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Havasupai Backpack Trip
May 21-25, 1999
by Ingrid Nelson
Motorolans begin their journey to Havasu Falls.

Late on a Friday afternoon, nine, overworked, tired Motorolans began their journey. Their destination ...Havasupai. Known for its spectacular blue-green water, Havasupai is a beautiful, serene place. After a long, arduous hike into the Grand Canyon, nothing is more enticing or as refreshing as the wondrous waterfalls of Havasupai. Matter of fact, most hikers take a dip at the first watering hole, just before reaching the village of Supai. Not only is the hike in challenging, try the daring descent down Mooney Falls. Though the trail may be exhausting, the sights and camaraderie among fellow Trailblazers make Havasupai a place not to be missed.

Friday, May 21st

We managed to escape work on Friday, ready for a relaxing trip down to Havasupai. Unfortunately, along the way, some idiot decided to set his motor home on fire, so there was a quite a long wait on I-17. Eventually we made headway, going en route through Prescott. After many hours stuck in traffic, our vehicle (Steve, Mike, and I) decided to take a leisurely dinner at a place called Woodfired Zuma in downtown Prescott. It’s right on Whiskey Row, and the pizza as well as the patio dining is excellent. Continuing on our way, we reached the Hualapai Lodge around 9:45. I found the lodgings impressive, very clean, economical, and nice, comparable to a Hampton Inn. We received a corporate rate of $55. After a long day, we pretty much hit the sack!

Saturday, May 22nd

Bright and early, at 6 am, we met for breakfast. Apparently, this was not early enough though, because there was a large party before us, making the service slow. The Hualapai Lodge is run by the Hualapai tribe, who also run a white- water rafting touring business. The river-rafters ate before us, but it worked out OK. This was an opportunity for us to get acquainted with most everyone going on the trip. We tanked up the vehicles before heading up the Indian road, as there is no civilization along the way.

At the trailhead we met up with Chelsea and Tom, and began to get ready. We arrived at 8:30 am, but did not manage to get going until 9:30 am. For future reference, this was a big mistake. By then, the sun was beating down, making very little shade along the way. Four clever people in our group had mules carry the packs, while five of us brave souls decided to trek it out. Everyone went his or her own pace, while I ended up bringing up the rear. My pack was HEAVY! Once I adjusted it so that the weight was distributed more around my hips, my speed increased from an ant’s pace to a steady stride.

The first part of the trail is rather steep, with many switchbacks, but it levels our along the Canyon floor the rest of the way. Most of the hike is between two canyon walls. This is one reason to get an early start .. for shade! The farther you go, vegetation changes from desert-like to more temperate, as you get closer to Havasu Creek. The trail begins in the Upper Sonoran Life Zone, with desert plants such as the yucca, agave, and squaw bush. Once reaching the creek, the humid climate (Oh boy!) promotes life of cottonwoods, ash, and wild grapevines. (BTW, the humidity is NO WAY approaching any noticeable level. Perhaps slight, but definitely not noticeable as the trail guide I have states. Believe me, I know humidity, being a Florida girl!)

No motor traffic, but there are plenty of mules.

There is one major turnoff, at the junction of Hualapai and Havasu canyons. At one time, the village of Supai was situated here until it was washed away by the great flood of 1910. Since then, the village has remained in its present location.

Heading left, we followed the riverbed upstream, passing many boulders and areas, where the creek flowed at one time. It was very interesting to see the minerals in the rocks that give the Havasupai water its blue-green appearance. The water, mixed with the mineral-laden creek bottom, forms a milky substance, known as travertine. The water carries the travertine down the canyon, until reaching the dry canyon air. The carbon dioxide evaporates, leaving the carbonates to coat the stream bottom. The creek bottom and particles suspended in the water reflect the sky, giving the creek it’s turquoise appearance.

First sight of water, I stopped for a quick dip. It was so REFRESHING after that long hike. The horses like to wade through the water also. I don’t blame them! By then, we figured via radio that Mike and I were only a short distance from everybody else and that we would meet up in the village.

