Bucket List Adventure to Havasu Falls in Havasupai Reservation
Bucket List Adventure to Havasu Falls in Havasupai Reservation Photos are now up! This was one of four hikes I have on my Bucket List for the summer and after calling to try and get campground reservations and permits, I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to cross this one off. They were booked up all the way through the end of 2015 and this was back in March!!! The coincidentally, one of my friends happened to hit me up and tell me of a group that was going in May that had room for others.. I seized this opportunity through the Vegas Hikers meet up group and started getting together all of my gear. My injuries from hiking Old Bill Canyon back in end of March were far from healed, but well enough for me to successfully do this trip; or so I thought.
I had some things I had to do in Las Vegas on the Wednesday night before the hike started so finished those and then got on the road to Arizona. It was about a 3.5 hour drive to the Havasupai Reservation and the last hour of it was on a dark road known for having tons of animals on it. I drove this last hour with my hands gripping the steering wheel tightly; white knuckled I spotted dozens of animals in and on the side of the road including elk, deer, mice, rabbits, and more. I made it to the hilltop around 1am and found a spot next to the white Ford Excursion driven by the leader of this trip, Jeff. I managed to doze off in the drivers seat for a few hours knowing we were getting up and on the trail by 530am.. The parking lot was FULL of cars and people all doing exactly the same. I was rudely woken up at 430am by a group who thought turning on a bright light was tactful and talking loudly was considerate. I sat there awake waiting patiently or impatiently for my group to also wake up.
They all ended up waking up by 530 or 6. We were highly confused on the actual time due to the time difference that supposedly the Havasupai Indians kept daylight savings unlike Arizona that doesn’t. In doing research after the fact, my car and my iPhone were correct in Mountain time, my Note 3 which doesn’t auto change was on Pacific time still. We all got up, ate some food and got our packs all ready to go. I packed two frozen bladders of water as well as a couple bottles. My brand new Osprey Atmos 65 liter bag ended up weighing about 45 lbs total including my tripod and my tent. This was my first time backpacking and I had overnighted my new bright green pack from BackCountry.com earlier in the week. I packed pretty much no clothes (one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, two tank tops and four pairs of socks) and had the shoes on my feet which were my 5.10 Canyoneers. I also had battery chargers for my cellphones, first aid kits, toilet paper, energy chews, a spork, waterproof matches, rain poncho, pack cover, mummy sleeping bag, and exactly enough freeze dried meals for the trip.
We got on the trail by 7am, and descended down the famous switchbacks into the canyon. There were a total of 7 of us hiking with the other 3 in our group meeting us later on in the day. We had the option of having our gear brought down on mules for a set fee and I had a spot on one if I wanted, but I was leaving the group a day early to get back to Phoenix for a Las Vegas Outlaws game, the arena football team I run the social media for. I switched up the schedule I was seeing the falls in (compared to the group schedule) and wanted to have all my gear on me instead of arriving after 3pm to the campground as the mules typically did. This means I hiked the 11 miles in with 45 lbs on my back.
I was stupid to not wear my ankle brace in an effort to try and strengthen my ankle on the hike; I rolled my ankle really badly about 2 miles in and part of that I attribute to the weight of the pack off balancing me. Practically in tears, I pulled out the brace and put it on, gritted my teeth and toughed out the rest of the hike. I was often far behind the rest of the group and I really tried my hardest to not complain as I hobbled along. Luckily the canyon and hike were extremely beautiful and I was able to keep my mind on other things such as the photos I was capturing along the way and all the traffic going through the canyon. One thing did disappoint me along the way; the amount of trash that the tourists had left along the trail. We would come across stockpiles of plastic bottles and garbage as if one piece had made it ok to give way to many pieces. Later in the village, I would see that the natives were equally at fault for this with the amount of trash and junk I spotted in their yards.
You always heard the mules coming long before you saw them and we had to step to the upper side of the trail to avoid being run over. It was really entertaining to see that they seemed to know their way through the canyon and needed little to no supervision. One “cowboy” directed up to 10 or so horses and mules. I was told that it was against the rules to take photos of the natives so I just got photos of the mules as they raced past.
