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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrHavasu Canyon is a steep gorge in Southwestern United States, carved by the turquoise waters of Havasu Creek, that forms part of Arizona's immense Grand Canyon. It is renowned for a series of spectacular waterfalls that cascade gracefully into travertine pools, remarkable for their vivid shade of blue. The canyon was once home to prehistoric people, determined by ancient cave drawings and ruins discovered in the area, but today it is inhabited by the Havasupai (meaning “people of the blue-green water”) tribe that has lived in the area for centuries.
Havasu Creek is fed from Cataract Creek, a meandering stream of snow-melt and rainwater that drains from Bill Williams Mountain and snakes across the Coconino Plateau for about 80 kilometers before tumbling down a steep, sandstone cliff into Havasu Canyon. Except in the case of a flash flood, Cataract Creek is a mere trickle until it reaches Havasu Springs, an underground river that gushes forth to form Havasu Creek. The creek is well-known for its striking blue-green hue and distinctive travertine formations, both a result of the heavy concentration of calcium carbonate in the water.
This calcium is distributed through the rushing water, rapidly lining the creek bed with a layer of limestone that reflects the blue sky and lends the creek its stunning color. Such a high mineral content also allows Havasu Creek to follow an ever-changing path. Any items that fall into the stream mineralizes very quickly, creating new formations, and changing the flow of the water. From one year to another, the creek never looks quite the same. Still, as ever, it cuts through the Havasupai Reservation, following the bottom of the canyon past Supai, the tribe’s only village, until it ultimately merges with the Colorado River. Water is especially precious in such a dry climate, and the Havasupai consider the source of this creek to be a sacred place that is intimately associated with the legend of their origin.
Havasupai tribeThe Havasupai tribe is the smallest Indian Nation in the United States, totaling only 600 people. 800 years ago, the tribe settled the canyon, creating an idyllic haven for farming, hunting, trade, and raising families. In the summer they grew fruit trees, corn, squash, melons, and beans on the canyon floor. After harvesting their crops in the fall, they moved to winter settlements on the rim of the canyon where men hunted deer, antelope, and small game while women wove beautiful baskets. They traded with the Zuni and Hopi, exchanging their fine quality buck skins, woven baskets, and powdered red ocher for pottery and turquoise. The Havasupai were renowned for their buck skins and their red ocher, obtained from a secret place, was highly prized by other tribes who used it as a pigment for their traditional face paint.
This lifestyle was interrupted in the late 1800s when miners and ranchers seized their lands on the plateau and confined the Havasupai to their summer village of Supai and the surrounding 518 acres. Almost a century passed before their winter homelands were restored by Congress in 1975. Today, they continue to cultivate the fertile land and, despite relying economically on tourism, the Havasupai take their guardianship of the Grand Canyon seriously by severely limiting visitation to protect the fragile environment. Named the "Shangri-La of the Grand Canyon", the waterfalls of Havasu Canyon draw thousands of visitors to this remote Native American reservation each year.
What to SeeThe trail into Havasu Canyon starts on Hualapai Hilltop and descends steeply by a series of switchbacks for the first mile into the canyon, and then more gradually for another half mile to the canyon floor. From here, the village of Supai is about 13 kilometers downstream. On your way to the village, you’ll follow Havasu Creek past sunny vineyards, trees laden with fruits of every color, and lush fields of corn and alfalfa.
Navajo FallsIt used to be that these were the first of the series of waterfalls in Havasu Canyon, located about a mile past Supai, until a flood occurred in 2008. The roaring water set off a massive mudslide that rerouted Havasu Creek, creating two new falls – Upper Navajo Falls and Lower Navajo Falls. Upper Navajo Falls plunges about 15 meter into a rocky pool and Lower Navajo Falls, located a short distance downstream, falls 9 meter into a swimming hole. What remains of the original Navajo Falls is the cliff it once fell from, now completely dry.