Out in the distance, I could see the rock pillar guardians that overlook the village of Supai. These pillars are known as the Wigleeva, the guardian spirits of the Havasupai people. Interesting enough, the rocks depict a father carrying a child, and a mother bringing up the rear. I like this scenario. As always, there is an old Indian tale that goes with the Wigleeva.

Centuries ago, the ancestors of the Havasupai people were outstripping the canyon of its resources. As a result, the ancestors split into two groups. One group decided to travel east to find a new home. A man and a woman regretted leaving, so when they reached the top of the first cliff, they were turned to stone. Legend has it, if the Wigleeva were ever to fall, the canyon walls would fall in and the village would be destroyed.

Once I got the permits, we were back on our way. The village houses looked fairly nice, like manufactured homes. Also, there were not as many wild dogs wandering about, as some people have told me in the past. There were a bunch of cute colts some that looked only a few weeks old.

Only a few more miles and we finally reached Havasu Falls. We passed Navajo on the while, but Navajo is kind of hidden. We figured we would come back later. Once you reach Havasu Falls, the view is amazing! Immediately, I knew THIS is why I came down here. You can see all the campers and visitors swimming down in the pristine turquoise pools.

Only a few more hundred feet and we reached the campsite. FINALLY...I felt like my back was about to keel over. The campsite had an added feature this year... port-o-johns, that are flown in and out of the canyon, via helicopter on a weekly basis. Given the odor wreaking quite a foul stench from the bathrooms of years past (and from a distance, mind you), I was quite happy to have access to fresh port-o-johns. Eventually we found the Motorola bag on Rudy ’s tent. He reserved us a nice campsite, right next to the creek.

Actually on our journey in, two hikers recognized my Motorola Hiking shirt, as they had camped here with Rudy the night before. They said he was waiting for us. Both hikers were grinning from ear to ear, which tells me they had quite a swell time with Rudy (as always :P) !! Yet, Rudy was no where in sight when we arrived, so we set up camp. I knew he was downstream, hiking to the Colorado River.

Shortly thereafter, the gear for the clever ones that had their stuff carried in via mule arrived. After throwing off our hiking boots, and resting on the hardwood picnic tables, we knew we were ready for a refreshing swim. We joined the swimmers at Havasu, and enjoyed the late afternoon.

Once the sun began to fall, our stomachs were aching as much as our bodies, so we were ready for a full dinner. Most everyone who had a stove with the fuel attached was able to prepare his or her meal quickly, and eat. BUT, I had to watch water boil...for minutes on end, because Mike was determined to get this stupid detachable stove to work. An hour later, I finally got to eat. Funny how guys have to get fixated on fixing things, instead of using the ample stoves available that work.

Around 8 or 9, Rudy and another Mike strolled in from the Colorado. Unfortunately, Mike had twisted his ankle by stepping in a hole, under the wild grapevines. They had to return at a slow pace, due to Mike’s injury. Then, Rudy began to tell horror stories. In his 20 years of coming to Havasupai, he’s never seen a snake, but this time he saw 2 rattlesnakes on the way back from the Colorado. I also asked him how deep the creek was on him. He said the deepest part came up to his chest, which was underwater for me. That plus the rattlesnakes convinced to take the less aggressive hike to Beaver Falls the following day. Rudy didn’t just have horror stories to tell. He had a couple of good ideas. He brought a little net that he put his drinks in and left them in the creek to stay cool. Amazingly enough, he brought the essentials...19 cans of beer and a block of ice. How could you go wrong? :P

We were all exhausted, so we settled down to a long summer’s nap (...well this applies in my case)

Sunday, May 23rd

By the time I decided to get up, Steve Schauer was probably already at Beaver Falls. He was up with the stars, probably 4 am. I did not sleep that well, as I did not have an air mattress... or pad ... highly recommended.

After breakfast, I believe we left around 9:30ish. Today we headed down Mooney Falls (literally, DOWN) a slick ledge, through a tunnel, carved out by miners back in the early 1920’s. The drop is 196 feet, which is greater than Niagara.

