A Story of the Fabled Havasu Falls
These day’s, everyone is writing about how to quit your job and travel full time. The truth is, you can’t. Come on, let’s be real here, I’ve read a hundred blogs and stories about quitting your job and traveling full time, and it’s a fantasy. Unless you’re a trust fund baby, or hit the lottery, this quitting- work talk is all a farce. Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel and have grand adventures, but it’s not free, and I don’t want to become homeless.
The trick for me is simply living on a budget and doing extensive planning. I search for good airfare, hotels, and easy on the pocket activities. After comparing a few, I make reservations when rates are at their lowest. I map out each road, hotel, campsite, and mile along the route while anticipating tolls, tips, fees, and food. Maintaining a flexible attitude goes a long way as well. Our trip to Havasu on the Havasupai Indian Reservation was no different. Just getting a permit to camp on these lands is a major obstacle, but as they say: “If the juice is worth the squeeze…”
Imagine a journey back in time when wild mustangs ran across the open horizon. Paved roads and power-lines were nowhere to be seen. Imagine a time before the railroads- even before prospectors mined lands for silver and gold. It all began here, on a distant page of history. As sporadic rainwater cleared sand and dirt from the rock face in the desert, two meager streams of water collided thus starting a confluence. Gradually inching sand and stone from its path, the water created a crevasse that slowly started to expose a billion years of stratum. A palisade of history by way of Kaibab Limestone, Coconino Sandstone, and red-brown Supai Sandstone.
Generations of sunsets passed,
the stream gathered power. Mysterious raven silhouettes hopped from ledge to ledge as they cawed to each other exchanging the stories of settlers from the past. Tales echoed through the canyons of native tribesmen who dared to show their bravery by leaping from the waterfalls into the abyss below.
While I listened to the shuffling of bats, eager to catch a winged insect or other flying meal, the night became dry and frigid. I let my surroundings, wide canyons under a canopy of vivid stars, overtake my stream of consciousness- forcing me to contemplate the depth and breadth of the universe.
The true Havasu is a spiritual place.
A place left pristine- only reached by the most brave and driven explorers, or the people that call it home. There are two ways into this remote village: one is by helicopter -reserved first for the elders of the tribe. The other is far more difficult and dangerous, a thirteen-mile hike, either on foot or with the help of local mules. This test of a traveler’s stamina and endurance is best begun prior to daybreak before the hot Arizona sun glares down and scolds the backs of the explorers traversing the rigid switchbacks. The lore of Havasu Falls whispers down Cataract Canyon, pushing hikers onward. Every minute, every mile, every inch has purpose and direction.
My girlfriend and I began our journey to Havasu at the perfect time, late August. The canyon turned more breathtaking around every corner and with every step. We stopped often to breathe, hydrate, and air out the sweat. The trail was so beautiful it was intoxicating; towering rock walls on both sides blocked the sun as we made our way deeper into the valley. Halfway through the journey, our legs were destroyed, and our muscles throbbed and ached. Yet, we continued on. Destined to reach the falls that wait only miles away, our dream had only just begun.
Past travels started flashing through my mind,
and this place was like no other. The busy streets of Paris…Queen’s Necklace in Mumbai…I thought of the children on their way to school in Phuket as they rode scooters beneath the streetlights, and the bustling subway stations in Seoul. I thought of John Muir opening his eyes to new lands, “Fear not to try the mountain passes. They will care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.”
Silence lay before and behind us. A million years’ winds and waters had carved these walls. Our path was soft if we followed the hoof prints of the mules that tread quickly back and forth from village to trailhead. We’d stopped to take in the beauty and to rest our backpacks for a minute eager to appreciate our lives and the decisions that brought us here.
The creek was thin and shallow at first. It began as a trickle of water that pooled from the rock canyon. It grew in each step, gaining momentum and depth. The color in the water finally shown true: clear and blue. Crossing the first wooden bridge was exhilarating especially because we knew that minutes away lay our fate, our paradise.
It was like we were going to see the ocean for the first time, anticipation was high. I felt like a kid: dreaming of my hero, Indiana Jones, battling for good and discovering lost artifacts and cultures.
