Antelope Canyon is one of the most distinctive landmarks in the southwest. It’s undoubtedly the most amazing slot canyon I’ve ever hiked through. But this amazing experience was somewhat paradoxical.

Expensive areas of natural beauty are an odd occurrence in the US (our most beautiful land, in general, is public property). Profiting off of natural beauty seems unethical to me, at least prima facie. There might be something different about areas such as the Navajo Nation (i.e., one quarter of Arizona), where the ethics of profit are arguably balanced by the social guilt of American tourists. But even that seems hard to believe at Antelope Canyon, where entrance to the corkscrew section cost my brother and I $26 each. This isn’t a completely outrageous sum, but it only provided access to the canyon on one side of the road. There’s a different entrance fee for the larger section of the canyon on the other side of the road. Seriously?! Yes, seriously.

On top of that, it isn’t a very peaceful place. There are tons of tourists. While we were there several Japanese tour groups showed up, which is completely normal in Utah (Japanese tour groups adore Utah). All of them seemed completely oblivious to the fact that their voices carry throughout the canyon. The photo above is an HDR photo, which means that it’s a combination of several different exposures. You have no idea how hard it is to get HDR shots in a slot canyon filled with people. It’s even more annoying to hear everyone in the canyon yelling while attempting to avoid their presence through photography. At one point I remember yelling to my brother to give me something with which I could poke my eyes out.

Making matters even stranger, a huge power plant is right next to the entrance to the canyon. You never see this in photos. It’s huge. It’s strange.

Smokestacks billow smoke into the air, Japanese tour groups use echo chambers as a proving ground for their vocal chords, and you pay $26 to walk a quarter mile in a canyon.

I just can’t help but think that so many people visit it, in part, because so many photographers fail to mention these things. Regardless, it is southwestern natural beauty at its finest. It’s a canyon that remains beautiful even though there are so many ugly things about it. That in itself is almost as impressive as the natural erosion of Navajo sandstone into sublime slot canyons.

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