Given Beyoncé’s visit last year to Havasupai falls, its likely that over the next few years or so an army of Beyoncé zombies will start the march down into the canyon driven by the promises of the amazing sights they saw in the videos and pictures. I’ll admit, I wasn’t completely sure who Beyoncé really was until someone reminded me, she was “Foxxy Cleopatra” in the Austin powers movie.
That aside, there is no denying that anything she does, countless wobbly headed fans will want to do as well. Before this mad rush to the blue waters infects you and half a million strangers like this year’s flu, let me fill your head with some truth.
My step mom Bonnie always told a story about going on a trip to the Grand Canyon when I was a little kid and walking back to the parking area from looking in I told anyone that would listen to “go back”, “not to go”, “it was a waste of time”, and “just a big hole”. (Or something to that effect.) Even now I often find myself speaking my mind and telling it like it is. Be honest, who among us hasn’t day tripped up to the Grand Canyon with family and even while oohhh’ing and aahhh’ing out loud couldn’t help but silently think about the long, tedious, slogging trip back home?
Oh, where was I? OH YEAH!!! HAVASUPAI
Honesty about a Havasupai trip…. This is not going to be a “HOW TO GO TO HAVASUPAI” kind of post. If that’s what your looking for there are dozens of great ones written every month by those who were just there. Or you can look at my friend ERIC’s blog, click here.
Breathtaking? Truly in more ways than one!
The most Beautiful and Breathtaking? NOPE, not hardly.
The most Beautiful and Breathtaking in Arizona then????? NOPE, still NO.
The best, most beautiful and breathtaking in northern Arizona then???? NOPE. I will admit its high on the list but…
Hardest to get to then???
Yep, A number 1 in that regards.
A big gold crested trophy with a number 1 lovingly engraved on it with blue ribbons draped across it.
Let me tell you about the trip in!
Everyone has a different idea of what was best. Leave at dark, leave early in the morning, leave at sunrise? All these ideas have one underlying unstated concept, its a FUCKING HOT and FUCKING HARD hike. The first almost 2 miles are pretty much straight down.
You hit the bottom and it’s a reasonable sandy, rocky downgrade the remaining 6 miles. Don’t worry, this 8-mile death march (that feels like a prisoner of war relocation process) eventually ends.
You get to the village to check in and the sign says you must take off your backpack and go inside to check in. I think this is some kind of cruel joke the villagers play at this point. You take it off and feel like gravity quit working and your going to float off the face of the earth. Once you check in, you throw your backpack back on and feel like someone smuggled their cousin into your pack behind your back. Then you trudge on another 2 miles (the hardest 2 miles of your life…that will have you begging for the sweet release of death… have you happily offering to cut your feet off with a machete to make it end) before you reach the campground.
Not to be insensitive or politically incorrect but these 2 miles gave me a better appreciation for the Bataan Death March and the Trail of Tears. I’m not comparing myself to these victims of historical atrocities because I can’t…. Unlike them, I actually volunteered for this hell. Every step felt like having my toes shoved in a fire, my heels jammed with nails. Everyone knows the first couple miles are strait down, nobody tells you the last mile is steep as well. (HINT HINT, SPOILER ALERT, THIS COMES INTO PLAY AGAIN ON THE WAY OUT!)
And did I mention the heat?
Let’s talk about Thermal Mass. Go with me on this one for a minute.
A little science for you. Thermal mass is the ability of a material to absorb and store heat energy. In plain English, the ability of a material to suck up the sun all day, getting ungodly hot, and then release it back all night when the sun goes down keeping everything around it ungodly hot! And what might you ask is a great material to see thermal mass principles work in real life?
Answer mister wizard, Stoney rocky walls.
Interestingly enough, Havasupai campground is in a narrow canyon with massive strait up stone cliff walls. This ensures the sun on these 108-degree days gets plenty of opportunity to heat them up sufficiently to allow them to release this stored heat energy all night while in a narrow canyon that almost guarantees a breeze free night. So.. no pesky air movement to help cool the air. If I haven’t painted a sufficient picture, think oven. Not the good efficient convection oven mind you, just a simple old fashioned kitchen oven.
If you have spent any time reading other blogs about camping and hiking down to Havasupai, I am sure you picked up on statements like “not too bad”, “bearable”, “tolerable”, “so beautiful I barely noticed the heat”. That last one was my favorite… One thing they all try to cover up is the fact its hot. Then they all go on about how you can get into the refreshing cool river water if you need to. YES, yes you can, its super refreshing.
You climb in and the heat just drops away. Then you get out and your great…… for the first 5 steps, ok for the next 5, and on fire like the guy on the cover of the Pink Floyd album after 12-15 steps.
So yes, in the middle of the night a few times I had to get up and wet myself down in the river before I could go back to sleep. Lay down an hour or 2 till your sweat soaks through the mat under you, get up and soak yourself down with river water, then back to lay down until its time to do it again. Its ok, I wasn’t sleeping anyways….insert subtle bridge to the next subject.
