Antelope Canyon by Paddle

It’s November in Colorado and one of the driest years in recent history. As a paddling family we are not quite ready to hang up the paddles for what we hope will be a very snowy winter. It’s our daughter Abby’s Thanksgiving break and we have a long history of spending Thanksgiving in the desert of Utah.

This year our lust to be in our boats has led us to Lake Powell. A place that has been on our list to explore but has always been overshadowed by dreams of big rapids and fast surf waves. But now is the time to check out some of the stories I’ve heard about exploring the slot canyons this region is famous for, and we want to do it in a kayak. After looking online and researching late into the night on Google Earth, we hone in on Antelope Canyon. This is the most famous of all the slot canyons. Every landscape photographer in the southwest has made their pilgrimage to photograph the red undulating walls soaring up into the darkness with a laser like sunbeam splitting the canyon in the most dramatic fashion, and we as photographers, we are no exception. However, this time, we are looking for a different approach to explore the canyon.

About 5 miles from where all the tourists flock, the canyon meets the main channel of Lake Powell, and you can paddle up into the lower sections and explore the flooded end of Antelope Canyon. You can reach the mouth of the canyon by paddling about a mile from the Antelope marina. We took the Jackson Ibis and a Rogue 10 along with Abby’s Fun 1. Once in the canyon proper we entered a labyrinth of vertical walls with very few ledges or beaches you could get out on. As we went further, the canyon got narrower and narrower.

The sounds and light bounced around and had a play on the mind at times. Around every bend we expected to see other people but remained alone in our adventure. Abby paddled into small caves where only a Fun 1 could fit with Kathy and I looking in behind her. Looking down into the clear water you could see the rock walls receding into the inky blue depths. Sometimes I got a sense of vertigo because the water was so clear it felt as if we were flying over the deep canyons below. After some two-ish miles of paddling, we came around another bend to see the water end on a small sandy beach with the canyon continuing on around the bend.

We hiked another few miles exploring as the canyon constricted even tighter around us. In some places you could touch both walls with outreached arms. There was the occasional chock stone step that choked the tightest sections. Abby and I scrambled up and as I looked back to help Kathy with an outreached hand up the step, I noticed a 2.5 foot rattle snake coiled squarely between Kathy’s feet where Abby and I had just passed. I said “There is a snake between your feet” she looked up puzzled as if she had not understood what I had just said. So I said it again with a little more exclamation. She gave me that look like you are just kidding me. So this time I yelled “Rattlesnake!!! Between your feet!!!!!” She looked down in disbelief and immediately launched into a perfect Wyle E. Coyote peel-out that seemed to hover in mid air for seconds before flying to the other side of the canyon. After she joined me up the step and away from the Diamondback I asked if she was bitten?

After stripping out of the brand new Kokatat drysuit to check her legs and feet for fang marks, we deemed her safe and bite free. We attribute the 50ish degree temperature in the shady canyon for a very sluggish rattler that thankfully didn’t strike. We hiked on to have a lunch stop on a water carved slab of rock with the canyon all to ourselves. After a half mile or so, we decided to head back to the boats on the beach at the end of the canyon. Once back in our boats, we paddled into the first small amphitheater with shallow water clear enough to see a school of trout hovering below. I wish I’d brought my fly-rod as it would have easily fit in the Ibis or Rogue but it sat in my truck back at the marina – next time…..

On the paddle out we were quieter and really had a chance to take in the peace and solitude we love about the Utah desert. It was a great treat to explore such a remarkable environment by kayak. As we took our last strokes back to the empty marina parking lot and our truck, the last rays of sun passed beneath the canyon wall. It had been a full day of family adventure at it’s finest. We were very surprised at how much we enjoyed paddling in Lake Powell and vowed to come back to explore another canyon maybe even as a multi-day trip. Next fall when the rivers fall dormant, we are very much looking forward to loading up the Ibis and Rogue for some overnight, flat-water family exploration.

Comments on “Antelope Canyon by Paddle”

  1. Patrick
    January 18, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Sounds like a great trip! Just a heads up – if that picture is of the snake you saw on this trip, I believe that is a relatively harmless bullsnake, not a rattler.

    1. Peter Holcombe
      January 29, 2013 at 9:58 pm

      Hi Patrick,
      Glad you liked the trip. It was a great family adventure we will remember forever.

      I actually caught the snake to move it so Abby and Kathy could pass in the narrow slot canyon and it was definitely a Diamond Back. I got a good look at the triangular head, large fangs dripping with venom and most telling of all it had a few sets of rattles on the stubby tail although it was only a few years old. The young ones can be the most dangerous though if they bite.
      Cool to see but I was glad it was cool and moving slow or things could have been a lot different. A good reminder to be careful out there.

      -Peter Holcombe

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