Mooney Falls
Mooney Falls is the most sacred of the falls to the Havasupai people, originally known as the Mother of the Waters...That is until some idiot decided to fall off of it, back in 1880; hence, the name Mooney Falls. No one had descended the Falls until Daniel Mooney decided to give it a shot. The Indians warned it was possible only for the “birds of the air or the spirits of the dead”. But Danny did not heed their wisdom.

“Awww, shucks! I’m going anyway!”

He was a’ lookin’ for gold, as a member of the Beckman and Young prospector’s party. He was an ex-sailor, so they “thought” he would be good with a rope. Back in late winter of 1880, some fellow miners and Indians lowered him on a thin rope. Unfortunately for him, the rope snagged inside a crevice. Working the rope up and down quickly frayed it, so it was “Bye-bye, Danny”.

“So much for the birds and spirits!”

This tale seems plausible, but perhaps they left out a few additional facts. I mean whom do you know with a name like Mooney. Maybe he didn’t like to wear pants. And just maybe he thought he was Tarzan, and decided to swing to his death. Those ex-sailors I know, are just a wee bit crazy. I should know, I’m one myself.... just my thoughts on the matter.

...“Oh, Danny Boy, the Creek, the Creek is Calling...From Pool to Pool...”

So, from this historic point, we descended to the bottom of Mooney Falls. We followed the old miner’s trail, backwards, hanging on for dear life. So we took a breath and headed towards Beaver Falls. Lucky, for us, Mike had been here before. He knew the way, most of the time. We crossed the creek 4 or 5 times, got lost 4 or 5 times, almost fell in the water (oh, that was only me). This part of the trail is extremely lush and overgrown with wild grapevines. We were careful to watch our footing, passing messages back in our single file trek. “Rock...hole...Cactus to the left...loose ground...snake.” Just kidding! We didn’t see any snakes. The trail meanders across the creek, and often splits. I think there were numerous ways to get to Beaver Falls, just as long as you followed the river, you knew were going the right way.

We definitely did not go the right way. We climbed up the canyon wall, up and down. Somehow we got off track. Eventually we found some friendly rocks that someone hiking before us had left behind. :) This guided us down to Beaver. Once we got there it was quite relaxing. Those that made it to Beaver Falls were Christina Schneider, Irma Madrid, Rickey Madrid, Mark Madrid, Mike Burgess, and I (Ingrid Nelson). We had the Falls all to ourselves. We ate lunch and swam around a bit. I chased a squirrel until I got a nice picture of it. I think the squirrel liked my trail mix. Then we all took baths. I used this really good peppermint biodegradable soap. It was really refreshing. Everybody liked it.

When we started to head back, by a string of luck we met up with Steve Schauer, on his way back from the river. This time, we stayed on the right trail. Then, to my dismay, we came upon a ten-foot drop that we had to repel down. I did not like this AT ALL! Somehow I made it down, and scraped my legs up really good, just for the memories. We made good headway on the way back. It only took us an hour and fifteen minutes to reach Mooney. The trip to Beaver took 4 hours. I’m not quite sure how it worked out that way, but it did. After hanging out on the island at Mooney’s, we headed back up to camp.

Everyone in our group survived Mooney Falls, including Chelsea and Tom, who went down at a different time. Hooray!!

Another day of exhausting hiking...somewhere around 7 miles. That’s after the 10-mile trek in. So we were ready to eat, but it was only 4:00ish. That did not stop Rickey though. He is quite a food forager. While we were away, some forest critters ate all my trail mix. I was looking forward to it too. I think they crawled up the straps, hanging on the ground. Who knows, maybe that forest critter was human. Many of us took this opportunity to write postcards.

I was tired, so I went to bed early, looking forward to a day of relaxation.

Monday, May 24th

Well, we had a little sprinkle through the night (not the time to sleep under the stars. Steve donned his bivy sack that night, so he was prepared. Before even thinking of getting up, Steve trekked to and from the village around dawn. He served as the postman for some of us who like to sleep in.

