Havasu Canyon, Grand Canyon: A Day in the Canyon

Mulgullo Point above Carbonate Canyon

Tuesday, October 29 was a quiet day. We mostly took it easy and rested or explored Havasu Canyon areas closer to the campground. We needed to marshal our strength for the big hike back out of the canyon the following day. And we were worried about Rick’s hurt knee. The slower day also afforded us the opportunity to check out the tiny village of Supai, where most Havasupai homes and services in the canyon are clustered.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Sean and I slept in a bit and eventually emerged from our tent to find Josh curled up with a book and a cup of coffee.

It was a cold morning in the shadow of the canyon walls, so we had a leisurely breakfast with lots of hot coffee. Sean and I broke out our favorite dehydrated meal—Mountain House Breakfast Skillet.

Mallard (female)

A lone female Mallard visited the creek near our little island while we were getting ready for our day.

Unlike the two previous very early mornings, on this cloudless Tuesday it was a quarter to ten before we strolled out of camp.

Fremont Cottonwood

We wanted to check out the village of Supai, two miles back up the trail. Rick with his messed up knee from the previous day’s hike, decided not to exacerbate the injury and stayed behind, enjoying the morning sunshine at Havasu Falls.

The rest of us continued past the falls and on toward Supai.

Havasu Falls

Havasu Creek

We took our time, checking out side trails to see where things led, while still being respectful of Havasupai structures and, in particular, the cemetery, which was along the trail.

As we walked along, we wondered what was happening in the outside world. We had no cell service and therefore no news. We mused about our most desired news stories: syphilis cured, Mitt Romney as Senate Majority Leader, the administration swept suddenly from office.

Navajo Falls

Fifty-Foot Falls and Navajo Falls

Grand Canyon Masked Clubskimmer

We stopped to look at a very large dragonfly on some sage. What we didn’t know at the time was this this species is mostly found in Central America. The tiny population in the the Grand Canyon, discovered only in 2003, is the only known breeding population of this dragonfly in the United States.

Fremont Cottonwood

Fremont Cottonwoods

During the decades that the Havasupai were trapped in the canyon without any plateau lands included in their land, they cultivated fast growing cottonwoods in the canyon so that they would have fuel to burn for heat in the winters.

As we approached the village, I stowed my camera, per the rules prohibiting photography in the village.

There were lots of pups, both tagging along with the mule and horse teams that occasionally passed and scampering about in the village itself.

At the outskirts of the village, farm fields, corrals, and homes (many from government-issued housing structures) soon gave way to a slightly denser village center. We walked into the center of town and went into the village store, which was stocked mostly with the sorts of things you’d find at a bodega or Seven Eleven. Not a lot of fresh food or produce. This is typical of what is available on reservations and is a huge part of why Native Americans are 50% more likely to suffer from obesity than non-Hispanic Whites in the United States. It’s like the common staple of fry bread, a legacy of European flour and other ingredients that were all that was available to Native Americans when they were first forced onto reservations and into camps. Here in the canyon, the Havasupai serve fry bed to hungry, tired tourists.

We were hot from our walk. I got a bottle of Gatorade and a creamsicle. Sean got a container of Pringles. We sat outside the on benches against the low wall of the primary school playground—between the store and the tourist office and opposite the helicopter landing area—and watched newly arrived hikers coming along the long straightaway of the village’s main road and stopping in front of the tourist office.

Sean remarked that it was like watching exhausted stragglers reaching the finish line during a marathon.

We sat in the shade and people watched for a while. In the playground, the littlest kids were outside for early recess.

Some forty-five minutes after we arrived, we headed back toward the campground.

Havasu Creek

Havasu Creek

Havasu Creek


Plateau Fence Lizard

Golden Crownbeard

Willow Bacharis


The sun had shifted so that it directly fell upon the pools above Navajo Falls. A couple dozen swimmers were taking advantage of the sunshine, so we headed over to have a look.


Navajo Falls

Navajo Falls

Navajo Falls

Globemallow. Image: Sean M. Santos

Navajo Falls

We continued on back toward Havasu Falls and the campground.

Navajo Falls

Catclaw Acacia


Havasu Falls

Back above the falls, Josh corn-called (don’t ask) for Rick, who met us at the bottom of the trail. He had bad news: his knee had only worsened throughout the day, and he was certain he wouldn’t be able to hike out of the canyon the following morning carrying his full pack.

Darkling Beetle

Erik went back up the trail to get some fry bread for him and for Rick. He said that he would ask about options like mules or even the helicopter.

Josh and Sean and I returned to camp.

Great-Tailed Grackle, Single-Leaved Ash

When Erik and Rick got back to camp, Erik laid out the situation: there was no scheduled helicopter flight on Wednesdays, so the best (only really) option was to hire a mule, not for Rick to ride, but to transfer his backpack out. Since it was the same price ($200) for one bag or for four bags, we decided to all go in on a mule, freeing us from carrying our packs out. Erik set out for the village in order to reserve a mule at the tourism office.

Rick wanted to rest his knee in camp, but Sean, Josh, and I decided to put out bathing suits and try for our final best chance to go for a dip.

Sean wanted some fry bread first, so he and I went up to the stand above the waterfall. While we waited for our order, the fry bread stand dog came over, made friends with Sean, and laid down at his feet. We passed the time chatting with a group of three guys from Phoenix, Tucson, and Toledo.

We talked about the cold snap that had come through and was only worsening. This was the week of Halloween, and a cold front was moving across the continent each day. It would cause there to be Halloween snow back home in Chicago on Thursday. Here in Havasu Canyon on Tuesday afternoon, it was still warm in the sun, but the temperatures were definitely lower than they usually were at this time of year. Instead of 70s in the day and 50s at night, the forecast for the following day was for a high in the 50s and the overnight low ahead of us was forecast for the upper 20s.

But we still wanted to get a swim in.

We went back and met Josh by the pools below the falls. He said a man had asked him about at trail near the pools, so we checked it out.

But it didn’t really appear to go anywhere.

Josh went in over his head. I made it up to my waist. And Sean went in up to his knees because he still wasn’t feeling top notch.

By now it was growing cold, so we went back to camp.

Back at our campsite, we snacked on some funky looking dried fruit and played rounds of Uno while it steadily grew colder. We chatted about the trip, making a few observations about the people who were with us in the canyon. The most different thing than the trips to the National Parks was that there were virtually no children and no seniors. Because of the rigors and expense the demographics landed at relatively fit 20- through 50-somethings.

We spent some time that afternoon getting ready to head out in the morning. We had to have our bags at the drop site near the campground entrance by about 6:45am so that they could be loaded onto the pack trains. I had been using my big backpack strapped down as a daypack, but that wouldn’t be an option in the morning. So I improvised and turned the stuff sack for my sleeping bag into a sort of sling pack that could hold my water bladder and a few essentials for the hike out.

After dinner we donned our headlamps and walked over to the top of Mooney Falls to look at the stars..

That’s a 200-foot drop with no guard rail.

The Milky Way

Speckled Dace

Crossing the bridge back to our campsite, we noticed fish in the creek. We had not seen any before then.

Then it was time to make hot water bottles and settle in. The 5am alarm would come very early.

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