June 29, 2008
I lived at the Grand Canyon for a short time before I heard about the blue-green waterfalls at Havasupai.
Locals raved that the waterfalls were beautiful, not-to-be missed, and so on.
So one day in late June, my friend Jamie and I set out to go see the waterfalls – as a day trip.
The drive to the trailhead at Hualapai Hilltop from the South Rim Village takes about 3.5 hours (one-way), and the round trip hike to Havasu Falls is 20 miles – so this was a very long day. According to the time stamps on my photos, we spent about 11 hours on the trail.
I did very little (if any) research prior to the hike. All I knew was that there was a trail, in a part of the Grand Canyon outside the National Park (on a native reservation) that led to spectacular waterfalls.
I liked starting hikes somewhat blind to their details, but I also don’t think there was a wealth of information about Havasu Falls online at the time, like there is today. It was still somewhat of a local Arizona secret, before the latter days of Instagram fame.
Consequently, I didn’t know that overnight permits are required (since only a young fool in their 20s would day hike this), and that day-hiking is now prohibited there. Things were more laid back at the time (with ambiguous clarity on day hiking permission), so I actually day-hiked to the falls on two more future occasions, before they tightened up the rules. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.
4 Waterfalls in 2008
Havasu Creek is what we call a side-canyon, a major tributary of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. As you explore down Havasu Creek, in 2008 there were 4 main waterfalls to be seen (Today there’s 5, more on that in a moment).
The waterfalls, in order of descent, were Navajo Falls, Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls, and Beaver Falls. We only saw Havasu Falls on this day, due to lack of research before the hike. The hike’s length and brutal summer heat of June played a role in this lack of exploration too.
Old Navajo Falls
I’d live to regret the missed opportunity to view and photograph Navajo Falls on this day. Only 2 months later (in August of 2008), a monstrous flash flood came tearing down Havasu Creek. Bridges and trails were wiped out, and almost 500 people were evacuated.
The course of the creek was altered, and the old arrangement of Navajo Falls as a cascading fall through thick brush was bypassed, and no longer exists. The flood created 2 new waterfalls that day, now called New Navajo Falls and Rock Falls.
So I missed this single opportunity to see the old Navajo Falls. Rats.
Photos & Notes
What impressed me most wasn’t the waterfalls – it was the isolated, inherently magical quality of the full experience. Walking into Supai felt like traveling overseas, to a foreign country’s hidden paradise.
From Peach Springs, AZ to the trailhead at Hualapai Hilltop, there’s a 60 mile road with nothing on it but desert – no power lines, no gas stations, nothing.
The only way to reach Supai Village in the depths of Grand Canyon is via helicopter, horseback, or on foot. It’s an 8 mile hike down to the village, and the waterfalls are even farther down the canyon.
The village evokes feelings of a more simple time. US Postal Service mail and other supplies, for example, are still delivered via the labor of pack animals. You can say the same about Phantom Ranch in the National Park, but the atmosphere is somewhat of a facade, created by design. Supai is more real.
From the rim at Hualapai Hilltop, the trail descends into the canyon with typical switchbacks. This upper stretch is the most strenuous part of the trail on the return.
The man in yellow below waved to us and said “Welcome to Havasu!”
They say that Supai Village is the only place in the United States that still has its mail delivered via pack animals.
The canyon begins to narrow as it draws near to a junction.
This lone, probably abandoned horse was sweating profusely and seemed very agitated. It was jerking its head up and down, trying to remove its bridle. There was a fleeting urge to help it, but the horse seemed too agitated to risk doing so. Besides, we were merely visitors.
From the start the trail follows what’s called Hualapai Canyon, until it meets Havasu Canyon at a main junction. Above the junction, Havasu Creek is technically called Cataract Creek This is where natural springs offer the mineral-rich, blue-green water for which Havasu is famous.
Supai Village lies only a short way below the junction, and the falls are beyond the village, deeper in the canyon.
Access to the creek here afforded a much-needed dip in the cool water.
I soaked my clothes until they were dripping wet, but they were bone-dry again within ten minutes.
This is the first residence that we saw in the Supai village. The two prominent rocks above are called “The Watchers.” Havasupai legend says that if the rocks should fall, then the canyon will close up and their people will cease to exist.
We stopped to take a break on the porch of the general store, and made friends with this cat.
The store sold frozen Gatorade, such a treat!
The village was an interesting, peaceful place. They have a sort of town square, where there was a man with speakers that played reggae music. It echoing down the street.
The roar of flowing water could be heard long before reaching the top of Havasu Falls.
We spent at least an hour here, admiring the waterfall.
The return hike up the canyon was steady and uneventful, with lighter traffic on the trail compared to the early midday heat.
We reached the parking lot shortly after nightfall, and settled in for the drive back to the South Rim.