Land of the Havasu 'Baaja

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 36.05720°N / 112.1375°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Feb 14, 2007
Seasons Season: Spring


The colorful lands of the Colorado Plateau contain many of the planet’s most beautiful and awe-inspiring destinations. Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Vermillion Cliffs, Monument Valley – the list is long.

Climatologically speaking, the dominant factor in the development of the land of the Colorado Plateau is the lack of water. John Wesley Powell figured that out quickly in his early explorations. Desert country.

Even though it might not support large scale rice farming, the desert has its attractions and allures. One extraordinarily attractive characteristic of the desert, if one can find it, is the oasis.

Tucked into a remote corner of the Grand Canyon is an oasis like no other. Trina and I began our journey to the land of the Havasu ‘Baaja (the people of the blue-green water) with a flight into Sin City, the audacious light pollution of the Strip greeting us on the approach to McCarran airport. After touching down, we departed town quickly, leaving Wayne Newton, Celine Dion, and the life size replicas of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty in our rear view mirror.

Hiking into Supai Village

Hualapai Canyon

Everyone who makes the journey to Havasupai does so with the drive to the Hualapai Hilltop, which overlooks the splendid Hualapai Canyon. Of course we couldn’t see much as we arrived at the Hilltop about midnight. Even so, we were just happy to be there after dodging deer, cattle, and rabbits for a few long, drowsy hours. Happily we got there without a dent in the rental car. A zillion cars were parked there, but no signs of life.

After a restless night of sleep in our economy sized rental car, we were greeted with expansive views of the deep, long Hualapai Canyon at dawn, a few pink clouds hovering above the canyon rim. We weren’t alone, either, as plenty of people had the same idea as we did. A few even pitched a tent.

In the hot desert, the hike into the village of Supai can be long and miserable. Some people decide to ride horses, others the helicopter. Still others hike in but let the horses do the heavy lifting. For us it would be the most economical and strenuous option, a regular backpacking trip. So, before the morning got too hot, we outfitted ourselves and headed down the hot, dry, dusty, waterless trail.

The trip to the waterfalls always begins with a trip into the village in Supai, located deep within the lands of the Grand Canyon. Having never been there, I had a mental image in my mind of a humble but friendly little place, sort of like a living museum, where the people didn’t have much but were living happy, contented, and industrious lives, free from the stresses of modern life.

My mental impression of a little, albeit poor, Shangri-La was quickly dispatched at the end of my 8-mile hike from the hilltop. The town of Supai is not a place of riches and one can immediately tell that life is not a piece of cake.

Unlike most journeys into the inner Grand Canyon, the problems of civilization – not to mention the casual tourists – do not completely melt away during one’s trip to the Havasupai lands. It makes me wonder what Edward Abbey and John Muir would think of a 21st century trip to Supai.

For centuries, Havasu Canyon has been the home of a tenacious small tribe, never more than a thousand strong. Despite their small number, the Havasupai have managed to maintain their precarious hold on their language, their lands, and their very civilization despite many challenges.

Even so, the Havasupai people seemed pretty friendly, except for the one man we saw who had a t-shirt with a caption of “Fighting terrorism since 1492.” Given the colonial and post-colonial history of the tribe and the region, it’s difficult to take issue with such a statement. Anyone with an interest in the rich history of the Havasupai should consult “I Am The Grand Canyon: The Story of the Havasupai People”, written by Stephen Hirst.

We trudged through town on route to obtaining our pre-reserved camping permit. I purchased Trina a horseback ride for the trip out – she didn’t feel like hiking back up – and we headed through the rest of town on the way to the campground.

Oasis in the Desert

Oasis in the Desert
Navajo Falls

Leaving the town center, we hiked on down canyon. Although the terrain was pretty, I was ready to see the waterfalls that I had been dying to see for what now seemed like many years.

After a few more hot miles of hiking, we finally made it to the first of the falls, the Navajo Falls. Unlike the other waterfalls, Navajo Falls is well concealed in a sea of green and a bit off the track, so we decided to head on to the campground, which is located just past Havasu Falls.