I really can’t tell you what time we got to Supai Village, but first thing we did was check into the visitor center to get our bracelets that proved we had permits and access to the campground. I was definitely drained, in pain and needing food. I dug into the breakfast burrito I had thrown in my pack while the trail dogs hungrily eyed my fare. Once everyone was checked in, we went to the cafe in the center of town and everyone ordered food. I was no longer hungry so grabbed a soda and then went across to the general store to purchase a couple post cards. Supai is home to the only Mule train in the country for the delivery of mail so I wrote out a postcard to myself and sent it home. It said, “Bucket List, Checked!”. I also took advantage of the cell phone service and free wifi there in the village. I knew I was going to be off the grid for a couple of days so got some last minute things handled for clients.
I regrettably started hobbling out of town and only for the reason I knew I would soon be without cell phone service- on the flip side I was excited to get to the falls and also to set up camp, 2 miles away. I quickly finished off some posts and texts and turned my attention back to the beauty and serenity surrounding me. We made our way past the church and out of the little town. The creek was following the trail out and its clear waters were really a surprise to me. The closer we got to the falls, the more the color started to turn the incredibly unbelievable, blue color that many thought was photoshopped.
The first set of falls you come to is Rock Falls, or also known as Upper and Lower Navajo. The weather was on the verge of rain at this point so we didn’t divert to the falls to jump off of them as originally planned. We stopped to take a few photos and then continued on to the falls that were the goal of my entire trip. I was still very cautiously taking steps and the heaviness of my backpack had become exhausting at this point.
We heard the falls long before we reached them and my excitement in spite of my exhaustion couldn’t be contained. Group leader Jeff wanted to stop at the falls right then and there but most of the rest of us were anticipating dropping off all our gear at camp and then coming back to really relax. Although I did stop to take this photo, I didn’t want to take off my gear, relax and then put it back on to finish the hike.. It ended up being another half mile from the top of the falls to where we chose to set up camp.
Now the campgrounds were set up in a very different way than I expected. Most campgrounds had designated spaces, and a picnic table for each space. This campground was more of a free for all and you could really camp anywhere you found space and you hoped you had a picnic table for your group. Reason I say group is that it seemed that most people were in groups of at least 6 or more that we came across. One thing about the picnic tables, they were located ALL over the place, in and out of the campgrounds, along the hikes to beaver creek, in small alcoves and caves directly next to waterfalls. Many were in some very cool spots with phenomenal views to enjoy your lunch from.
We found a couple viable spots to camp in, but Jeff was intent on finding the perfect spot so left us weary (all 6 of us) to sit and hold a spot we found while he scouted for more. I think the entire campground area was about a mile long; bookended between Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls. He came back after finding a spot next to the creek with a couple small falls and convinced us to continue on to it. We were all like cranky children at this point and were definitely dragging our feet. We made it to the spot he found and I dove right into setting up my tent while it was still not raining. Then I quickly changed, and Chelsea and I took off to Havasu Falls with my camera and tripod in hand.
We came across the other 3 joining our group as we got to the front of the campground. This was where the mules would eventually deliver the gear, as well as a place where a couple of tents were set up by the indians of the tribe selling water as well as traditional frybread. Note, cash only as there is no internet to run a card swiper off of. These shops were open from 10-6 depending on the weather. Keep in mind we were still VERY confused on what time it actually was. Onward and upward, up to the falls.
I think it doesn’t matter how many times I make the effort to hike to these falls, the same look of amazement, wonder, and joy will still cross my face. I sat there, trying to drink it all in, the incredible color of the water to the impressive beauty of the falls, and decide where to explore first. I definitely found myself saying on mulitiple occasions the rest of the trip, “I can’t believe the color is real!” Although the weather was not warm and looked like it would rain at any moment, I stripped down to my bathing suit, set up a timer on my camera on my tripod and took a few selfies.. Chelsea jumped in some of them as well before I started wandering all over to try and take a bunch of shots for my HDRs. We headed off towards the right of the falls where the wind seemed to be blowing the mist. Chelsea definitely explored that way a lot more than I did because I was intent on getting my shots which were difficult because I kept having to wipe down my lens. It was then I discovered that the minerals in the water stuck well to the lens and didn’t seem to want to clean off. I spit on my lens; this seemed to be the best solution for getting the travertine (the reason the water is so blue) residue off. I climbed in and out of the water for the next hour or so (yes, in spite of my ankle) and took a good many photos before hunger started to pull me away. On the way back to the campsite, we stopped at the little shops to pick up a dessert of frybread covered in honey and powdered sugar for $5.
We got back to the campground and found everyone in our group being busy bees setting up their tents and getting ready to prepare dinner. I dug into some of the fresh, cut fruit I still had left out of my ice chest in the car that morning while I watched the goings on. Because Vyonne took advantage of the mule option with her gear, it was a riot some of the stuff she brought on this “backpacking” trip. In addition to the quantity of things she brought, some of the more humorous items included a cutting board and a broom and dust pan. At least half of the group all brought cooking stoves which made it easy for the rest of us to quickly cook food. These Jetboil’s and other brands of stove were so quick to boil water, I really think we could have gotten away with 2-3 stoves for the entire group. Jeff had brought a portable shower which he filled with water from the campground’s well which was some of the purest and most clean water you had ever tasted. Had I known about the well in advance, I could have saved myself the weight of having a 2nd bladder in my pack; although having COLD water from the frozen bladder was definitely a nice treat. I utilized someone’s camp stove to quickly boil 2 cups of water which I dumped into my Mountain House freeze dried sweet & sour pork over rice meal. 10 minutes later I was digging into it with my bright green spork and I was extremely surprised with how good it tasted. Food coma and exhaustion from the day set in and I excused myself from the group to turn in while they imbibed on whatever fun adult drinks they had snuck in (alchohol isn’t allowed I guess?). In spite of my tent being so close to the common area, I knew that I would have no problem falling asleep to the sounds of their laughter and camaraderie.
The plan for the next morning was to have breakfast and check out the weather to see if a hike would be viable that day. The goal was to head to Mooney falls at the opposite end of the campground and then continue the 4 mile trek to Beaver Creek Falls. Out came the Jetboils and other stoves and I enjoyed a breakfast skillet from a bag; again surprising me with how good the freeze dried food tasted. I had tested the brand Backpacker’s Pantry breakfasts at home previously and I can’t recall them being anywhere near as good as the Mountain House ones. I got my pack prepared for a day hike and we set off.
The only facilities that the campground has are a number of composting portapotties. I guess it makes sense- you don’t want this amount of people using bushes around the camping area; I can’t imagine how bad the smell would be were that the case. The portapotties were very clean and non smelly for the most part, and the toilet paper was stocked every monday so by the weekend was running very low. Though most of them still had a little toilet paper by the time i left Saturday morning, I knew midday they would be out.
The creek runs through the campground from the Southeast to the Northwest and eventually flows into the Colorado River. Mooney Falls is on the NW end of the campground and is the tallest of the four main sets of falls at 210ft. We diverted to the top of the falls to get some photos before taking the very precarious route to the bottom; navigating ladders, chains and strategically placed hand holds all slick with water from the mist of the falls. When all 10 of us were safely to the bottom of the falls, I set up a timer and took a couple group shots. We then made our way into the creek where the first mile of our hike took us.
Now we could have taken the trail and kept our feet dry, but I’m so glad that Jeff had us go the creek route. Other than hating the residue from the travertine in the water (it left a chalky film on your skin) it was such a beautiful route to take passing small waterfall after small fall through the canyon. We had a blast taking photos of each other and exploring. About a mile down or so, we exited the creek and continued in the NW direction.
