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3:33 PM / Thursday June 30, 2022

4 Oct 2019

Alawfultruth: Antelope Valley Canyon and the Navajo Nation

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October 4, 2019 Category: Commentary Posted by:

While traveling across the country via car and exploring recently, I learned of a place approximately two hours south of the Grand Canyon in Arizona where I was told the visuals would stun the senses. 

Armed with my curiosity and a determination to see this place, my friend and I headed there. It is called the Antelope Valley Canyon, and has been slowly gaining popularity since the Navajo Nation began their official tours of this third wonder, located in the middle of Arizona. 

The objective was twofold – to keep people from trying to find it on their own while most assuredly risking their lives and preserving their land by keeping tourists from the parts they held dear. 

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Andrea and Denise with a Navajo dancer

According to our knowledgeable tour guide, 10 tourists died years ago, when the 12 of them got caught in a rainstorm that turned the usually dry and desolate canyon into rushing water, 100 feet high. Since they (tourists) had no idea that the land had rainy seasons and there was no one to warn them (because they were essentially trespassing) nothing could be done to save 10 of them. They climbed past a wall that was clearly stated “DO NOT ENTER” because they wanted to see this mystical place that so few had ever heard of.

In 1970, the Navajo Nation stopped people from coming through their property because people would continue to go missing there, which caused a logistical headache for the tribes. The Navajo nation is a sovereign country that governs itself completely, and they would not interfere in a missing person report if that person was not Navajo.

Entrance of the cave-upper rim of Antelope Valley Canyon

On this particular day of we visited, the temperature was over 100 degrees, but curious tourists from around the world were lined up on the reservation to be placed in huge off-road vehicles with no air conditioning. 

The group of six that we were in was lucky enough to get into a old and rusty Chevy Suburban that had seen better years, but it had cool air that was a step above tepid as it blew furiously to keep us from fainting.

I was soon to learn that in order to get to the canyons — which had an upper and lower rim — 15 minutes of driving off-road was a necessity, and as we jostled and bounced in a mixture of dry mud and sand, we were given quite a history!

Our tour guide was a young man in his 20s who was able to trace his lineage back 150 plus years. His great, great grandfather lived on the reservation. He explained that the Navajo Nation was the largest in the country, with their territory covering 27,000 square miles.

A treaty was signed between the United States government and the Navajo Nation in 1868 that stated that those miles would belong to them after much angst between them both.

Our guide was born in Flagstaff, Arizona, and told us that 80 years ago, the canyon contained mostly herds of steer, goats and sheep, and that antelopes could be found as far as the eye could see. That is how it was given the name it has today.

Tarantula found in canyon.

The rains come and washes through the canyons from June to September of each year, so no tours are held during the rainy season as it is too risky. 

The United States Government has since built a dam and a power plant nearby to capitalize on the water each year that serves many people in the area.

We learned that one of the first public photos of the canyon was shot in 1998 by a photographer who made the general public aware of the existence of this place.

The Navajo Nation is matriarch-based, and the oldest women there are considered the most powerful in the tribes and treated with deference.

For all that wonderful knowledge, nothing prepared us for what we found when we exited the vehicle and walked to the mouth of the cave that would take our very breath away!

The lines left in the rock formations from the rains over the decades created patterns throughout the narrow spaces, that were awe inspiring! We had a one hour tour and received quite a history lesson, which included the tarantula spider that was found mere inches from my ankles. A tour guide picked it up so we could all get a visual. 

As we drove out the canyon and headed back to our vehicles, I walked away feeling like I was on hallowed grounds, and that the impact of that special visit is one that will be seared in my memory. I would also strongly advise people to add it to their bucket list, and to, visit this place as it will not disappoint. 

I would caution, though, that tourists follow the posted rules, as you will not be allowed to record videos, or take backpacks into the cave with you. Please wear loads of sunblock and have water because the heat is no joke. It is well worth the visit, though –a must see!

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