A short while later, a few hundred yards ahead of the now very hot and tired Trina, I finally stumbled across the marvelously beautiful Havasu Falls. Wow! If one were to conjure up a slice of Paradise from scratch, it would probably resemble Havasu Falls. Blue water, lush green cottonwood trees, whitewater spilling over terraces, all in a bowl of fiery-orange rock. A place that everyone should journey to at least once. Probably the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen.

The campground is just a few hundred yards downstream of Havasu Falls. The locals were selling cold sodas for $2.00. Worth every penny after 10 miles of hiking with a heavy pack in the hot sun.

This being a warm April Saturday, the campground was packed, hundreds of tents stretched out for more than a mile down the creek. Fortunately, we found a lovely spot right near the campground’s entrance.

After setting up the tent, I decided I wanted to check out Mooney Falls, located just down from the end of the campground, about a mile from our camp. The #1 rank I gave Havasu Falls as my favorite waterfall of all time lasted about an hour. Until I gazed upon Mooney Falls. Spectacular and unsurpassable are the adjectives that come to mind, although they of course don’t do justice. I returned back to camp contented, relishing the prospect of spending the next three days in this Eden.

We awoke the next morning to something of a deserted camp. The exodus out of town was something to see, with probably 80 percent of the people heading back home to their comfortable air conditioned homes in Phoenix and the surrounding environs.

Havasu Creek Heaven

Havasu Falls from Above

Having the place generally to ourselves was quite a treat, especially the blue pool below Havasu Falls. There is no better place to kick back and read a book, take a swim, or just sit and soak up the misty breeze below the falls. Productive hours of time spent doing absolutely nothing.

Not wanting to carry all our food and related cooking equipment down to the campground, we decided that an early dinner in the village would be just the ticket each day. That of course involved hiking the trail back two miles into the village. I didn’t mind, as any opportunity to hike with Trina is one to be openly welcomed. Since arrival of daughter Alexa three years ago, the hiking opportunities have been few and far between.

We arrived back at the sun-baked village in the late afternoon. The village is a brown, dry place, stripped of blades of grass by the poor working horses of the village of Supai. The ever-present packs of dogs were not working so hard, many lying motionless in the middle of the trail. Some were arguing amongst themselves, ignorant of the tourists around them. A few were following the tourists, looking for a handout.

The only dining action in the town is the café. It was no Whoa Nellie Deli – the eastern Sierra has left me spoiled. However, the fry bread was scrumptious, one of my favorite perks of visiting Indian country. It went well with a giant cup of Coke.

On the way back, we stopped at the sparsely stocked store for a few provisions. A vegan wouldn’t last long here. The nearest grocery store is more than 100 miles away, even further to find a Whole Foods Market. After about an hour of slow, lazy hiking we got back to camp. The overhanging cottonwood trees of the camp provided cool relief from our hot hike.

Yesterday evening’s hustle and bustle was replaced by quiet, other than the noisy squirrel trying in vain haul an apple up a sheer rock wall. Perhaps a little haul bag would have done the trick.

Mooney Madness

Below Mooney Falls
Mooney Falls Portrait

The next day, I woke up well before the dawn for my big adventure of the trip, a hike down to the mighty Colorado itself. I jumped out of the tent, slipped on my 5.10 canyoneering shoes, and headed down the trail to Mooney Falls once again.

The only way to get down to the base of Mooney Falls is via a tunnel then down a series of carved out footholds, with steel posts and chains used for handholds. A slice of via ferrata in red rock country. Not hard, but not for those with a healthy fear of heights either. I gingerly descended the via ferrata, snapped a few shots at the base of the falls, then on my way down the banks of lower Havasu Creek.

Being so early in the day, I had the canyon to myself. Unlike the dirt freeway of the upper trail, the lower trail was little more than a use trail, one which frequently crossed the creek.

Finally, to be in the wilderness of the Grand Canyon. My enthusiasm for wildness transformed my brisk walk into a trail run, the blue creek flashing beside me. With each bend the rock walls were growing taller and redder and wilder, with thoughts of civilization melting beneath my feet.

