Havasupai, a beautiful paradise located deep below the Grand Canyon in the Havasupai Indian Reservation. An awesome breathtaking oasis in the middle of the desert. Where do I begin to tell you my adventure story?
Havasupai means blue-green water people. A place where an American Indian tribe living along the Havasu Creek which the water has high calcium carbonate concentration that creates the vivid blue-green color and forms the natural travertine dams that occur in various locations near the waterfalls. The most famous waterfalls along Havasu Creek are Upper and Little Navajo Falls, Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls, and Beaver Falls. The creek ends up merging with the Colorado River.
I had wished to come to this amazing place 2 decades ago, few years after I set foot in the United States of America, as I heard about it on the news. I bought my camping gear as early as last year. My goal was to go there with my sister on the 4th of July weekend this year by calling their office in February to make a reservation. Alas, after several calls, I couldn’t get through. Plus, my sister is afraid of heights that concerns her on climbing down Mooney Falls. So on March 20th, I heard from my friend Roberto Castañón that his family are heading there with a large group on the same weekend I was eyeing for. He checked and I was placed on a waiting list. Months passed by and I didn’t get an update. A couple of weeks before the trip, I checked back with Christina Hinojosa, the organizer of the event. She would get back to me after she checked her paperwork at her office. I kept my fingers crossed and prayed that I would get in. Suddenly, I saw my name being invited in a closed group event on Facebook. My prayers had been answered. Many many thanks to Christina. This was my first backpacking trip and what a way to start it off.
Our road trip started at 5:30pm on Tuesday night as I hopped in Ismael Cardenas’ car together with Melevy Sorto and Mario Flores. Had stopovers at Barstow and a rest stop area where Mario saw a snake near the restroom and he later took over the wheel. As we turned left from I-40 to the historic Route 66 and another left to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Road 18, little did we know that there were wild animals along the road. We swerve a couple of times just to avoid the cows but it didn’t end well with the rabbit or squirrels that we hit. When we reached Hualapai Hilltop parking around 3 am, we heard that the other members of our group had similar incidents and we’re not so lucky by hitting a cow and a large elk which slightly dented their cars. My advice for those who are driving at night to Havasupai is to slow down, high beams on, and be aware of your surroundings.
The trailhead starts at Hualapai Hilltop, that sits around 1,200 ft. above the canyon floor, which is a large parking lot with a helipad and portable toilets. The trail can be traveled by foot or horseback. Either way, parts of your body will still feel the pain. Transportation by helicopter is periodically available but the Havasupai Indians have first priority. Reserving Mule service can also be purchased for luggage and packs with strict weight limits. Prices/Fees may change, so please check online. Here are some websites to look at:
It is an 8 mile trip to Supai Village from the Hilltop. The town is a mile long; it is the capital of the Havasupai Indian Reservation; and is one of the most remote cities in the contiguous United States. Supai’s main source of revenue is tourism. The tribe charges for entering its land, and visitors are required to reserve either a room at their lodge, or space at the campground. The town receives more than 20,000 visitors per year. Add 2 more miles to reach the campground.
At 4:30 am, I loaded my 34 lbs. backpack, as we start heading down the trail which switchbacks down the side of the canyon for about a mile and a half until we reached the canyon floor. By far the most difficult part of the trail and is even more difficult coming back up. The descent was done at a slower pace especially when the path is filled with rocks and loose gravel while carrying a heavy load. Dave Rucker who was carrying a 60 lbs. backpack unfortunately slid on his first few minutes of his descent and got a minor wound on his lower leg. Luckily, he was okay to continue the trip down. Hiking poles are definitely a great help coming down. Thanks to Melevy for sharing one of her poles.
As we reached the Wash Basin, terrain has more small rocks and sand. With the proper hiking shoes and gear, foot blisters can be avoided. This area used to be an old creek that once formed in this part of the canyon.
We reached the village in less than 5 hours of hiking. First we rested beside a convenience store near the entrance of the village. Christina later on walked with other organizers to the tourist office to get registered and had our wristbands.
