The Grand Canyon in the U.S. is what the name says; it’s grand – big and impressive. Anyone who stands at the rim (outside edge) and looks into and across the canyon sees something unlike anything they have ever seen before. If you do a Google search using “Grand Canyon” and “adjectives”, most of the adjectives you find describe reactions to the canyon, but don’t say much about the canyon itself. It is, in many ways, indescribable (impossible to describe).
Like many canyons around the word, the Grand Canyon was created by the action of a river, the Colorado, which for millions of years has been cutting through layers of rock to create a channel (space for water to flow through) that grows deeper and wider every year.
Antelope Canyon, about one hour away from the Grand Canyon, is a very different kind of canyon.
If someone were to take you blindfolded (with a cloth covering your eyes) to Antelope Canyon, place you at the bottom, and then take off the blindfold, you would first be struck by (strongly notice) the tightness (very little room to move) of the space. In many places the canyon walls are so close that you can reach out and touch both of them at the same time.
The canyon walls, decorated with narrow lines of color, move in and out from bottom to top, like waves. And as you look ahead, the canyon walls twist and turn into the distance, and you can often see only a few feet in front of you.
The movement of light on the canyon walls creates a constantly changing pattern of reds, oranges, yellows – dark one moment, uncomfortably bright the next – and shadows as the sun moves across the sky. When the sun is directly overhead, it often cuts through the narrow space to shine like a spotlight on the canyon floor, as in the photo.
Antelope Canyon, a slot (long narrow opening) canyon, is much deeper than it is wide. A slot canyon may be only 3 feet (1 meter) wide at the top, but more than 100 feet (33 meters) deep. They are created by underground water cutting through soft rock, like sandstone or limestone.
Slot canyons can be found in many parts of the world. Those in the southwestern U.S. – more than 1,000 – are probably the best known, but other other well-known slot canyons can be found in northern Spain, in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain, and in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia.
Maligne Canyon, in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada, is a particularly interesting slot canyon. Much of the water that runs through the canyon comes in a unusual way from Medicine Lake 8.5 miles (14 km) away. One guide compares the lake to a leaky bathtub – water leaks (runs out through holes or cracks) out of the bottom of the lake and runs underground to the canyon.
For all of their fascinating features (characteristics), slot canyons can be dangerous to visit. Once you are in a slot canyon, it can be difficult and take time to get out. Rainstorms, even if they are some distance away, can cause flash floods (sudden local floods) to rush through the canyons. As a result, many canyons, like Antelope, require visitors to have trained guides to take them through the canyons.
If you are interested in learning more about slot canyons, look at the Los Angeles Times article – A Hiker’s Sampler of the Southwest’s Slot Canyons.
~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English website.