I have a love/hate relationship with hiking. I hate the physical activity that is obviously required of hiking. I hate that hiking downhill destroys my toes. I hate that hiking uphill, even for short distances and despite having no respiratory illnesses, induces excessive wheezing and what I can only assume an asthma attack must feel like. I hate having to wake-up incredibly early to go hiking, it gets very hot very early in Arizona nine months out of the year and going hiking in the morning is a necessity. I hate carrying around the excess weight required of hiking, even a short hike adds a minimum of 7lbs in water. And I hate that for one reason or another I usually end up leaving blood on the trail! Why then do I bother hiking at all? Because I love the beauty that surrounds me while hiking. I love being in nature. I love getting away from the city, even while still in the city on many of our Phoenix hikes. I love being alone with just my thoughts (I am a very slow hiker so the husband is usually far enough ahead of me that I feel alone). I love the feeling of accomplishment I get after a hike. And most of all, because I love the pot of gold at the end of my hiking rainbow. For this particular hike my pot of gold was Havasu and Mooney Falls (and Beaver Falls for the rest of our group).
I am not a hiker just to be a hiker, yet. I am what I would call a goal oriented hiker. So far all of my hiking has been done in preparation for hiking the Grand Canyon. Our first trip into the canyon, Backpacking the Grand Canyon was four years ago, it took almost a full year for my toes to recover enough that I could begin hiking again. Three years ago we were preparing to hike into Havasupai but severe canyon flooding caused us to cancel that trip. Two years ago the husband made the trip down to Havasupai…
We had known about Havasupai for quite sometime, the falls are very famous for their beauty and it’s the only inhabited area in the Grand Canyon, home to the Supai Indians. We had heard that the hike into Havasupai was easier than the Deer Creek Trail by one of our fellow Deer Creek Trail hikers, but we were still hesitant to consider hiking the canyon again until we met a friends mother-in-law, the superintendent of the Havasupai school, and she invited us down. After his first trip into the Canyon the husband has sworn to return every year until he’s physically unable. So almost immediately after returning from his first trip he began planning last years trip (he’s become somewhat obsessed with the area!).
Knowing my reservations about making another trek into the canyon, the husband assured me that the two trails had little in common, short of both being part of the Grand Canyon. According to his account the first mile and a half or so is fairly steep, but nothing like the white or red walls of the Deer Creek Trail, and after that it’s a gradual, easy-going walk through a wash. No extra water needs to be cached because the hike is made in one day and there is plenty of water at the campground. The area is also much more populated, the Havasupai campground sells out its 250 spots every single day of the year, whereas Deer Creek allowed for 4-5 campsites. Though there was no actual running water in the campsite there were bathrooms, and the village of Supai had running water, a store, and a cafe! The other extraordinary difference is that you have options on how to get to and from Havasupai. You can hike, with your backpack or you can have a packhorse take your pack directly to the campground. Or you can fly in and out of Supai on a helicopter, but you still have to hike the 2 miles to and from the village to the campground with your pack. There used to be an option of riding a horse down, but for whatever reason that option is not available this year.
Having already had backpacking experiences, I knew enough that I had no desire to carry a 30-40lb pack 10 ½ miles if it wasn’t completely necessary, so I opted to reserve the packhorse to carry my pack, as did one of the other hikers in our group, a first time hiker. This did not leave me completely weightless for the hike down however, as I mentioned a Camelback of water is still 7lbs, plus snacks, sun screen, etc., making my day pack probably around 12-13lbs.
The drive from Phoenix to the Hilltop Trailhead is approximately 6 hours, so as before we opted to drive halfway up the day before the hike and got a hotel in Seligman, Arizona so we didn’t have to be up as early the morning of the hike. Keeping in mind we still had to be up at 4am. The town of Seligman heralds itself as the birthplace of Route 66 and I wish we’d had time to do some exploring but we arrived late and had time only for dinner. Our group of four all met at the Roadkill Cafe, and yes, the menu reads like you would expect it to with item names like Guess that Mess, Swirl of Squirrel, and Center Line Bovine. The food was good, the drinks were just the right size, and it was a great introduction for the group members that didn’t already know each other.