As we walked through the village, aside from the houses, we also passed the heliport, tourist office, post office, general store, cafe, school, the lodge, and the chapel along the way. The campground was 2 miles away and on our way, we passed the first two waterfalls. The Upper Navajo Falls and the Little Navajo Falls on the left side of the trail. They were named after an old Supai chief. There used to be one waterfall called Navajo Falls, the first prominent waterfall in the canyon. In August 2008, flash floods roared the creek by destroying the campground, setting off a massive mudslide that obliterated Navajo Falls. The site of the old falls still exists; the mudslide simply rerouted Havasu Creek and created two new waterfalls. Upper Navajo Falls is also called New Navajo Falls is 50 feet tall and is now the first waterfall in the canyon. Little Navajo Falls is also called Lower Navajo Falls or Rock Falls and is 30 feet tall and fall into a swimming hole. This area is more prominent for cliff divers. Caution always apply when diving.
Earlier, Christina told us that we should find a spot that the whole group can fit at the campground and do photos later. The campsites are on a first come, first serve basis. So the earlier we get there, the better. I went along beside her but not taking photos along the way was hard to do because of the awesomeness of the views. Crossed a small bridge over the creek heading down and later on we saw on the right side the amazing Havasu Falls, towering at 100 feet. It used to be called Bridal Veil Falls before the flood of 1910. The falls are known for their natural pools but were damaged in the early 1990s by large floods. A small man-made dam was constructed to help restore the pools and to preserve what is left. When we arrived at the campground, lots of shade and ferns surrounded the area. We saw Roberto and family’s tents already set up. Christina decided that the area next to theirs would be great for the group. I quickly set up my tent so I wouldn’t be embarrassed of taking a long time doing it. 😀 LoL Our tents were right beside the creek. Dave, Ismael, and Mario are my tent neighbors.
As I looked around the campground, even with 55 backpackers in our group, there are still lots of tent space available. Along the creek are bathrooms; one at the entrance, two in middle, and one at the end of the campgrounds. There are also wooden bridges to cross the creek. Also, there is running water from spring connected by a tube that is attached to the canyon wall. The area is called the Fern Spring. Since the water came from the spring, it’s typically clean and doesn’t need to be filtered. If you do want to feel safe, then might as well use your water filter. While I was walking at Fern Spring, I did see a long snake with black and white stripes. I researched online and it seems to me that it was a California King Snake which is non-venomous and harmless unless handled.
We rested a little bit after that long hike down. Saw 3H family and other members of the group arrived and setting up their tents. We later on head to Havasu Falls to enjoy the water. There are many picnic tables near the falls. We saw Roberto and family at a picnic table that was placed near the center of a mini falls where anyone can jump. I enjoyed watching them jumped and I was thinking I should do this too. I wasn’t used to jumping or even diving in a pool of water but what the heck, I done it anyway and so did Vivian Carrillo and Melevy. It was fun!
A little while later, Jesus Carrillo injured his head trying to save a girl from falling but instead he hurt himself. He was brought back to the campsite and his head was examined. There was a minor cut on his head, luckily nothing serious, and was immediately taken care of with the help of Ricardo Cruz and family. Before I head back to my tent, Ricardo invited me to go with 3H on Thursday to do an exploratory hike to Colorado River tomorrow starting at 5:30 am. I accepted and was excited to go there already. Due to the circumstances of what happened to Jesus, he and his wife was not going to join us especially with the summer heat wave. There was a slight drizzle early evening. My first night in the tent, aah … I feel a stone bothering me even with my sleeping pad. Oh and the weather was warm and slightly windy at night. I just positioned myself and made myself comfortable to sleep. I set my alarm at 5 am. 😀
The next day, I had breakfast with the 3H family. I also brought my own Mountain House dried food scrambled eggs to go with chorizo, tortillas, and coffee on the table. We left the campsite past 6 am to start our hike. I brought my water sandals and used my hiking shoes. A total of 17 miles to and from the Colorado River.
Half a mile from the campgrounds, we reached the top of Mooney Falls, the tallest of the 5 waterfalls of Havasupai at 200 feet. It is named after D. W. “James” Mooney, a miner, who in 1882 – according to his companions – decided to mine the area near Havasu Falls for minerals. The group then decided to try Mooney Falls. One of his companions was injured, so James Mooney decided to try to climb up the falls with his companion tied to his back, and subsequently fell to his death. The trail leads to a lookout/photograph area that overlooks the cascading waterfall. In order to gain access to the bottom of the falls and its pool, a very scary and dangerous descent over a cliff is required, entering 2 cave tunnels, and climbing down the rock with the aid of chains, ladders, and bolts. One small slip would likely be fatal. Extreme care and discretion for the following portion is needed at all times; it is highly exposed and should not be attempted when the weather and/or conditions are not suitable. Mist from the falls often makes the rock slippery. The climb would also be difficult if other people are going in the opposite direction. Luckily, there was none. We took photos after everyone was down.
After the descent to Mooney Falls, a visible trail leads downstream. We saw lots of picnic tables around the area. Our hike continues on for 3.5 more miles to Beaver Falls. The trail was rugged and is not always easy to follow especially when it requires multiple crossings of the creek. At first, some of us switched from hiking shoes to water shoes which was kind of inefficient way to hike. That’s how my water sandals took a beating. I later on stuck with wearing my hiking shoes which feels better. I also should have followed my earlier river crossing hike at Bridge To Nowhere advice to use hiking shoes only rather than using watershoes or sandals.
We passed by the Valley of the Vines. And yes, there were no velociraptors waiting for us. 😀 It had a Jurassic period feel to it. The vines are larger and more abundant than the ones found at the campground. There was a long stable wooden plank that serves as a bridge to cross a deep wide gap on the ground.
And at one area on the right side of the rock wall, there was a navigable ladder that brings us up and down again. We saw an arrow sign point downward and so we followed it. We finally reached Beaver Falls; the fifth and final waterfall with the height of up to 8 feet. Although many claim that it is not a waterfall, but merely a set of small falls that are located close to each other. The pools are small but still offer good swimming. Beaver Falls was once much more impressive. It had a height of about 50 feet until the great flood of January 1910 destroyed it.
At Beaver Falls, we also filtered our water supply. The hike continues on for another 4 miles to the Colorado River. But first, we need to find the trail. This was the part that took us a long time to figure out. We saw the area where I guess cliff divers do their jumps. We even walked across Beaver Falls and climb the rock wall. Luckily, there was rope attached to it. It was a scary situation. We even walked back were the navigable ladder that brought us up and down and it was deja vu moment. We saw that arrow sign again and read it carefully. It said Beaver Falls pointing downwards. That means, we had to go straight further to reach the Colorado River and not follow where the arrow was pointing.
It started to get really hot along the trail. So we took a break, swam, and cooled off. Then we continued hiking. Ismael sprained his ankle along the trail but he was okay to continue the hike. As we got closer to the Colorado River, we saw a lot of people below. I don’t think they came from Havasupai. We still had to climb up the rocks in order to get to the edge. At the top, we saw so many fishes lined up at the borderline where Havasu Creek’s turquoise water mixes with Colorado River’s brown water. These fishes are called Carp and they are there feeding on eggs and larval stages of native fishes such as the Flannelmouth Suckers. If I can talk to the native fishes, I would tell them to stay away from the Colorado River. 😀 Saw some raft boats at the edge. I asked one of the boat riders how long was the trip. He said it took them 11 days of 150 miles along the Colorado River. At one point, one lady told us not to go to close to the river because from time to time accidents do happen when the river current can just swoop us out. Ricardo was so grateful for us to accompany him and his family to the edge of the Colorado River. Stayed at that area for an hour and took some photos and head back up and find a shade since it was so hot over there. It took as 7 hours for our exploratory hike to the Colorado River. Since we know now where to go, heading back would be quicker at a faster pace to try to avoid getting back at dark especially when we didn’t bring our headlamps. We had to move away from the crowd and find a spot where we can eat our lunch before heading back.
As we continued hiking back, we almost missed the spot where we needed to climb the canyon wall back up heading towards Beaver Falls. Luckily, we saw ribbons attached to branches that marked it. That area to me was the most difficult part especially when I’m short in height trying to grab the side of the rock climbing up. I wished that there was another way by just following the creek. We were getting close when we saw parts of Mooney Falls. We stopped in this area because we weren’t sure where the trail leads. So we took the right side and saw some small cascading waterfalls and a cave too. It was so beautiful. Took some photos there. As we passed that area, we immediately knew which trail we went the first time. So glad we took the route with the small waterfalls. From the bottom of Mooney Falls we climbed back up the ladders slowly so we would not slip. As we reached a bench in a small cave, we took our last group photo of the hike. Got back to the campgrounds around 8 pm and had our dinner with the 3H family. We had chorizo, carne asada, tortillas, noodle soup, and bread. After the meal, I drank 2 cups of coffee. I don’t think that will keep me up that night since I was so tired. I later learned that Jesus and Vivian made it down Mooney Falls that day and hiked near the Valley of the Vines. What an amazing feat for them. On my second night in the tent, aside from the rocks below my tent, I had leg muscle aches after that 17 mile hike; and each time those rocks hit my legs when I rest sideways, it hurts. Oh well, gotta suck it up. Lesson learned for camping next time is to double check the bottom area where you place your tent and that no rocks will bother when sleeping.
Friday, the next morning, I found out that Melevy was leaving Havasupai early as expected to meet with her family at Lake Havasu. Jelsomina Elsasser was going to the same place with her husband and Melevy will be joining her on a road trip. That same day, Christina and her group were scheduled to hike to the Colorado River. I had two breakfast that morning; one at 6 am and the other around 8 am with the 3H family. I’m stuffed. 🙂 While they were relaxing that morning after breakfast, Jesus, Vivian, and I went to the village and took some photos along the way. Along the way, we saw Harvey Fiji hiking down on his first day in Havasupai with the group Adventures With Will. We went in the cafe first to take a look at what’s inside and saw some members of the group hanging out. Then we went to the general store and got some ice cream and cold drinks. It was refreshing especially on a hot day. We later saw Melevy still waiting for their turn to fly out of the village. It was around 10 am and they left the camp around 3 am. The helicopter ride costs $85 per person, one way, which includes one backpack. We said our goodbyes and head back down. We visited first the Upper Navajo Falls and took some photos and swam around. This was were my water sandals finally wore out and disintegrated. I walked to Little Navajo Falls and checked out the cliff divers and swam there too. I thought the calm waters that I saw there was excellent place to float but I still felt the current pushing me away. We saw others from our group checking out the falls. Jesus and Vivian were so kind to ask them if they can spare some footwear but there was none. After awhile, we head back to the campsite. The ground was not that hot anymore like earlier that morning. Clouds had cover the skies and it had been drizzling which I thank God for that since I was walking barefoot all the way. Back at our campsite, Christina’s group just got back from their Colorado River hike. Dave showed me his awesome cliff dives from Beaver Falls and Little Navajo Falls. I want to do that on my next trip to Havasupai next year. Aah … just the Little Navajo Falls first. Little steps … 😀 LoL.
At the 3H campsite, we saw Jose Ramon Lira, Merwin Caiza, and his group. These were the guys who went with Dolores Grant, my ex co-worker, to Mt. Whitney in one day. Took group photos with them because they were also leaving Havasupai that night. Ricardo and Maglory told me that they were leaving Havasupai early next morning. They had to go back to work on Monday and they still have to hike Mt. Whitney next week. It felt my family was leaving me behind but I’m going to see them anyways on future hikes. Ricardo told Christina to watch out for their adopted son … me. ♥ It was a slight drizzle that I got back to my tent. I later explored the top of Mooney Falls which was really beautiful. That spot was also a great area to set up tents. When I went back to our campsite, they were going to do a huge group photo and I just arrived in the nick of time to be in it.
Early Saturday morning at 3:30 am, rain started pouring. I prayed and waited for the rain to stop. If it doesn’t, it’s going to be a big problem. I really don’t want to witness a flash flood. It was a little windy and cold that morning. I hoped also that some of the group that were leaving made it out safely. After an hour and 5 minutes, the rain finally stopped. I got out of my tent and went straight to the bathroom. I had breakfast together with Christina and the gang were I quickly bonded with Laura Amezcua and her son and went with them to Havasu Falls a little while later. Laura’s son did a lot of dives which I can’t keep up. 😀 LoL We had a lot of fun. We then head up to explore Upper and Little Navajo Falls. We swam in between those two waterfalls. A little later, we saw Trent Dyer, bringing some sandwiches from the village. We all head down to the cave near Havasu Falls where a picnic table was placed. We were joined by Andrew Hinojosa, Jessica Corona, and Ismael. The area was so pretty. There was even water flowing through inside that small cave. After lunch, the rest of the group stayed at the pool beside the falls while I head back to my tent to dry off my hiking shoes. I need these for hiking back up to Hilltop.
In the afternoon, Mark Fiji, Dave, Nellie Roque, Christina, and myself decided to take a stroll at the top of Mooney Falls. I made sure to take photos while I was there. Heading back, Dave, Christina, and myself were curious to see what that restricted area above the canyon wall is. Nothing but a small cave. Back at the camp, Christina told me if I was okay to head back up to Hualapai Hilltop tonight at 7 pm. I was only worried about Ismael’s situation since he had a sprained ankle and was going to take the flight back up on Sunday morning. If that happened, I had to wait for him at the parking lot. On a last minute decision, Ismael told us that he would join the hike up since he felt fine walking with his sprained ankle to and back from the village. So that was settled.
Everyone who were leaving that night started cleaning up and taking down their tents and hopefully had their backpacks lighter than before. Laura screamed when she saw a baby snake that’s less than 6 inches long below her tent when she took it down. That baby snake was moved to another area. Nellie and others started giving away to new backpackers in the area that they can use such as used stoves, dried food, floaters, and water storage bags. Everyone was set to go and our 10 mile journey back up to Hualapai Hilltop begun at 7 pm. We started with 9 people going up and took a small break at the village. Andrew saw Mark and went with him ahead of us. We’re down to 8 and I almost left my eyeglasses which I needed for driving. It got dark at 8 pm and we turned on our headlamps. At one point, we got lost on the trail when we felt we didn’t pass this way since we were climbing rocks. Luckily, Ismael had his GPS tracker and we continued our hike. I stayed at the back to watch over Laura and her kid. We took stops along the way and turned off our headlamps and looked at the stars above us. It was so beautiful and amazing. As we continued our hike up, the air became warm, lots of bugs began to annoy us on our arms and mostly our faces. They did liked the light coming out of our headlamps. I turned it off from time to time but it only helped a little. After being bitten bugs, I went on Zombie mode. 😀 It was a good sign that we saw the light from the hilltop blinking. That means we’re heading on the right direction. Laura told her son that we’re almost there … one more push. Suddenly, I don’t see him anymore around his mom. I pointed my headlamp towards the group ahead of us and there he was. He caught up with them. 😀 LoL As we continued heading up on that dreaded switchbacks, it was torture especially when carrying a heavy backpack but we persevered and got to the top past midnight. Ismael and I rested on the parking road for a bit.
