Havasupai Indian Reservation
West Quest Date: May/2005
Equipment: Canon Powershot 5MP Wide Angle Lens
Morning Has Broken
I was very excited to finally witness Havasupai in person. Like everyone else I had seen the images online and wondered if it was really as colorful in person as it was on the web.
This place is out in the middle of nowhere, and I had to spend the night in Peach Springs near Indian Road 18 which leads nearly an hour down a two lane to Hualapai Hilltop, the designated parking area for the hike.
It was still dark when I arrived, however, I noticed the parking area had several vehicles that had looked like they had been there awhile (probably from the residents of Havasupai Indian Reservation). Also, there were several cars and trucks with windows bashed in (probably from looters). So, my first impressions were definitely not the greatest upon arrival.
Going Down To Supai
The eight-mile hike down to the lodge and village office was relatively easy in the dark. Of course, I was hauling around 45 pounds of gear with me, so nothing is easy with that pack! In case you didn't know, the village of Supai is the only place in the country to have its mail delivered by mule train. It is accessible only by foot, mule or helicopter.
After descending down to the canyon floor it was finally daylight, and I remember passing both a man and woman backpacker who looked like they were on their way back out and resting on a rock in the shade. I was maybe 20 feet away, but to this day I could swear one of them looked just like Neil Young! Ha! He had shouted out "Long Live The Backpackers!" as I was hiking by them.
With the rocker's blessing I kept going until I found the village and tribal office. Luckily, I arrived early and got a place in line for a coveted permit to the falls campground. Back in '05 permits weren't in such high demand as they are nowadays. Prices now are around 200 bucks for a three night stay. For those with more money to spare there is also a nice lodge to stay in at the village, which is about 2 miles from the falls.
The remaining hike is a casual stroll through nice greenery along cool crystal streams. There is a detour to Navajo Falls, but by this point I was ready for camp.
The neat thing about this hike is you get to pass by the "Big Enchilada" on your way to the campground. Out of nowhere you find yourself descending down the side of Havasu Falls in all it's glory! Words cannot describe the magnificent wonder and color explosion you witness seeing the falls for the first time in person!
The waterfall is fed via the gorgeous blue waters from the Havasu River. Its vivid blue color is a direct result of the large amounts of magnesium found in the water. The creek also contains much calcium carbonate which gives the water a greenish color.
Arriving at the campground about a mile from Havasu Falls I was pleasantly surprised as well. There's plenty of room to stretch out, and there is plenty of drinking water, restrooms, and picnic tables available also. I found an abandoned float mattress that I put under my foam pad and sleeping bag for extra comfort. It also helps that you camp right along the creek, so within minutes the water sounds put you right to sleep!
Shooting America's Best Waterfall!
Just Like Heaven
Tip One: Beat The Crowd! They key to getting cool waterfall shots starts with knowing when to shoot them. With Havasu Falls, I knew my advantage would be to get up before the crack of dawn and make the mile-long hike back up to the falls before people started to show up.
My game plan was to start at the bottom of the falls and work my way up the trail to the top. The lack of daylight and length of image exposure hurt the shots I took at the foot of the falls, but even with bad lighting and exposure they still turned out ok. You can't take a bad shot at this waterfall! By the time I made my way up to shoot "Just Like Heaven" and "Morning Has Broken" the sun started to make its presence known and I luckily got my shots before the sun blinded everything. Done, it was a wrap, and I made my way back to the campground before a tent zipper could even be heard opening!
After a nice morning nap the afternoon was spent going back to the falls and enjoying swim time and lounging in the shade. The unique color of the water almost made you feel like you were swimming in something radioactive! Ha!!
Shooting To The Mooney And Back!
Walking On The Moon
The next morning it was literally time to go shoot the Moon! Mooney Falls is nother magnificent waterfall that's only a mile down from Havasu Falls on the right. With this waterfall, the ratio of magnesium to calcium carbonate is heavily in favor of magnesium which accounts for the water at the falls being almost all blue. Its pool found at the bottom of the waterfall is even bluer in color because as the pool naturally deepens the remaining calcium carbonate is slowly released into the air. Again, at first discovery Mooney looks other-worldly like Havasu. The walls around the fall look almost pink in color!
Before I get started with Mooney, it is of the utmost importance to understand how dangerous this waterfall is for visitors to navigate. In fact, it is named after a miner named James Mooney who lost his life there while attempting to climb up the steep landscape in 1882. Please use extreme caution when descending and climbing the chains back up!
Crystal Blue Persuation
I used the same strategy as I did with Havasu Falls the morning before. I got up about an hour before sunrise and made my way down the mile-long path to Mooney Falls. At this Fall, you arrive at the top and have to make your way down some caves and chains until you eventually hit the bottom. Depending on the wind the water gets blown into the metal chains and makes for quite a slippery descent, so take your time. There are some great photo opportunities along the way. I captured "Walking On The Moon" and "Crystal Blue Persuation" on this trek.
Once you hit the canyon floor there's more great shots to get, including a nice amazon-type area on the way to Beaver Falls. Beaver is about three miles from Mooney along a meandering path through a bushy thicket. So, by the time you get there you don't have much time to play and take photos before you have to head back up to Mooney and then on to the Havasu campground.
Leave it to Beaver Falls
I did manage to capture "Green River" before heading back, and I was tempted to find the "Green Room" underwater cave at the base of the falls. It's a good thing I didn't, because I just made it back up Mooney before it would have been too dark to try the ascent.
I could have packed enough goods to camp at Beaver Falls and then continue further down to the Colorado River another two miles and then make the hike back to Havasu the next day, but instead, I decided to go to Navajo Falls and into the Supai Village for a hot meal (Supai Tacos, yum!) before heading out of the canyon the next day.
Fire And Water
It's a good thing I decided on this trek, as Navajo Falls as I got to see it doesn't exist anymore. I was so lucky to have seen these fantastic falls and capture "Fire and Water" before tragedy struck in 2008. A huge flood forever changed the falls and scenery of both Navajo and Havasu. Even though both are still incredibly beautiful to visit they just don't look as grand as when I got to witness them in all their glory.
Make no mistake about it. The trek down from Hualapai Hilltop to Havasu Falls on the first day was long and arduous. But it doesn't compare to making the reverse climb back out of the canyon with still close to 30 pounds on your back. In the heat. In temperatures over 110 degrees type of heat...
Having a 'Come To Jesus' Meeting
I got up at the crack of dawn to help with the situation, but even doing that you still hit the steep part at the heat of the day. I found myself having one of those "Come To Jesus" meetings about 3/4 of the way up the last mile or so. Meanwhile, you are constantly reminded of your poor self with mule riders passing you on the way up in comfort.
Even better yet, I found myself waving at the passengers in the ascending helicopters to show some type of mercy on me! Ha!
Yes, I kissed the ground at the top. I also yelled "Long Live The Backpackers" for Neil. I'm not ashamed of this. And I think the great Supai Tribal Warriors gave their blessing, because right after that I found my car was left untouched by looters! I couldn't wait to make the hour-long drive back to Peach Springs and civilization to eat a whole pizza and guzzle a six-pack of Coors to celebrate the journey!