This next section of the hike took us through grape vine fields as far as the eye could see. Apparently we had miles of this to walk through. Somewhere in the midst of this we found another picnic table and stopped for a short lunch break before continuing on. It wasn’t long after this that bad luck struck and I rolled my ankle again. The soft ground had given way where I was walking and in spite of having my brace on, my ankle had given way too.. I saw on the ground in tears and decided to turn back towards the camp ground instead of hiking another 5 or so miles that afternoon. I needed to be able to hike all the way out of the canyon Saturday without another incident. Pauline had been to the falls before and she volunteered to head back with me.
Someone handed me a walking stick and I slowly made my way across the fields of grapevines back towards the creek. We passed a very large group of young adults and the last person in their group was a photographer I recognized from the photography industry, Scott Jarvie. We had been hanging out in Vegas a few months earlier with other mutual friends photographer friends. Small world!
We took the high road this time instead of walking through the stream and we were back at Mooney Falls in no time. Due to the questionable weather, there were very few people around which is one thing I am thankful for. We carefully made the ascent up the slick wet ladders, taking our time to ensure I didn’t roll my ankle yet again. Once at the top, I HAD to go sit at the top of the waterfall with my feet dangling over. I’m not scared of heights at all but I seem to always scare my friends by going too close to the edge of things. We stayed a short amount of time there and then made our way back to our campsite where with nothing else to really do, I went to sleep.
Now Jeff had set up a “community tent” earlier that day for a place to hang out in case of the rain. I decided that I would break down my tent Friday night and then stay in the community tent so that I could get up really early Saturday morning without making a ton of noise before I left. Everyone made it back from the hike and dove into dinner making while I got busy breaking down my gear. I made myself dinner using one of the other’s camp stoves and then we all sat around talking and joking way past dark. Unfortunately, camp fires are not allowed there on the Havasupai Reservation. I have no idea what time we finally all turned in but I made sure to say my goodbyes and set my alarm..
So confused by the time difference I can’t tell you if I got up at 4am or 5am.. I really can’t even recall. But it was really hard to motivate Saturday morning, I know that much. I got up and boiled some water for my breakfast and put together my day pack. Jeff had offered to put my backpack on the mule and bring in back to Vegas for me. This was a relief because the thought of hiking close to 11 miles OUT of the canyon with my injured ankle wasn’t sounding great. I stopped at the well to fill my water bladder on the way out and then enjoyed my breakfast skillet overlooking the sunrise at Havasu Falls. It was the first day we had of clear blue skies over the falls and sitting there by myself reflecting that morning will be something I remember for the rest of my life.
I got on my way towards the village and made a stop there for about an hour to get some work done using the free wifi. It took me about an hour to walk from the campground to the village, and I figured it would take me another four to climb out of the canyon. I normally would never do a hike by myself, especially such a long one, but the trail is one of the busiest ones I have ever been on between tourists and mules running through. I knew that if I fell or something happened it would be a matter of minutes before someone passed by. I got a brisk pace going and was SUPER cautious with my steps. I managed to make it up the foothills and past all the switchbacks in 3 hours from the village, not the initial 4 that I expected.
I had done it! Made it to my 2nd bucket list hike of the summer and had some wonderful pictures to show for it. Thank you to all my hiking partners on this trip and Jeff for organizing it! I was pretty well prepared but there’s a couple things I would have brought with or done different. I would have brought a good day pack to carry in my camera equipment and put the heavier bag on the mules. I would have brought an extra pair of shoes or flip flops for when my hiking boots got wet. Thankfully Vyonne loaned me a pair of flip flops. I would have carried in one less water bladder because of the well in the campground. And last, I would have brought a plastic bottle or cup; something to drink from during meals instead of only having my water bladder. Other than that, I feel I was really prepared for this trip and in spite of my recurring injury feel that it was a successful adventure. I really can’t wait to go back again!
NOTE: THERE ARE 2 PAGES OF PHOTOS HERE SO CLICK THROUGH TO THE SECOND PAGE AT THE BOTTOM OF THESE THUMBNAILS
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