Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hiking Havasupai

A few posts ago I told you that some friends and I were going to do a Grand Canyon hike this fall and well, we did it! The last time we hiked the Grand Canyon, we were in the National Park and hiked down the Kaibab trail, camped at Phantom Ranch and came up the Bright Angel Trail. This time, we (Teresa, Laura, Diane and me) were on the Havasupai reservation and hiked the trail named after the tribe. Havasupai means "people of the blue green water." You have undoubtedly seen pictures of the beautiful falls and colorful pools there - they're quite famous.

So I was personally interested in two things: the hike itself, what we would see on the way down and the falls. They both promised to be fabulous. I knew we would be hiking into an Indian village, but I had no idea what it would be like and so for me it was more of a peripheral interest. Turned out that my ignorance of the people and their home ended up feeling like disrespect and I wished I had read the book "People of the Blue Green Water" before I had arrived there.

The village was fascinating and I found myself wanting more time to sit and talk with some of the people who lived there as I had a million questions. I felt like I should have been more aware of this place over 500 people call home and not just barreled into it ignorant. Live and learn.

The Havasupai don't live where any roads go. To get anything in or out requires a trip up the 9-mile trail by foot, horse or a flight on a helicopter. As we hiked from the rim Friday morning, trains of pack horses and mules passed us going up and down carrying peoples' bags, coolers, merchandise and even trash. Dogs trotted effortlessly along with the trains. The pack trains are apparently the main mode of making a living for the tribe now.

No cars down in the village naturally, but we did see a few of those four-wheel Polarises. Lots of horses and mules there - seemed like most people had them or herds of them. We stayed at the only lodge there instead of camping this time ( I was glad because I had sock issues on the way down, my feet were killing me by the time we got there and we would have had to hike another couple of miles past town to get to the campground).

Anyway, back to horses, the second day we were there, there was a loose horse grazing in the courtyard of the lodge! I guess it was their version of a lawnmower. He was doing a good job of it, too.

As I said, the main living there seems to be bringing some people, but mostly their stuff up and down the trail. Then there is the lodge, a couple small grocery stores and a cafe with a few staff people in each. That was about it. I didn't see any crafts or even souvenirs for sale there. The post office did sell postcards that you could have stamped by the post office with the Havasupai postmark when mailed from there. (Proof that you actually made it!)

The hike down on Friday took about 5 1/2 hours and we were taking pictures all the way. We met a group of women coming down from Utah on their annual adventure. Really nice ladies. We bumped into each other throughout our trip. Virtually hiked up and down almost on the same schedule, took pictures of each other at Mooney Falls. Really fun people. One of the benefits of doing these kinds of trips.

Friday night when we got there, we ate at the cafe, walked around the village a little and crashed. Saturday was our day to hit three of the four falls. The fourth, Beavers Falls, was too far this trip. Three young boys from the village came up to our balcony as we were getting ready to go. Asking us questions, just being social. We told them we were going to the falls and they told us that they could show us where they were - they'd been there a million times. But we didn't know where their parents were, didn't want the responsibility of little kids (10, 8, 6 I'm guessing) around water and falls and who knows what? We told them no, you can't go with us, but they were undeterred and just headed to the falls with us anyway - the farthest one being three miles away. I was a nervous mother the whole time worried one of them would go over the edge somewhere, but they actually ended up being kind of fun to have along. Talked all the way. When they ran off at Havasu Falls, the second major falls, in hopes of getting a reward for finding another hiker's hat, we were kind of relieved, but I also kind of missed them!

You may have heard that there was quite a flood there last year in late summer. We had planned this hike last September and had to cancel because of the devastation to the falls, trails and campgrounds. Mercifully, the town was spared, but one of the falls, Navajo, was totally destroyed. Now there is a new one in its place and you can still see how the water carved a path of destruction through the earth and the trees. It will take many years for the new falls to mature and become comfortable in its new skin.

So the first falls we saw was the new one and someone said they were calling it Rock Falls, but I'm not sure that's correct. Havasu Falls, the second falls, was easy to walk down to, had picnic tables dotted around it and this is it here.

