Watching the sun stretch its arms over rust colored plateaus in the distance as we started our decent in to the Havasupai river valley was certainly a sight to see. Little did I know that it would hardly be scratching the surface of the amazing landscapes that we would be surrounded with the next few days.
It was a clear, cool early morning in November and we were just beginning our 3-day hiking trip down in to the Havasupai Indian Reservation in Arizona, a secluded and other-worldly destination on the edge of Grand Canyon National Park. From the trail head, it’s an 8-mile hike into the canyon to the, err, “town” of Supai. A seemingly dilapidated, yet oddly charming secluded dwelling that’s home to the Havasupai Indians. The, pretty much entirely, downhill hike to the town was an easy one, yet one we would be dreading taking back out on the third day. After obtaining our permits at the entrance station (there’s a lottery system to gain entrance to the reservation each year, which we were lucky enough to obtain), it’s another quick 2-mile hike to the campgrounds. We decided to stop in Supai for a famed “Supai taco” (or just a giant chalupa, really) made with a fried tortilla, rice, beans, meat, cheese, and vegetables. Not really a hiker’s best choice, but it was “a thing” and so we had to try it.
On our way to the campgrounds, it quickly became clear just what we were in store for the next couple of days. Pools upon pools of crystal-clear water fed by gushing waterfalls greeted us along the way, which then gave way to neon blue streams of water feeding in to neon blue and clear pools of water. The pictures just don’t do it justice. These spring-fed waters apparently take on lots of lime deposits as the run through the canyon, giving the water a look that resembled Gatorade more so than water. The sprawling campground ran alongside the banks of the Supai river for about a quarter of a mile or so. We took stock of the availability and chose a nice site nestled up against the side of the canyon, big enough for our three tents. Everything here is hike in and hike out. No RVs, no campers, no other access except for by donkey. This made for refreshingly minimal campsites by more seasoned hikers and campers and thankfully kept out the mega-RVs that tend to (in my opinion) ruin the ambience of many parks and campgrounds. We settled in, made camp, and prepared for the next day, in which we would take a 20-mile roundtrip hike to where the Supai River met the Colorado (the confluence, it’s called, for how the bright blue waters swirls with the muddy brown of the Colorado). Before bed, though, we took a quick night hike to Havasaupi falls to get this amazing photo.
The next morning was an early one, as we needed to have enough time to make it to the confluence and back before sundown (about 5:30pm). The beginning (and subsequently tail end) of the hike was a scale down, then up, a waterfall that none of us wanted to make in the pitch-black darkness. This was hands down the most amazing hike that I have ever been on. Aside from my great fear of heights (there were several cliff edges along the way), the hike was phenomenal. You are ascending down waterfalls, scaling the cliffside, tiptoeing (or so it seemed) along cliff edges, while climbing in and out of the canyon, crossing the Supai river in multiple places along the way. The trail was quite rugged at times, yet fairly well marked (although I would not have wanted to navigate it alone). Lucky for us, one of the members of our crew had been here before and had some knowledge of the area, which led to much reassurance by the rest of us. The scenery was incredible and I don’t know what hurt worse the next day, my legs or my neck from constantly looking up and around the canyon at the amazing views.
Pro-tip: Bring a good pair of water-proof shoes for this hike. I mistakenly left mine at home and therefore hiked most of the initial 10 miles barefoot. Not so bad on the way down, but it took its toll on the way back.
We reached the confluence a little after noon, right on schedule. While the sun and shade made it hard to make out the blue/brown swirl of the water, we were able to take some time to relax, enjoy the views, and take a chilly dip in the canyon through the bright blue water. The outside temperature was probably in the 60s/70s and the water was pretty cold, so we didn’t spend much time in it. During the summer months though it would likely feel like heaven on earth.
After our brief stay in the confluence, we high tailed it on a swifter pace to make it back before the sun went down. We made it back to Mooney Falls (the waterfall we scaled down at the start of the hike), and scaled it back up to the top right at 5:25. Any hiccups on the way back and we’d be climbing it back up in the pitch black. The way up was much much better than the way down (especially for anyone scared of heights), but not sure I could have done it at night (though perhaps it would have been easier had I not been able to see how high we were off the ground). After an exhausting 20 miles, we relaxed at camp, ate dinner, played dominoes, and reminisced on likely one of the greatest hikes I will ever go on.
The next morning was our hike back out of the canyon and back to reality. I mentioned earlier that the hike in was mostly downhill, which meant we were up for a nice little challenge on the way back up. Hiking 10 miles uphill after hiking 30 the previous two days isn’t necessarily a walk in the park. As we reached the last mile or so, the remaining switchbacks out of the canyon faced the afternoon sun, making for a very slow (and very hot, even though it was November) last mile. The almost 40 pounds of gear and water on my back didn’t make it much easier either.
Finally at the top I looked back at the canyon, still in amazement. What an incredible experience. For any lover of the outdoors, Havasupai should definitely make it on your bucket list, and soon. I will definitely be planning my trip back again sooner rather than later, to spend more time in this dessert oasis that’s unlike any place I have ever been before.
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