Breakfast Club
An Affiliate of the Arizona Pilots Assn.

The Knife & Fork

Breakfast Cluhb Visits Page/Antelope Canyon

13 Jun 2009
by Warren McIlvoy

The June Breakfast Club event was actually a re-schedule from last year when this event was weathered-out. Although flying to Page may not exactly light your fire, the addition of a side event to Antelope Canyon made this destination considerably more attractive. This year's event held an additional incentive of being the focus of an article to be published in the August issue of the Phoenix Magazine. My wife and I had the honor of bringing Keridwen Cornelius (writer) and Andrea Smith (photographer) to this fly-in event.

Our initial plan was to have breakfast at the Ranch House Grille and then take the 1130 Canyon tour. However, the tour company, Antelope Canyon Tours, informed me that the 1130 tour was sold-out but they did have openings in the 0800 and 0930 tour times. Since the 0800 tour time was way too early for me (we would have to get out of the sack by 0400), the 0930 time looked more appealing. If we arrived at Page by no later than 0830, we could get a van ride from Classic Aviation to the tour company in plenty of time for the 0930 tour. This meant having breakfast (or early lunch) following the tour. I could live with that.

We met Keridwen and Andrea in front of Atlantic Aviation at Deer Valley Airport and then drove over to our hangar. Since I had pre-flighted the airplane the day before, it was just a case of loading our gear and pulling the plane out of the hangar, kicking the tires, and then lighting the fire.

My flight plan would use Flagstaff as a waypoint but I would remain just to the east and outside the FLG class D airspace at 9500'. We would then follow the highway that heads north and is east of Humphrey's Peak.  Some folds elected to take the western route around the mountain but the distance is pretty much the same. The only difference that, when there is a wind out of the south or southwest, the lee side of the mountain can provide for an interesting ride. This was the case today although the turbulence was seldom anything more than light to moderate for a short period of time. By the time that we reached Tuba City, the air smoothed-out very nicely.

As the winds were out of the south at Page, runway 15 afforded the best choice for landing but with a slight crosswind. Following a "squeaker" landing (to impress my guests), we taxied to the west side of the ramp near Classic Aviation. Many of our group had already arrived but we were certainly not the last. After securing the aircraft, we all gathered on the patio of the FBO and waited for the rest of the Breakfast Club folks. After all had arrived, we loaded-up the van for the 1-mile drive to the tour company on Lake Powell Blvd.

The tour vehicles were flatbed trucks with a row of seats, back to back, down the middle of the bed. The back was open save for a canvas top and rails around the sides. We were at the mercy of the wind for the 12 or so minute ride where we turned-off the paved highway onto a wide, sandy, dry riverbed. About a 10-minute ride over the sandy trail got us to the entry to Antelope Canyon (also referred to as a "slot canyon").

Here is how one writer describes the magical place:

"Antelope Canyon lies on Navajo land in the American southwest, nestled hidden in the Arizona landscape. One of the world's true natural wonders, it is a place of splendid serenity, the sort of spot where people find themselves talking in hushed whispers without quite knowing why. As a slot canyon, it has been formed over thousands of years by the gradual wear of water rushing through rock.

Slot canyons are exceptionally narrow, far deeper than they are wide, and Antelope Canyon's fantastic whorls and contours can be up to 150 feet tall, while being observable only by very small groups shuffling along the sandy floor. The canyon was formed by the erosion of Navajo sandstone, chiefly due to flash floods that still occur here, making this very much an artwork still in progress.

Rainwater, particularly in the monsoon season, runs into a large basin overlooking the slot canyon, picking up speed and sand as it runs into the narrow passageways. Grain by grain, the corridors are deepened and the edges smoothed to form the exquisite shapes and graceful curves in the rock. Wind too has played a part in eroding and sanding this majestic canyon.

The geological rock sculpting here is split into two distinct areas. The Navajo people fittingly call Upper Antelope Canyon Tse' bighanilini, which means "the place where water runs through rocks". Lower Antelope Canyon, known to the Navajo as Hasdestwazi, or "spiral rock arches", is less visited, as it is a longer and tougher hike and must be climbed into via metal stairways".

In the majority of instances, one would look down into a canyon and try to absorb the beauty and vastness of the region. Here, at Antelope Canyon, you are at the bottom of the canyon looking up and in some instances, a 100' or more. The twisted, sandstone walls of the canyon have been shaped by wind and water for thousands of years and array of shapes and colors are mind boggling. The photos that accompany this story do not begin to compare to those done by professional photographers under ideal conditions. The trail through the canyon is only about 3/4 of mile long but you are constantly looking up which can cause a serious crick in ones neck. The sun's rays that filter down from the top highlight the vast array of shapes and colors that soon overwhelm the senses.

At the end of the narrow passageway, the walls widened-out and the sky opened to bright sunshine and folks gathered into groups for photo ops. The only way out was a return trip through the slot canyon but you saw the eroded walls from a different angle so everything that you saw on the way in, looked different on the way out. When the canyon is not crowded with tourist, I can certainly understand why the Navajo people view this as a "spiritual place".

At the appointed time, our tour group met back at the truck for the 20-minute ride back into town. From the tour company office, it is about a two-block walk to the Ranch House Grille for our morning meal. For the majority of us, we adhered to the tradition of having breakfast at a Breakfast Club fly-in but a few opted for an early lunch. This down time gave us an opportunity to share the morning's experiences with our fellow aviators and guests. After breakfast, some folks chose to make the 3/4-mile hike back to the airport but the rest of us waited for the van.

After making the mandatory "pit stop", we boarded the aircraft for the return trip. The winds were still favoring runway 15 as we made our straight-out departure. My plan was to climb to 9500' and take the coarse around the west side of Humphrey's Peak to avoid what were sure to be, by now, enthusiastic gyrations of the winds on the lee side of the mountain. That part of the plan worked-out OK but we had our share of turbulence along the entire route. Our altitude varied between 9000' to almost 11,000'. Trying to hold an altitude and heading was an exercise in futility. It was not jarring or anything like that, just constant movement to the point that I did not bother to engage the auto pilot. Due to the headwinds, what should have been about a 90-minute trip, turned into a 2-hour trip. Eventually we made it back to Deer Valley and my intrepid passengers were neither green nor did they give-up their meal. They should get a little extra from their company for this assignment.

The Page/Antelope Canyon Party

What's Next?

The July Breakfast Club event will be an old favorite, Marana, Arizona and Nancy's Skyway Café. August will see us going to the all time favorite, Sedona, Arizona and the Sedona Airport Café. That's all for now but remember, fly safe.

Click on the Page/Antelope Canyon link to view photos of this fly-in event.

Click on the Phoenix Magazine article to read Keridwen's write-up.