Eventually I came to a dead end. I swam across the creek to see what was up and I spotted the rope leading to a long stair step section of the trail. Time to swim back across again – the dry bag for the camera was a smart move. I was back on the trail following some ungraceful rope work. Up the stairs I went, eventually topping out after a few hundred feet of Stairmaster, the terrain now becoming more level.

Beaver Falls Blues

Beaver Falls Overview
Beaver Falls

A short while later I finally came to the magnificent Beaver Falls, shortly after passing the national park boundary sign. Most of the visitors to Havasupai don’t get to see Beaver Falls, perhaps the most lovely of the waterfalls of the Havasu Canyon. Thanks to years of calcium carbonate precipitation, a series of 15 to 30 foot waterfalls, each emptying into an exquisite blue-green pool, were cascading down the narrow, towering reddish brown canyon walls.

I scrambled down to the base of the falls, marveling in the beauty of the wilderness. The Park Service website for Grand Canyon National Park states that “first time Grand Canyon hikers tend to react to the experience in one of two ways: either they can’t wait to get back, or they swear they’ll never do it again.” Put me in that first category.

After paying homage to the exquisite architecture of Beaver Falls, I resumed my run down the river. It seemed to take forever. Finally, I reached an impasse. The relatively open stream bed suddenly dropped into a deep pooled slot canyon, blocking further easy downstream progress. Quick reconnaissance revealed a narrow path on the north side of the creek.

After picking my way along the lava ledges for a few hundred yards, the mighty Colorado River canyon finally came into view, the lofty vistas of the open canyon replacing the narrow little canyon of Havasu Creek. The cottonwoods and the vines and grasses of the overgrown Havasu Canyon were replaced, in a few hundred short yards, by the octotillo (in red bloom!) and barrel cactus. How hot this place must be on a mid-summer afternoon.

Also replaced was my sense of isolation – surrounded by a friendly group of rafters and dory-boaters, a very peaceful and contented lot. I asked one lady how many days she’d been on the journey and she told me that she didn’t know as she threw her watch in the river many days ago.

Sadly, I needed to head back so I broke back off into a run up the Havasu Creek canyon, leaving the mighty Colorado behind. I eventually slowed to a walk, with the heat of the day taking its toll. Even worse were the blisters. The 5.10 Canyoneer shoe is a marvelous piece of footwear, but don’t forget the neoprene booties. Of course, the blisters got worse, the day got hotter, and after a while I was just ready to be back at camp.

A few miles from the base of Mooney Falls, I began to see a trickle of Havasupai tourists, eventually turning into a steady stream of onlookers. A curious number of them kept inquiring as to how many stream crossings there were on the trail. What is the point of fearing water here? I answered the inquiries with cheery enthusiasm, then on my merry way.

Eventually I made it to the base of the falls, back up the via ferrata for the last time. Seriously steep for a hiking trail. I still can’t figure out why people bold enough to descend to the bottom of Mooney would be scared of getting their feet wet. Camp was quickly reached.

Trina was enjoying herself, reading a book at the base of Havasu Falls, enjoying it like one enjoys the mist sprayers at a nice restaurant on a hot summer’s day. Not a bad way to spend time indeed. I took some time to relax and swam a few laps in the magnificent blue pool below the falls, jumping in right by the explosive spray radiating from its base.

Again we wandered into town, to enjoy some dinner – and some more fry bread. We also took a short trip into the museum at the camping office – highly recommended.

Sadly, this would be our last hike into town together as the next morning we would be leaving, Trina on horseback and me on foot. Horses are expensive and I’m afraid of them anyway, so a walk through the canyon it would be. After dinner, we lazily roamed back to camp and packed for the next morning.

To avoid the desert sun, I woke up way before dawn to tape and moleskin my feet, which were largely resembling hamburger at this point. Those damn canyoneering shoes. I was on my way, although with a very light pack – Trina’s horse would do the heavy lifting. I bid Havasu Falls adieu one last time and was on my way.