It was still dark the next morning when we set out and this actually was to our disadvantage. You see when they post watch for animal signs out there, they REALLY mean watch for animals. We had to slow for elk, horses, and cows that were on the side of the road. If you’re unfamiliar with driving in rural areas it is very unnerving to turn a corner and see an animal big enough to total your vehicle standing in the road staring at you. It made for an adventurous morning and we hadn’t even gotten to the Canyon yet. A calf even tried to charge our car!
The trailhead parking area is not set up to accommodate the 200 or so people who need to use it daily and parking spaces are not neat and orderly like in most parking areas. The “parking” also extends about a mile down the side of the road from the trailhead. It was early (0630), it was cold (50 degrees), and I already had a 10 mile hike ahead of me, I was not looking to add to that because of parking. So we took advantage of a couple “spaces” in front of the horse corral and hoped our cars would still be there when we emerged three days later!
The men took care of getting our backpacks checked in with the pack horses and we ready to go. Much to his credit the husband’s description of the hike down was pretty spot on, with one exception. He described the first mile and a half as fairly steep, I wound not have. Don’t get me wrong, it was still hiking DOWN a canyon, but it was by no means difficult. Now, do I think this because in the back of my mind I am still comparing it to the Deer Creek Trail or because I’ve gotten used to hiking somewhat? Who knows, all that matters to me is that it wasn’t difficult and I didn’t fear too much for my toes!
As popular and as heavily travelled as this trail is I was very surprised at how much solitude we had during the hike. Obviously there were large groups of people at the trailhead and we would either get passed or pass another group of hikers here and there but it was almost as if we had the trail to ourselves.
We learned quickly to always have an ear out for the pack horses. They came quickly and without warning and did so with a job to do not caring what or who may be in their way. At one point I had to scramble off the side of the trail to make way for them.The trail through the canyon was very well-worn, from all the people and the horses that travel it, so there was no worry of taking a wrong turn or getting lost. Despite the relative ease of the hike it was still 8 miles from the trailhead to the town of Supai and then another 2 miles or so to the campground. That’s a long way. Then these signs started to appear, as if little treats…The Village of Supai is amazing and I am grateful to have had the chance to visit. Imagine living in a place with a 1000 year old history. Imagine living at the bottom of the Grand Canyon in almost complete isolation from the rest of the world. Imagine having to have every single item you need and want to survive brought to you either by helicopter or on a horse. Imagine having 20,000 tourists descend upon your home each year. I was also amazed and in awe of some of the things they are capable of getting into the Canyon, trampolines and camping trailers, really? Through all this amazement though it was also disheartening to witness the poverty. What was most disappointing to me though was seeing the graffiti. I have a difficult time understanding why anyone would deface their home as it is, but when your home is as majestic as this it just seems doubly disturbing.
We stopped only briefly in the village to get our camping passes and to use our last flushing toilet for a couple of days. The husband was insistent that we push on so we could get a good camping spot. Water was pretty plentiful from the village to the campsite and one area proved too tempting for J and he had to get in.Before we even saw or heard our first set of falls we knew we were upon them. For the first time since leaving the trailhead we were seeing crowds of people. Crowds of people with looks of wonderment on their faces at their first falls sighting. New Navajo falls formed in 2008 after flooding changed the course of the water leaving Old Navajo Falls dry.
Because of the crowds and our desire to get to camp we didn’t stay at New Navajo Falls for more than five minutes or so before we pushed on. I’m terrible with distance calculations, so I couldn’t say how far it was from New Navajo Falls to Havasu Falls but in the moment it felt like forever, until I actually saw Havasu Falls for the first time. In that moment all time and distance disappeared. I have seen many, many beautiful places but was still rendered speechless by the sight of Havasu Falls.
The beauty of the falls can only minimally be captured by a photo, possibly because the beauty of the falls encompasses so much more than just the sight of them.
Eager to get to camp and get setup we took only a few photos from the top of the falls and continued on. Once we reached the campground the husband being the only one that had ever been there before took over and picked our campsite. It appeared to be a great site, there were only a couple other people set up in the area, it was next to the creek, there were shade trees, and there was a picnic table.
What we didn’t realize until a little later was that our “perfect” campsite was a vacuum and the wind blew ALL THE TIME, and not a nice breeze but a holy crap I think our tent is going to blow away kind of wind. But, by the time we realized our situation we were too tired to pack everything up and find another spot. And it was only for two days anyway! Also, we were pretty close to the bathrooms and the water source. Yes, we were camped right next to the creek but being a little paranoid I would have filtered that water because there are a lot of people who visit the falls every year and a lot of people who swim and bath and who knows what else in that creek every year.
After setting up camp we hiked back up to Havasu Falls to finally take some time to relax and enjoy the falls.
D and J braved the cold and went swimming. I was only able to soak my feet and only very briefly because once again the water was so cold it made my feet go numb. The husband opted to sit back and just enjoy the spray from the falls. Just as we were getting ready to go back to camp we were lucky enough to have someone offer to take a photo of us as a group.
We still had time to kill before our packs were delivered so the next natural thing to do was to take a well deserved nap. The boys opted for the picnic table.
I prefer tent naps.
Feeling refreshed after our naps we retrieved our packs and moved on to our next adventure. And believe me when I use the word adventure. I had heard about the climb down to Mooney Falls a couple of years ago from a co-worker that had done the hike so I had an idea of what was to come, but knowing about and actually experiencing something is quite different.
The descent to Mooney Falls basically is split into two sections. The first section involves climbing down and through a couple of tunnels.
The second section involves climbing down the cliff, aided only by some chains mounted into the side of the cliff and some wooden ladders, all of which are wet from the spray of the falls.
I have never been one to shy away from adventure and don’t mind taking risks, but the climb down this cliff almost proved to much for me. At one point I stopped and told the rest of the group to go ahead without me and would have happily hung out half way down. Luckily I have good friends that refused to let me give up and encouraged me and aided me the rest of the way down the cliff.
Equal in its beauty to Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls seemed to have a bit more magic for me. Possibly because we were the only people at the falls at that exact moment so there was more of a feeling of being in touch with nature opposed to being at a tourist attraction. And quite possibly because it took more effort to get to there. Granted the 10 mile hike to Havasu Falls took some effort as well, but never in those 10 miles did I question whether I could die completing them!
After playing in the water for a bit we were ready to call it a day, but first we had to get back up the cliff!
After a 15 mile day, once we got back to camp all any of us had in mind was dinner.
Not too many people would think dehydrated meals would be something to look forward to but after a long day on the trail they are perfect. Exhaustion and wanting to get an early start for the next day provided for an early bed time.
As is always the case the husband was awake first and set about getting coffee and breakfast ready. As he was doing so he found a new friend in one of our backpacks…
Despite diligently hanging our packs each time we’ve ventured into the Grand Canyon, we somehow always end up with mice eating our food. This little guy thankfully only managed to get into our honey sticks.
The plan for the second day was to hike down to Beaver Falls, another 10 mile round trip. I was having some leg and hip pain from the previous days hike so I opted to stay behind in camp while the others went ahead. I had such a wonderfully relaxing day. I read a book, sat by the creek, napped, and I also chased down our belongings when the wind tried taking them. This was my view for most of the day.
Our second evening was pretty much like the first except we went to the base of the campground and bought Indian Fry Bread for dinner.
With the thought once again that I had already hiked out of the Grand Canyon once, and it sucked, we decided to take the helicopter out of the canyon this time. This meant we needed to wake-up especially early to break down camp and make the two-mile hike back up to Supai. We were treated with the company of one of the Supai residents for part of our hike back into town.
The helicopter runs on a first come first served basis and only flies tourists out after the locals. So getting into town early and getting your name on the list early is imperative, especially when the weather is such that it’s questionable whether the helicopter will fly or not. We managed to get to town fairly early, by 0700 I think, however a very large group of 30-40 people got there before us. We ended up having to wait 8 hours to catch the helicopter. Eight hours in on and off again rain with wind and cold. Fortunately there were plenty of reservation dogs running around to keep us company.
Our drive back home was a stormy one but we were rewarded with one last gift from nature.
I will make the trip one more time so that I can see Beaver Falls but have a bucket list of too many other places I want to see to keep returning to the same place over and over.