One of the best parts of camping at Havasupai is all the wonderful people from around the country you get to meet. Did I mention it’s a narrow little canyon with a river running through it? Its about 75-100 yards wide wall to wall in most places. With the river and the heavy vines climbing over everything and the desperate, necessary like air, need to be close to the river to cool off, you end up camping almost on top of someone else’s camp.
We managed to be on a little slip of an island all by ourselves but were surrounded by people on all sides like the numbers on an old-fashioned clock.
The party is never ending. Great bunch of boys 20 feet to the south of us playing a rousing game of dungeons and dragons and acting out the adventure full volume at 2am. 20 feet to the north of us were some college kids from the Bay area of Cali who told us about taking shrooms right before climbing the cliff wall by the falls. Best of all was the last 2 nights watching the new group with the 8-14-year-old kids enjoy playing tag or hide and seek, squealing and yelling with flashlights bobbing all over our tent until 4am. I guess it just refreshes my hope for humanity to see kids do something without an electronic device or a screen.
The falls are amazing!
Its not just one waterfall, its half a dozen truly impressive ones with hundreds of equally beautiful minor falls as the Havasu river flows to the confluence with the Colorado river.
One of those bucket list items to see before you die. Only trouble is the falls are spread over about 5 miles once you already hike 10 miles in. The first one is 50-foot falls just past the village and the last major one is Beaver falls about 5 more miles down the river. The first day Bonny and I hiked a total of 18.5 miles and didn’t go all the way to Beaver. The second day we went 12.88 miles going to Beaver falls and back to camp. The third day we spent time playing in the close falls so only hiked 6 miles. Just putting this out there so you can come prepared because you will want to see them all. Don’t get me started on how you get to many of these amazing falls. Think hastily made scrap wood ladders, chains slung from boulders, caves you have to climb through, and any other odds and ends they can sling against a cliff wall to help you scramble down.
Keep in mind it’s an Indian Reservation, hence a sovereign nation, and not bound by civil laws so if you or a loved one is killed or injured by their makeshift safety equipment there is no recourse.
Nature is everywhere but especially abundant in Havasupai. They give you paint buckets to put protect things you don’t want the squirrels to get to. Don’t worry, if they can’t get to your stuff they will climb up in your lap and just ask you for it.
Unfortunately, at night the raccoons will come along and knock your bucket over and get to your stuff anyways. I recommend putting your bucket up high on a table with a big rock on it. That way when the knock it over you will hear it fall better and be able to go fight for your stuff back gladiator style against the racoons. The bugs aren’t as bad as say a southern swamp, but they did have a really neat one about 2 inches long that flew and had pinchers and stinger tail. Super cool to watch them fly around in the evenings and at night, dog fighting each other and trying to avoid the bats.
As for the facilities, someone was nice enough to place a bunch of picnic tables around the camp area which was a convenience for sure.
There are 3 bathrooms with 3 composting toilets in each bathroom. Given that the campground is about a mile long by 100 yards wide, your never more than about ¼ of a mile away from a good sit down should you need one. We were lucky and ended up between 2 of them so we had options when they were full and only had to run ½ a mile to the other one where the line was shorter.
There is a natural spring piping cool fresh water out of a cliff wall they offer up as drinking water for the entire camp. It doesn’t taste horrible but does have a tinge of minerals and some light aftertaste. Take some water flavoring and you will be fine (btw…one more thing to carry). That’s pretty much it for amenities. You want anything else you’ve got to pack it in and pack it out.
Speaking of packing it in and out, they don’t have trash cans. Nope, not a one! Guess since everything that comes in or out of the canyon must come and go by mule or helicopter, it’s easier to tell people to pack out their trash. Trouble with that is people have managed to bugger up that simple concept royally. There is trash all over the place.
Havasupai floods every couple of years so I guess they think it will just sort itself out. Even with the trash everywhere the place manages to pull off pretty. Well pretty at the river and falls area at least.
WAIT A MINUTE, I forgot to tell you about the hike back out!!!! HOW FORGETFUL OF ME! 10+ miles up hill the whole time with the last 2 miles strait up? How could I forget to tell you about that?????
Because hell no!!!!…….. I took the helicopter!
In my defense, we did have to hike almost 3 miles to the helicopter and I figured any more than that would be just showing off and in bad form. Nobody likes a showoff!
Well that’s about it for my Havasupai review, hope you enjoyed reading it more than I did living it. Hopefully I didn’t discourage EVERYONE from going.
Hopefully I discouraged just enough, because getting the tickets last year was hard, getting the tickets this year was harder.
If I don’t discourage more people, who knows how hard it will be for us to get tickets to go back the 3rd time.
As Bonnie’s story went, “don’t go”, “go back”, “it’s a waste of time”. I’ll go for you! Don’t worry, I am willing to do this for you because I’m a giver!
This is an amazing ultimate guide, so complete. I love hiking but with no scary drops, I really need to work on that as I know I am missing out on exciting adventures. Havasu Falls is so Beautiful. My sons would love this. This looks just like the thing they would truly enjoy. Thank-you for this fantastic review.
Awesome! We can’t wait to get ht here some day! Jen Brouwer