Early in the morning neither tourist nor villager was stirring, so I enjoyed my solitude in the shade. The dogs were asleep, the horses just tired. With a sigh, Havasu Canyon was behind me, now in the past, all that was left of the mini-vacation was the trudge out the Hualapai Canyon.


To avoid the desert sun, I woke up way before dawn to tape and moleskin my feet, which were largely resembling hamburger at this point. Those damn canyoneering shoes. I was on my way, although with a very light pack – Trina’s horse would do the heavy lifting. I bid Havasu Falls adieu one last time and was on my way.

Early in the morning neither tourist nor villager was stirring, so I enjoyed my solitude in the shade. The dogs were asleep, the horses just tired. With a sigh, Havasu Canyon was behind me, now in the past, all that was left of the mini-vacation was the trudge out the Hualapai Canyon.

Progress went pretty fast. I expected Trina and her guide to pass me but that never happened. Eventually I topped out but the food I stowed in the car would have to wait as Trina had the keys.

The smiling tourists I encountered on the trail and the parking lot were looking forward to seeing the beautiful land of the Havasupai and asked for my impression. I told them they would not be disappointed. How could anyone be?


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-9 of 9
Dan Dalton

Dan Dalton - Jun 27, 2007 5:27 pm - Hasn't voted

This is amazing!

Quite frankly, I had a hard time reading the TR because the photos are so amazing!! Very well done,


Dave K - Jun 28, 2007 2:28 pm - Voted 10/10

Awesome TR

Sometime, I think I might pick your brain about hiring a horse so Leah could make the trip down there. (Getting back out wouldn't be much of a problem).


mrwsierra - Jun 28, 2007 4:31 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Awesome TR

Thanks for the kind comments Dan and Dave! You can go into and out of the village via foot, horse, or helicopter. Going by helicopter is the fastest way but you don't get to enjoy the canyon as much.


lisae - Jun 28, 2007 11:20 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Awesome TR

I've talked with folks about the helicopter. The things you have to remember is that the cost is relatively high and tourists have the lowest prority. That means a lot of waiting around is involved.

Riding in and out is fun, but I think you need to be a competent rider. When I was there, I decided to ride out because my knees were really sore. I enjoyed the ride, but our 'guide' was an 10 year old boy who spent a lot of time showing off, taking off on side jaunts, and encouraging the horses to trot even though the my friend did not want to trot. Not a problem for me, but if you were not comfortable riding, I suspect you might appreciate dealing an adult guide.

It took about 2.5 or 3 hours to ride out. It took other people in our party about 4 hours to hike out.


TheBootfitter - Jul 2, 2007 3:40 pm - Voted 10/10

spectacular shots!

As always, Mark, your photos are incredible! Nice summary of the experience.

Mark Doiron

Mark Doiron - Jan 9, 2008 10:57 am - Voted 10/10

Awesome Work!

This is incredibly beautiful photography. Thanks for sharing it!

I'm taking over the Grand Canyon page and have removed the stuff for Havasupai because it was too confusing with two different mgt. agencies and sets of rules, fees, etc. On top of that, there is a Havasupai page. I've left this attached as related to the Grand Canyon NP (rather than a child). But you might wish to attach it to the Havasupai page, too.

Also, that page owner (Charles97) seems to have abandoned that page. You might consider taking it over--your beautiful photos certainly would dress up that page! Thanks! --mark d.


mrwsierra - Jan 9, 2008 6:59 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Awesome Work!

Thanks a lot for the kind words Mark. I may put up a Havasu Canyon page in the Canyons section and incorporate all of the route information that is already there.




tanya - Feb 4, 2008 1:30 am - Voted 10/10

My Eyes Hurt....

The colors are so spectacular! Dang! They are too impressive to just group together like that and take it all in at one shot. ;)


tigerlilly - Mar 6, 2008 1:53 pm - Hasn't voted

Terrific Job

Nicely done. I was thinking of doing this hike and your information and colorful writing was a delight to read! Thank you

Viewing: 1-9 of 9



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