Christina’s family and some of the group drove to the city of Kingman to sleep and eat breakfast there. Ismael and I later on slept in the car. I wasn’t prepared that it became cold that early morning. When I went to a portable toilet, my body was shivering. Woke up past 7 am, Sunday morning. Saw Roberto and Sylvia Castañón up too. Walked around the parking lot, chatted, and saw a lot of day hikers coming in. We told them about the posted signs regarding day hikers and the ones without permits and yet they ignored them and continued hiking down. The signs mentioned that the tribe will not accept them and they will have them turn back.
Ismael and I later said our goodbyes to the Castañóns and started our road trip to Grand Canyon and Sedona. Along the BIA Road 18, we slowed down when we saw the cows that roamed near or crossing the road. We also saw the large elk that got hurt that was seating on the side of road; condors scavenging what’s left of a dead squirrel or rabbit, and it could be a coyote crossing the road. We head east to the town of Seligman where we ate a full breakfast at the Roadkill Cafe. That’s where we got arrested and thrown in jail … not. 😀 Took photos around the area of the facade and off we go.
This time it was my turn to take the wheel as we headed to Grand Canyon from Route 66 to I-40; all the way to the city of Williams. Took the AZ-64 north to the US-180 north. That’s where my eyes was feeling drowsy. Luckily, Ismael talked to me at times on the way to the Grand Canyon Village (South Rim). Since we were there on a holiday weekend, parking was hard to find until we found it near a supermarket. From there, we took the shuttle to the Visitor Center and Mather Point. It’s Ismael’s first time here in this national park. We walked and took photos along the edge. When we head back to the Visitors Center, a deer was roaming the area. We got back on the shuttle and head back to where we parked but first we bought 5 hour energy drinks, Starbucks coffee bottle, and others stuff at the supermarket to keep us awake.
I drove us out of Grand Canyon Village and got back to the I-40 and head to the city of Flagstaff where we stayed the night at Budget Inn. Ate dinner at Oregano’s Pizza Bistro. The food was great there.
On the 4th of July morning, we checked out of the hotel and head out to Sedona by taking I-17 to the AZ-89A. The road was narrow and some cars in front were slowing down and so did I. Even though I was driving, I saw the view around me was amazing. Our first stop was at the front of the Cathedral Rock and beside it was one of the Vortex area shown on the map. It was a hot morning and I had Ismael do more hikes for about a mile with his sprained ankle. There were a lot of families celebrating 4th of July swimming in the creek and having picnics. We walked along the creek to the Vortex area. When we got there, it was just an open field. There was no vibe going on. It was a disappointment. Took photos of the Cathedral Rock which was close by and later on head back to the car.
Our next stop is the Chapel of the Holy Cross. We passed by 6 roundabouts along the way at AZ-179. A roundabout is a type of circular intersection or junction in which road traffic flows almost continuously in one direction around a central island. What an amazing architecture built on the side of the rocks. Close by the chapel was the Bell Rock. We stopped at the trail entrance and took some photos.
We bid farewell to Sedona by driving back the AZ-89A, and I-17 north, then head west on I-40. I drank a bottle of Starbucks frappuccino that kept me awake driving all the way to city of Barstow. The 5 hour drink doesn’t work on preventing me from getting drowsy. At Barstow, we ate at Panda Express for dinner. Ismael also bought cold coffee with 2 shots at Starbucks that kept him awake while he took over the wheel and drove back to his home. He pointed out to me and he was right that I really don’t like driving at night. We saw lots of fireworks left and right of the freeways we passed. As we got closer to Ismael’s home, he slowed down and closed our windows because people were doing fireworks on the streets which was really dangerous. It was a really fun road trip with Ismael. He drove my Bee out of his garage, I transferred my stuff to my car, and I said my goodbyes. Around 46 miles of hiking I accumulated on this trip.
Thanks so much to Christina and the rest of the organizers for the Havasupai Trip; 3H for the exploratory hike to Colorado River; Ismael as my road trip buddy to Grand Canyon and Sedona, to my boss at work for giving me the days off on the last minute, and lastly to the 55 members of the group and then some who made this an enjoyable and fun trip. Until the next exciting adventure.