How was Antelope Canyon formed?

One of the most photographed place in the world is located in Arizona. It is Antelope Canyon, and we now understand really well how it was created. So, how was Antelope Canyon formed?

Antelope Canyon formed thanks to water eroding the sandstone. This is the reason why the Navajo people call Upper Antelope Canyon “Tse’bighanilini,” which means “the place where water runs through rocks” in English.

The Science behind Antelope Canyon’s formation

Knowing that water is the reason why Antelope Canyon formed is good, but understanding deeply what hapened is better. Let’s dive deeper into the scientific explanations.

How to make a canyon in 1 minute? (YouTube tutorial)

To help you understand exactly what we are going to talk about, I will first let you view this video of a tour guide explaining to the tourists how Antelope Canyon formed. This is very educational and easy to understand. Most of the tour guides do that little presentation during tours.

That video helps to understand how the general phenomenon works. It is not 100% precise, but it really is how everything happened. The only point which is not exactly true is when the tour guide talks about the flash flood.

The truth behind flash floods and Antelope Canyon’s formation

Flash floods do not touch only one part of the sandstone: it rains everywhere. However, the canyon is created. How is that possible? Because, if we do like the tour guide did, and put some water everywhere on the sandstone to simulate the flash flood, the whole rock is destroyed.

The canyon’s formation is possible thanks to rifts. The rock that is created thanks to the consecutive layers of sand and water is pretty solid. However, it is not perfectly homogeneous. Some microscopic rifts are already existing inside the sandstone. This is where rifts form. Water infiltrates in those microscopic rifts, enlarging time slowly but surely. Then, thanks to the work of the time, larger rifts appear.

At that point, when a flash flood happens, the rift is too fragile and cannot support the weight of water falling harshly on it. The sandstone breaks and creates the canyon.

Now that we precisely know how Antelope Canyon formed, we can start thinking about the future of Antelope Canyon.

brown rock formation during day time
Picture from Jason Zhao.

The future of Antelope Canyon

The world that our children will see

The future of the places we visit tends to spark our interest. Will our children have the chance to see the world as we see it? For some places, this is totally the case. For example, some trees stand here for hundreds of years. Hence, if your children walk in the same path in the same forest as you were walking 30 years earlier, they will basically see what you saw.

However, for some places, this is not true. This is the case for Antelope Canyon. Now that you know how it was formed, you probably understand why. Antelope Canyon is such a fragile place. It is simply layers of sand. Since water had a decisive impact during the formation of Antelope Canyon, it also has a decisive impact during its destruction. Indeed, the water keeps flowing in the canyon. Sometimes, floods even accelerate the process.

Floods in Antelope Canyon

Floods in Antelope Canyon can be very dangerous. Even if it is what created Antelope Canyon, it does not mean that is it something to see. For that point, I will just let you view the following video of a family who got caught in a flash flood.

This video was posted by UtahMotoTrails.

That very impressive video is a few years old, but this phenomenon still happens. What impressed me the most is the color of the water: it’s very brown! Indeed, the rain falls directly in the canyon and takes sand from the walls during its fall. This shows how quickly Antelope Canyon can erode.

How will Antelope Canyon look like in a thousand years?

Since Antelope Canyon is constantly eroding, it’s safe to ask ourselves how it will look like in a thousand years. But the answer to that question is not that easy! Indeed, even if the Antelope Canyon we know right now erodes, some parts around it can also be created. Let me explain myself.

I am not saying that a second Antelope Canyon will appear 10 miles away from the one we currently know. What I am saying is that some corridors keep getting built. Hence, some parts of the Antelope Canyon may erode so much that future generations will not even be able to recognize the pictures we are taking right now. But some parts of the canyon will also be created. This way, we would not be able to recognize the pictures future generations take.

brown cave in antelope canyon wallpaper photo
Picture from Paulius Dragunas.

Enjoying the constantly-evolving Antelope Canyon

All this reasoning brings us to a deep conclusion. The best is simply to enjoy Antelope Canyon for its current beauty. Enjoying it as it is right now is the best way to experience Antelope Canyon. Also, thanks to technology, we can now capture every angle of Antelope Canyon. This is what I talked about in another article related to Antelope Canyon. Photographing Antelope Canyon is such a huge challenge, and Raffaele Cabras talked with me about it.

In one thousand years, thanks to all that data, we will be able to create incredible 3D videos and recreations of the Antelope Canyon’s evolution. What we do not know yet is whether one thousand years is long enough to see a drastic evolution. Since the human scale is so ridiculous compared to Nature’s scale, the answer is probably no.

The erosion of Antelope Canyon is a long-term phenomenon. We will probably never see the difference as human-beings. However, what we can do as humans is avoiding to accelerate that process. To do that, we should take care of Antelope Canyon when we visit it: avoid scratching the walls for example. Because one scratch could translate into water running through it, and translate into way more!

One Comment

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *