PHOENIX (KSAZ) - It's one of the most beautiful sights in Arizona: Antelope Canyon -- a sandstone slot canyon on the Navajo Reservation.
But because it's so remote and so far away from the valley, few ever make the 276 mile drive here from Phoenix all the way to Antelope Canyon, which is near the Utah border.
If you drive yourself, you're looking at a minimum two night hotel stay, plus reservations and fees, but now there's another way: a Tempe-based company is offering a one-day trip to Antelope Canyon aboard a sightseeing coach bus that seats 12. We climbed aboard to see what so many of us are missing.
"We wanted to really experience Arizona," said Cristina Garcia.
All the way from Lansing, Illinois, Garcia and her mother, Maria, joined the tour after being picked up at their Scottsdale hotel.
"You are only here for so long and try to get in as much as you can," said Patrick Frost.
Patrick and Merl Frost from North Carolina climbed aboard and we were on our way. Our tour guide drivers were Don Stevens and Paul Schweitzer. Detours Director of Marketing, Kate Hartley, joined us too.
"Detours of Arizona is actually the only tour guide company in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area that offers day tours to Antelope Canyon," said Hartley.
This day tour started with a beautiful Arizona sunrise and the first camera clicks in McGuireville. A little UFO fun at a roadside store -- the truth is out there -- it's just not in McGuireville.
The first scheduled stop: Horseshoe Bend. Hundreds of people snapped photos of this iconic Arizona image where the Colorado River takes nearly a 360 degree turn about 900 feet down.
"It wasn't exactly what I expected it to be.. it's breathtaking," said Frost.
y"You get great views from just about any point that you are looking at," said Stevens.
There's no guardrail here, which makes some people nervous.
"I just talked to the ranger. It's quite safe. Nobody's fallen since he's been here," added Stevens.
Others take advantage by staging risky selfies.
"There are people from all over the world here.. this is definitely international," said Stevens.
After a quick lunch in Page, we approached the highlight of our tour. By 1:00 p.m., we were at Antelope Canyon -- 276 miles northeast of Phoenix -- and it was time to take more photos.
Our guide was Kenneth Young of Ken's Tours.
"Today, I think all the group is going down into the canyon," he said.
He was the first to begin Navajo tours of the canyon in 1992.
"Back in 1992.. that's when I started my office, was right there with a small chair and a table and an umbrella," he said.
Just a short walk from Ken's visitor center, we plunged down a small hole and into the famous slot canyon. There used to be only rope ladders here. Now, there is a much more sturdy steel staircase.
The slot canyon is famous for its views, carved over hundreds of years by water running through sandstone. Nature's finest carvings, illuminated by a narrow slit of sunshine above.
It was a flash flood that killed 11 people here in 1997. Young pulled the only survivor to safety.
"People wanted to come here to see what happened.. pretty soon everybody just started pouring in," he said.
But on a clear day, 400 to 500 people can be safely guided through the canyon. The narrow passageways can get a bit tight, but the view is worth the lack of elbow room.
"Antelope Canyon.. that was so amazing to be in there, to see all of those formations," said Cristina.
"It's a whole different world under there," said Maria.
About 90 minutes later, one more steep climb out of the canyon. Next stop, Lee's Ferry -- once the only way to get across the Colorado River. Now it's a jumping off point for raft rides down the Grand Canyon.
"They start here and go down river and it's about a 12 to 14 day tour that they take," said Schweitzer.
Then at the Navajo Bridge, a California condor was seen. The birds were nearly extinct. Now there are more than 400 in the area.
"We learned about the California condor and to be able to see one was extremely rare, so we were very excited," said Cristina.
The final stop: dinner at the historic Cameron Trading Post north of Flagstaff.
"It's definitely a long day for some, but it's totally worth it for some visitors and some locals who only have a day to get up to northern Arizona and see that beautiful slot canyon," said Hartley.
More than 600 miles in just one day, but as everyone found out, their pictures are worth a thousand words -- and more.
The 15-hour day trip starts at $370 per person. Detours of Arizona just added the Antelope Canyon tour, but also has one-day tours to the Grand Canyon, Sedona and Tombstone.