From the southwest corner of the Grand Canyon National Forest, the Havasu Canyon branches off. Within it lies the Havasupai Indian Reservation, one of America’s most remote Indian lands, and home to some 650 members of the Havasupai Indian Tribe. Once one of 13 regional Pai hunter-gatherer “bands” in northwest and north-central Arizona, the Havasupai were separated from the other 12 bands, who became the Hualapai tribe.
The Canyon boasts several spectacular blue-green waterfalls set off by red rock and vivid greenery. The highest of these is Mooney Falls, with water rushing over its 200-foot drop. Popular Havasu Falls has a “mere” 100-foot drop. Many visitors have compared its beauty with that of Hawaii. The source for the waterfalls is Havasu Creek, with its striking aquamarine waters. In fact, “Havasupai” is translated as “people of the blue-green waters.”
Nature continues to reshape the canyon’s landscape, often quite dramatically. Flash floods are not uncommon, and they impact everything in their paths. A powerful wall of water swept through the canyon on August 18, 2008 changing the shape of Havasu Falls and, to a lesser extent, Mooney Falls. It essentially obliterated what once was Navajo Falls and swept away most of the lovely travertine pools in the lower portion of the canyon. The area was closed for 10 months after this flood. Although the landscape changes—sometimes with astonishing results—the beauty remains, and Havasu Falls continues to be one of the prettiest places in North America.
The only village on the reservation is Supai. It is home for about 450 of the Havasupai, who live in some 130 houses. Their mail still arrives by mule – the only place in the country where the U.S. Postal Service still uses this mode of transportation! The Havasupai maintain a largely traditional way of life, although they have availed themselves of some modern tools including satellite dishes and air conditioning. There is some effort to maintain the Yuman language, one of 210 indigenous languages still spoken in North America. With such a small population of speakers and increasing outside pressures, preservation of this language is difficult, however.
Tourism is the Havasupai’s economic mainstay, and the tribe attracts some 25,000 visitors each year, despite its remote location. A trip to explore this natural beauty is not for the timid, however. The road to Havasupai, which rises from Route 66, is only partially paved and is subject to the periodic ravages of weather. In any case, it ends 8 miles before Supai. Given the unreliable condition of the road and its early terminus, most visitors to the Havasupai Reservation arrive on foot or horseback, or by helicopter. Once there, hikes to see the waterfalls and other aspects of the natural beauty range from moderately to highly challenging. Getting up-to-the-minute information once you’re there is advisable, since nature can and does work its changes on the landscape.
Clearly, given the remote location, you’ll need to plan your trip well ahead of your arrival. This is not a place to wander in and hope you’ll find your choice of hotels and restaurants! Booking ahead at a lodge or campsite is imperative. Supai has a small motel and given the size and price, you may choose to camp anyway. The campground is much larger and not far from Suapi, closer to the falls. There is one restaurant, and some provisions can be procured at two general stores. Otherwise, plan to pack in whatever food and beverages you’ll need. And don’t forget your camera. You’ll probably get the pictures of a lifetime, even if you can barely point and shoot!