Havasu FallsThe third waterfall in the canyon, and arguably the most popular, Havasu Falls is about 2.4 kilometers past the village of Supai. It is accessed by a side trail that branches from the right side of the main trail, taking you across a small plateau until it drops into the main pool. The falls consist of a single cascade that tumbles 30 meter over a sheer cliff into a large swimming hole below.
There is a small, natural rock shelter accessible by swimming behind the falls as well as a large beach for lounging in front of the waterfall. The falls are known for their natural pools, created by mineralization, although most of these were damaged or destroyed in the early 1990s by large floods that washed through the area. A small, man-made dam was constructed to help restore the pools and to preserve what is left of them. There are many picnic tables on the opposite side of the creek and it is very easy to cross over by following the edges of the pools.
Mooney FallsLocated just downstream of the campground, 3.6 kilometers from Supai, is the fourth waterfall in Havasu Canyon. It is named after D.W. “James” Mooney, a miner who decided to mine the area near Havasu Falls for minerals in 1882, and fell to his death while trying to climb Mooney Falls. The main trail offers an excellent view of the 210-foot high falls, but the side trail down to the bottom of the falls is very difficult and dangerous. Extreme caution is required as the descent is highly exposed and should not be attempted in poor weather.
The first half of the trail is only moderately difficult until the portion beyond a small passageway is reached, and you must descend a semi-vertical cliff with only strategically placed chains, handholds,and ladders to aid you. Strong swimmers can swim about 6 meter to the left of the falls to discover a small cave in the face of the cliff, located just above the water line.
Beaver FallsWhile regarded as the fifth set of falls in the canyon, Beaver Falls is actually a small series of waterfalls placed in close proximity to one another. They are located about 10 kilometers downstream of Supai and are the most difficult to reach. After the climb to the bottom of Mooney Falls, you’ll follow a visible trail that becomes increasingly remote and rugged over the next 3-6 kilometers. You’ll have to cross the creek multiple times and descend an 8-foot rock ledge with a rope before arriving farther downstream.
Here, you’ll find a rock chute/slide that provides access to Beaver Falls. For an easier route, continue on until you reach a beaten path just before the trail turns north to continue down the canyon. Turning upstream from here, it is possible to reach the creek bed and follow it further upstream to the falls. The pools here are small, but are still good for swimming. Just 8 kilometers further downstream, Havasu Creek merges with the mighty Colorado River.
How to Get ThereThere are no roads to Supai Village so visitors arrive by horse or on foot. The trail begins at Hualapai Hilltop which has a parking area with no facilities. The nearest towns are Peach Springs (109 kilometers away) and Seligman (145 kilometers away), both located on Highway 66. From Highway 66, take Route 18 north for approximately 97 kilometers to the trailhead. The sign for Route 18 is obscured, especially in the dark.
Fees/PermitsThe entrance fee is $ 20 USD per person and the camping fee is $ 10 USD per person nightly. Permits are required from the Havasupai tribe to enter the canyon. You can hike the trail or arrange to reach the Supai village by horseback or helicopter. Horses are available for rent to carry packs or riders. There are also horseback day tours from the village to the popular waterfalls. Contact the Havasupai Tourist Enterprise to determine all costs because they are subject to change and may vary with the season.
LodgingVisitors may stay at the large, primitive campground (daily fee for camping) or the small, rustic motel in the village. Reservations should be made well in advance and a 50% deposit is required. Amenities include a village café, a general store, and a post office. For a leisurely trip to the waterfalls, plan to spend at least two nights in the village.
RememberBring comfortable clothing, a swim suit, sturdy walking shoes, a hat, insect repellent, sunblock, a camera, and lots of film. Ground fires are prohibited so a gas stove is necessary for those who plan to cook. Be sure to pick up any provisions that you may need on Highway 66. There are no gas stations or stores along Route 18, and supplies are limited and expensive at the small general store in Supai.
When to GoApril-May and September-November are best for a visit because the climate is moderate on the rim as well as on the canyon floor. These months also avoid the heat and crowds of summer.
Nearby LandmarksGrand Canyon National Park
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Author: kristen7225. Last updated: Feb 03, 2015