In the Shadows of the Ma’iitsoh
See It in your Space
Have you ever really wanted to go somewhere, but upon having the chance, time moves faster than you wanted?
Antelope Canyon, depicted here, had me feeling this way. It’s one of those places that looks otherworldly and amazes those who visit, with it’s unbelievable formations that seem unnatural on this earth. Rainwater, especially during the monsoon season, runs into the canyon sections, picking up speed and sand as it is forced through narrow passageways. The passageways, eroded over time, leave the corridors deeper, slowly smoothing the canyons hard edges resulting in ‘flowing’ shapes in the rock.
There are many things I consider beautiful, but not much compares to the impact of seeing Antelope Canyon first-hand. The artwork that nature provides through the power of water, sand, and time is mind-boggling.
Located on the cusp of Navajo Nation, the canyon is known to the Navajo as Tse’ bighanilini, which means “the place where water runs through rocks”. The colourful sandstone crevasse is one of the most famous slot canyons in the American Southwest, located near Page, Arizona. The English named it Antelope Canyon after the Pronghorn Antelope that once freely roamed here. The twisting, winding, clay canyon was created over many thousands of years and will continue to transform for thousands more.
Antelope Canyon can only be viewed through guided tours, in part because the rains during monsoon season can quickly flood the canyon. Rain falling dozens of miles away upstream of the canyons can funnel into them with little prior notice. During a rainstorm, flash floods are known to happen quickly. The last major flood occurred on October 30, 2006, that lasted 36 hours and caused the Tribal Park Authorities to close Lower Canyon for five months.
To capture in the Shadows of the Ma’iitsoh, I walked through this canyon of colour alongside a Navajo guide. He was quick to point out images visible in the landscape before me. He explained that the Navajo interpret the rock formations finding deep meaning within many of them. Similar to the way many of us see shapes in clouds, my guide pointed out rock interpretations, like a bear growling from a hidden spot, and an Indian Chief with prominent cheekbones and flowing headdress. The canyon images reminded me of the Navajo’s ancient connection to their spirit guides. Contemplating my surroundings while watching the light play around me, it was then that the image of a wolf howling towards the sky jumped out at me outlined by the dark purples that are contrasted by the deep orange in the very background of the photograph. The Wolf, or Ma’iitsoh as the Navajo people call it, is worshiped as a god and an ancestor. I also felt connected to something as I stood on this sacred ground soaking up the energy of the sun and the rock formations around me.
The canyon is filled with an abundance of colour resulting from the sunlight gaining entry through narrow slots and bouncing between the walls. The canyon walls let just enough sunlight through to slightly warm the orange sandstone, bringing its hues to life. In the foreground, you see bright reds, that evolve into dark purples, while in the background, the image is brighter – almost bright orange. As my Navajo guide outlined the meaning found in many rocks, I found meaning in a few of my own.
In photographing ‘In the Shadows of the Ma’iitsoh’ I learned how slight changes in my positioning – things like my stance, or the lighting, drastically changed the outcome of the image. I’m challenged, as a photographer, to stop and enjoy a moment like this one as it’s unfolding. Instead, I get so caught up in capturing the moment with the camera, I often forget to take a moment or two and enjoy it for myself. Thankfully, on this day, I took the time to breathe in the sights, sounds, and smells around me and enjoy “being” in this majestic and sacred place. A true geologic wonder, Antelope Canyon is breathtaking and likely full of mysteries yet to be discovered.