Havasu Canyon, Grand Canyon: Planning

Havasu Falls

In January 2019, Sean and I received a text from our friend, Rick, in Denver, who wanted to gauge our interest in trying to secure campground reservations in Havasu Canyon sometime that year. I replied almost instantly that we were interested.

Located south of the Colorado River and west of the National Park developments at the South Rim, Havasu Canyon is the largest tributary canyon into the Grand Canyon. It and the plateau lands that surround it are the home of the Havasupai Tribe, who take their name, “People of the Blue-Green Water” from the world-famous waters and waterfalls of Havasu Creek, which flows from a canyon spring to its confluence with the Colorado River. On the way, the creek tumbles over a series of waterfalls, which attract some 25,000 outsiders a year to the tiny reservation village of Supai, population roughly 600.

Supai is an eight-mile-long hike from the trailhead at Hualapai Hilltop, which is itself some 65 miles from the nearest town, Peach Tree, Arizona. The campground is two miles further down the canyon from Supai, making it a solid ten miles from and some 2,000 feet below the trailhead. In other words, this would be a pretty epic backpacking trip. Rick also reached out to our friend, Josh, who was keen to go. So in all our group would be five: Josh, Sean, and me from Chicago and Rick and Erik from Denver. If Rick was able to get reservations.

Reservations went on sale through the Havasupai Tribe’s website on February 1. Rick spent that morning refreshing his browser for several hours before he was able to get in. It was like Ticketmaster for a particularly sought after concert, and often the reservations for the entire year sell out quickly and people have to try again the following year. Even though there were some dates we would not have been able to go, we agreed that Rick should just get what he could and we’d either figure it out.

Late that morning, Rick texted. He had scored us a reservation for Sunday, October 27 through Wednesday, October 30.

Holy shit, we were going to see Havasu Falls.

We would be camping for three nights, which is the minimum length of a reservation. The dates, while great in terms of avoiding insanely hot weather, weren’t perfect. We would need to fly out West on Saturday, October 26 in order to be at the trailhead early Sunday morning. In order to do that, Josh would have to move a work thing. He fretted briefly in our kitchen until I said, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Just move it.”

That evening, the three of us looked at the cover of my old, beloved Reader’s Digest National Parks book from childhood. Although even in the late 80s when it was published, Havasu Falls was no longer in a National Park (more on that later), the book still featured the falls on its cover, and I’d spent hours gazing at the image as a kid and imaging journeying to that place.

I had a conflict too, actually. Thursday, October 31 was the Annual Luncheon at work. If I still worked at Openlands then, I’d probably have to hike out of Havasupai Canyon a day early to get back to Chicago on Wednesday. I didn’t relish it, but I’d cross that bridge if I still worked there. I did at least let my colleague who ran the event know that I was going to the Grand Canyon just before the Luncheon. It turned out that she would leave the organization in August, less than a month before I made my departure in early September.

Reservations in hand, we lived our lives, occasionally getting excited and talking about early planning for the trip as winter ended, spring came and went, and summer arrived in Chicago. In July, I laughed when I learned that Beyoncé (and Blue Ivy) had helicoptered into Havasu Canyon to shoot some footage for the music video for “Spirit,” her song for The Lion King. When we watched the video, I said, “That’s where we’re going!”

The plan was that Rick and Erik would drive from Denver, arriving in the late afternoon/early evening of Saturday, October 26 at the Grand Canyon Caverns Inn, in the middle of nowhere on Route 66 outside of Peach Tree, Arizona. Sean, Josh, and I would fly from Chicago to Las Vegas on Saturday morning, rent a car, get our final supplies, and drive to the inn to meet the guys that evening. On Sunday morning, we’d hike into the canyon and frolic until Wednesday morning, when we’d hike back out. We’d spend Wednesday night back at the Grand Canyon Caverns Inn. Thursday morning, October 31, we’d say goodby to Rick and Erik as they hit the road back to Denver. Then Sean, Josh, and I would head back to Las Vegas where, instead of flying immediately home, we’d spend Halloween night at the Luxor. Josh would head home on Friday, November 1, and Sean and I would stay one more night and head home Saturday, November 2.

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