June 4, 2009
In August of 2008, Havasu Canyon was devastated by a major flood that altered the landscape and the character of its famous waterfalls. Bridges, trails, and the campground were all washed out.
Visitors were rescued via helicopter. It was a mess.
As a result, the Havasupai closed their lands to visitors for almost a year. They didn’t reopen until June 1st of 2009.
I first visited Havasu in June of 2008, and was curious to see how it changed after the flood. So as I often did at this time in my life at the Canyon, I made a spur of the moment decision to go do this hike.
I stayed up too late the previous night with wine and spirits, and didn’t leave the South Rim Village until 9am. The drive from the South Rim to the Hualapai Hilltop takes about 3 to 3.5 hours, depending on how fast you go, so I didn’t begin hiking until after noon.
I moved along at brisk pace, intent on making good time. Passing through the Supai Village at 3pm, I only had about 2.5 hours to check out the falls before hiking back out after 5:30.
It was nearly 8:30pm when I returned to to the Hualapai Hilltop, with the 3-hour drive home still ahead of me. The day totaled about 18 miles of hiking – with over 6 hours of driving – but it was all worth it.
Changes to the Waterfalls
The changes that occurred are old news, but I made the following notes after the hike:
Navajo Falls is obliterated, and now exists only in the history books. The good news is that two new waterfalls were carved out of the canyon, upstream of the old site of Navajo Falls. The landscape surrounding these falls still needs some healing, but the new falls are beautiful with great potential.
Havasu Falls is now a leaner version of its old self – more narrow where it first spills over the cliff. The riparian paradise around the pools is different, but it still retains much of its original beauty.
I did not continue down to Mooney Falls, but it reportedly has changed very little – except for the pool at its base.
The two “new” waterfalls were still unnamed at the time. Eventually they’d be coined as New Navajo Falls and Rock Falls.
In the weeks that followed my visit, I heard that the two new waterfalls were being called Lewis Falls and Rock Falls. The source claimed that the names belonged to old prospectors that mined the area. I never heard any other reference to those names.
What I remember most from the hike (beside the excitement of an ambitious day trip on short notice and discovering the new falls) is the raw dirt of reconstruction, a group of teens led by a dentist (from Prescott I believe) who were cliff jumping the Rock Falls (and having the time of their lives), and the meditative hike back to the rim after sunset.
I knew I’d captured something interesting with all the photos I took, and didn’t hesitate to post them on the original version of Down The Trail. It was the first report in existence with imagery of the new waterfalls, and the post quickly gained the most views I’d ever had on my site.
The newspaper in Flagstaff even asked me for permission to print some of the photos, but they wanted them for free so I turned them down. I mean, a photographer for the paper couldn’t exactly drive to Hualapai Hilltop and hike in and grab some photos at no cost, could they?
notes from the hike
Above the village I noticed little difference in the canyon from my previous visit. A few large trees still stood on the floor of Hualapai Canyon.
Here was my first look at the aqua-colored water, at the bridge above the village where you first meet the creek. The old bridge was still there.
The Supai Village seemed unchanged to me as well, without visible damage to the structures or dirt roads.
The damage immediately became more apparent below the village, where a large swath of dirt ran along the creek. I could see that they had been hard at work to repair the trail and redevelop the area.
From Rock Falls it was possible to pick my way upstream to the New Navajo Falls, but it required some rock hopping and route founding. There was no designated trail.
I continued down the canyon to check out the entrance to the campground, but that’s as far as I went. It looked okay to me, but that really means nothing since I had never been there before.
It wasn’t until this trip when it occurred to me that the Supai Group geological formation could take its name from the Havasupai Village. Virtually the entire hike to Supai takes place in this rock layer.
The Watchers still stand, so all is well in the grand scheme of things at Havasu Canyon.
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