After a bit, Christina, Mike, and I headed for town. I was ready for some non- Power Bar type food. I still can’t eat another granola bar for a while. It was one of the imminent weather-type days, where it looks like it might rain, but you’re never quite sure when. I liked it though, because the air was a little more damp. On the way, we watched as the helicopters carried the port-o- johns to the hilltop. For each one, it only took about 5 minutes...amazing! Such a lovely sight...“Did you see that eagle...no...I mean flying toilet? That’s a quite a sight!“

The town store did not have much to offer in the food department. It had mostly convenience store food, but nothing really good, I got some chips and ramen. The restaurant offered a wide array of junk food. Yet, it was difficult to order, because at the moment, the fryer was broken, which just about eliminates everything on the menu. It wasn’t really broken...you just would have to wait...a good hour. So I got a little something, then the real reason we came to town, was for me to realize that I really needed a mule to carry my stuff to the hilltop. At least that’s what my legs told me. In the meantime, I ran into Tom and Chelsea, who were considering the same option, so it worked out great. We had our 4 people for the extra mule. They also decided to hire mules to carry themselves up. Then there was a little sprinkle of rain. The Indians were bringing in concrete, as they were building some kind of community center. Unfortunately, they left the concrete out on the ground. I wonder if it still will be there tomorrow. Conversation kept us in town a little longer than we thought. Once the fryer was hot, Christina and I had to have Indian fry bread (she’s never had it). I piled it high with honey and powdered sugar. It was so good, and really sweet! We got the Talkabout radios to work to Navajo Falls (about a mile) but the channel was breaking up.

Soon we headed back to Navajo, to swim a bit. The water was so inviting, I just decided to jump in, even though I didn’t have a bathing suit. Oh well. I read a little in my book, but I don’t recommend bringing one unless you really plan to read it..unless you really like to carry heavy packs.

This day went by quickly. Mike and I tried to climb up part of the falls, but I didn’t like the slippiness or nature of the ledge. I had had my fill from Mooney, so he went up and checked it out. He says the creek had changed paths anyway, and there wasn’t as much water as last year. So I made it down...whew! We headed back to camp.

Tuesday, May 25th

Considering the heat factor from the pack trip in, we started out early Tuesday morn.

Take note, I got up at 5ish, and was on the road by 6:20 AM! Make sure you jot that down...5:00 AM...it was still dark! Usually the sun is already beating down, by the time I get up, but today, I saw the stars after going to sleep. It turned out to be a good thing, when Mike finally got off my case about being slow. Some people just go slower than others. Deal with it! Steve was in the lead...he got an hour head start. Cheater...but he did have a pack, the only one among us who packed out. Rickey and Christina were close behind. Then came Mike and me, and Irma and Mark. Irma walked out with a hurt leg.

Once we reached the switchbacks, I’ll tell ya, I don’t remember all these hills on the way in. The worst part was when a pack mule train goes by. One of the mules almost killed me. He would have plowed through me if I didn’t jump up on the side, behind a ledge. So this ended up being a motivating factor. Mike and I were between two pack mule trains. I did not want the mules to catch up, so I walked as fast as I could. Quite a motivator when a mule is on your a..!

We made it to the top a little over 4 hours. That beer was just a beckoning above. Some of the tribe had a setup with hamburgers, hot dogs, and cold Coke! The key word is cold. Our beer and cider survived the 3 day chill, just enough to still be a bit cold. After a few sips, we tortured Mark a little bit, by telling him we were drinking beer over the radios. But he eventually got one. Let me tell ya, towards the top, he was running...that is amazing!

Havasupai was great fun, beautiful water, and great times with friends. I’m including a list of things we wish we had brought, and things we wish we had left behind. I hope this trip report motivates you to visit the land of the blue-green waters. If my commentary does not, perhaps the pictures will!

Happy Trails,
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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated December 29, 2017