I think of the words, “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse,” as I float past sleeping campers. They are someplace in dreamland, and I am on a dream walk, delighting in the ever-present song of Havasu Creek. I think of missing a morning such as this and feel thankful that I am an early riser, one who enjoys the dawning of a new day.
The symphony continues as Havasu Falls bids me hello. I stop in reverence, and then take off on a side trail leading to Navajo Falls. I was too tired to enjoy Navajo Falls the day before, so I’m making the trip now. Besides, I think it’s more of a morning place. And I am right.
As I crouch beneath the branches of a scrawny tree, mentally immersed in the falls, the first rays of sunlight touch the cliff behind the falls, painting the water with golden glitter. A minute or so later, after making several images, the light changes and the scene looks like any other.
I mosey back to camp, but I want to hurry to tell my friends what they’ve missed. Perhaps I can convince them to join me the next morning. The days pass, and I never do, but we have fun exploring the area just the same.
My Kansas friends Carol and Bill were the first to tell me about Hualapai and Havasu canyons, which lead to the bigger and grander Grand Canyon. They spoke of blue-green waters, too strange a color to describe; they told of waterfalls worth countless rolls of film; they promised Indian fry bread.
To hike into the canyons, you begin at the edge of the Coconino Plateau, a place where the land literally slips away, sharp cliffs plunging more than 1,000 feet.
At first glance, I thought the descent was nearly impossible. At the north side of Hualapai Hilltop trailhead, however, a trail zig-zags down the dry canyon, tumbling at a steep grade for the first mile before descending gradually to Havasu Canyon and Supai Village. The morning of my descent with friends Lisa and Jim, the trail was alive with hikers trekking down and a few early risers hiking up. Most exciting was watching the Native Americans riding on horseback, with long trails of mules bringing up the rear.
A large portion of Hualapai and Havasu canyons are on the Havasupai Indian Reservation of northern Arizona. (The name Havasupai means, quite suitably, “the people who live where the waters are blue-green.”) Reservation boundaries adjoin Grand Canyon National Park to the north. Before Havasu Creek unites with the Colorado River portion of the park, however, you’ll find Supai Village, secluded home of the Havasupai Indians, and accessible only by foot, horseback or helicopter.
The Havasupai have always been a peaceful people. Once dependent on hunting and gathering, today they farm and raise livestock. Living in one of the most remarkably beautiful locations in all of Arizona has also given the Havasupai the opportunity to reap the benefits of tourism as well.
We spent a couple hours in the village, talking to the children and watching as they played wheelbarrow with great joy. We bought a few treats at the local store, ate delicious fry bread and Indian tacos, then hiked out of the village on a trail that parallels Havasu Creek off and on before reaching 75-foot-high Navajo Falls. Certainly one of the most beautiful of waterfalls, it was named for a famous Havasupai chief who died in 1898.
Next we hiked past Havasu Falls and watched from the trail above as people swam in the blue-green waters below. My friends, as well as the local Indians, told me of a major change in Havasu Canyon in recent years. Unfortunately, two major floods ravaged the region in the early 1990s, tearing out some of the travertine pools and changing the course of some of the waterfalls. At one time, Havasu Falls, nearly 100 feet high, was but one large spray of water; today it is two.
Travertine pools are intricate affairs, bestowing a mysterious beauty to the desert. Water laden with calcium and magnesium carbonates, as well as magnesium chloride and calcium sulfate blends together and coats whatever it touches, forming a medium called travertine. Spray from the waterfall blankets nearby trees and plants; twigs, leaves and other debris are also coated with the stuff, forming dams and creating lovely blue-green pools. Also, travertine covers the limestone rock near the falls, fashioning lacy travertine curtains.
Although floods have destroyed some of the pools, efforts have been made to reconstruct them. People are paying nature back, helping it to heal at a faster pace than normal. While these pools are forming, there are plenty of others to enjoy.
On our second day in camp, we hiked past the north end of the campground to Mooney Falls, named for Daniel Mooney, an American prospector who fell to his death in 1880. You can view the falls (at 196 feet, the highest falls in the canyon) and travertine curtains from up above, or descend the steep cliff for a close-up view of the falls.
If you haven’t had enough hiking, you can always explore the likes of Fern Canyon, or you can hike along the rim, where there’s a bird’s-eye view of both Havasu and Mooney falls. And if that isn’t enough, there’s an unmaintained trail leading to the Colorado River. Hike it and I can guarantee you won’t feel like a slug in the morning.
Donna Ikenberry is a writer and photographer who lives in South Fork, ColoradoResearch Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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