sun-licked, blood orange sandstone. But, honestly, I would have traded my wide angle lens for a chance to sit in this sacred space… alone. It felt dirty and pornographic to just be trudging through like everybody else, shoulder to shoulder, clicking away in hopes that one of my dimly lit shots would turn out.

 

After we left, I felt exhausted instead of invigorated, as I normally do when I spend time in nature. Antelope Canyons has been soiled by the commodification. Am I a part of that? Of course. I bought myself a couple of postcards from the gift shop, just in case my own photos didn’t turn out. I asked the woman behind the counter if they had any sweet-grass, and she told me that she sells out as soon as she gets it in. I had a nice conversation with her, but it still did not completely remove the sour taste in my mouth from the experience. I wondered if the native people ever get a chance to be alone with Antelope Canyon themselves. Do they still perform ceremonies there? Do young lovers lose themselves in the canyon during the full moon? It’s hard to know how to feel when you love nature so much, and want to see it, touch it, feel it, and yet doing so beyond your own community may be actually putting those elements at risk. It makes me feel like a junkie. I know that what I’m doing may not be right, but I just can’t stop. I want more. I’ll always want more.

 

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