We spent some down time there and then headed for Mooney Falls. It was also spectacular, but WAY harder to get to. The way down is not for the faint of heart or for someone who is out of shape. You have to do some basic rock climbing, stepping down backwards through two dark holes in the rock and down the cliff hanging onto big chains, finding footholds and grabbing spikes pounded into the rock. There are also a couple of short ladders to assist you. It was a little unnerving at first, but, boy was it worth it! We peeled off our boots and socks and hit the water as soon as we touched down. It was beautiful. Here are a few pictures of it and the funky climbing wall.

We spent awhile there enjoying ourselves. Our new friends from Utah arrived and two of them came down the rock face to the water. Later we spent some more time back at Havasu Falls and then came back to town before the cafe closed at 5:30 p.m. We heard later than had we hiked a little way farther towards Beaver Falls we would have run right into a herd of bighorn sheep. Darn!

We got up at oh dark hundred the next morning, Sunday, so we could hike in the cool of the day. We were on the trail by about 6:15 a.m. I was surprised at seeing virtually nobody on the trail but us for at least the first hour. I was beginning to wonder if we had missed the right trail. But there was lots of horse poop, so I just believed we must be right. And I don't think there is any other way out anyway. But when you're in a strange place, your mind can play tricks on you. Not only that but the way in and the way out look so different. That's why experts say to always look behind you as you hike so remember markers of the way back out.

You are mostly in a canyon on this hike after you leave the plateau above so you really have to pay attention to the weather. It is definitely not a place I would want to be caught in during a storm when water comes washing down through the canyon. In some places there are absolutely no places to go up.

We got back up in only 4 1/2 hours, said goodbye to our old and new friends and then Teresa and I drove home - about another seven hours. We did stop for lunch in Williams at a famous pie place. We figured that if there was any time we ever deserved to eat a piece of pie and not worry about the calories, it was then and so we did! It was a great trip, the weather was perfect and I look forward to going again one of these days. It was a real privilege.

Had to include this one picture of the cutest puppy with one floppy ear. We all loved him, fed him and wished we could take him home. But he was a little free spirit and we hope he does well.


  1. Oh oh oh Anne what a wonderful trip!! I so want to do that!! It sounds like you had a wonderful time!! Whoo I'm tired just reading about it! Facinating hon..thank you for sharing about it! I feel like I was there too!! And that pie place in Williams...yup I know that one!!
    Thanks for popping by my party..everyone loved your sweet pumpkin!! Meee too. :) Have a great Sunday hon! Love, Sarah

  2. What a great trip with your friends. I'm tired just reading about it!

  3. OMG, I'm so in awe of your hiking skills! and that rock wall???? What a challenge and scare at the same time! I clicked on that pic to enlarge it and scared myself even more! :p) I'm not sure I would have done it without a rope around me just in case. Oy. But it looks like you had another fabulous trip. So nice you have girlfriends who enjoy doing that. Makes it all more fun, right? That puppy looks like he at least had a collar. I hope he belonged to someone. Sweet. Thanks for the travelog! It was fun virtually being there with ya! xoxo B

  4. What a fun post! I doubt I will ever get to this area in this lifetime and appreciate your narrative and photos! When we were in the rainforest of Costa Rica we met people who climbed up and down steep hills/mountains daily. They were short, had barrel chests, and were as nimble as a mountain goat. I have the short part but am missing the other two! xo

  5. So cool Mom. Great pics! I've been dying to see that waterfall. Hopefully next year I can do it with you!

  6. What a fun trip! I truly doubt that I will ever get my husband to do any hiking like this with me. He is deathly afraid of heights so it was so great that you have these incredible pictures to show the beauty of the falls and the area. I think you WILL walk in to your 100th birthday party being able to do a hike like this!!

  7. My husband will never be able to do this with me either. That's what girlfriends are for!!! Go for it!!! (But train first.)

  8. Wow, what an awesome trip! Loved the pics, really spectacular. Thanks for sharing!