We pushed on, and the desert trail pushed back. We reached a turn in the trail with a wooden marker pointing our way that read, “Havasupai Village”. Our hearts raced under the now midday sun. The trail flattened, and the sight of cactus gradually turned into the sight of trees with leaves. A cool breeze whipped thru the air, and the silence was replaced with a familiar sound of rumbling water. Ahead stood a wooden bridge, above a now twenty-foot wide creek that raced with blue water like I had never seen. After eight miles of hot desert, we stumbled down to the water and tossed our packs to the ground. I kneeled down and took in the fresh, cool stream submerging my head into the running rapids. We were close.
We reached the village just before noon, just slightly under five hours on the trail. The lodge was open, but our room wouldn’t be ready until one o’clock. No time to wait. We dropped most of our gear in the office and packed the essentials in our day pack: goggles, cameras, Kingii floatables, water bottles, and sunscreen. Only one and a quarter mile to go.
Now, feeling light as a feather,
we pushed further into the canyon. After a small hike, we came upon Little Navajo Falls. We stood in front of the twenty-seven foot waterfall, spanning over a hundred feet wide whose history made men out of many brave, young boys. We enjoyed the rapture of the falls for some time; though, we were pressed to hike further.
We pushed along the trail just a mile more to reach the top of Havasu Falls. A single post at the top marked the location and echoed of the dangers that lie below. Before it wound its way downstream into the Colorado River, this monster waterfall channelled the Havasu Creek waters into a ninety-five foot majestic plunge cascading down to one of the best swimming holes on earth. We peered down from the top and witnessed an ant-sized couple lounging below. Reflections of the sunlight off the water sparkled back to the sky making it feel like a dream. Due to the high concentration levels of Calcium Carbonate deposits, this is arguably the bluest water on Earth… even more amazing in person than I had imagined. All of our struggle to reach this destination had already paid off.
The steep descent adjacent to the falls was not the final obstacle before reaching the swimming hole. Once at the base, we quickly dumped our gear and entered the mist that blew hard from the thunderous falls. Petrified-like, igneous columns that surrounded the hole became our stepping stones. Each step was deliberate and calculated- getting injured here would be a catastrophic failure. After hopping from one column to another like Indie, we finally reached the edge of paradise.
Diving head first into the glorious water,
the current immediately pushed us back into the rocks. It demanded respect for its immense power. Our goggles were useless in the face of this oxygen-rich current that frothed ceaselessly with bubbles. The sweat and dust of the last ten miles was violently washed away, and we rested in the cool, blue vision that began months ago in a dream.
The heat of the desert and blazing Arizona sun were no match for the cool breezes that carried the mist of the falls into our weary laps. A series of pools carved out a dozen relaxing hangouts beyond the waterfall; they offered room to dangle our feet in the water and chill as we took in these otherworldly surroundings. The day stretched on, and we gathered ourselves to continue on our adventure.
Just a mile or so farther, stood another goliath of a waterfall, Mooney Falls, named for a miner who perished there a lifetime ago. At twice the height of Havasu, Mooney stood like a skyscraper only dwarfed by the massive walls of the Grand Canyon.
The canyon hid Mooney from the sun during most of the day, and the perilous climb to the bottom was a test of any adventurer’s endurance and will. A series of chains and ladders, soaked in condensation from the falls, were all we had to cling to as we worked our way to the bottom. Half way down, we inched through a cave just big enough for a man and his backpack. The final steps of the climb brought a wave of relief as we turned to face the enormous falls behind us. It was glorious.
A daunting feeling came over us as thick, dark clouds moved in from the west.
We had an hour to hike back. A race was on to beat the looming darkness and the nearing closing time of the office. At first, the clouds offered relief from the sun and heat, but soon we felt the inevitability of a heavy storm. The rain started slowly with just a sprinkle. The drops grew bigger and bigger with each step until we were running uphill shin-deep on a flooded trail while being pelted in the head with hail.
This was the “Flash Flood” we had been warned about. At the time, I had felt exhilarated with a rush of emotions at the sight of a thousand waterfalls rushing over the cliffs above me in every direction. Dry ledges on both sides turning violent with water cascading down the sheer cliff faces. We didn’t realize until sunrise the next morning the impact of the storm. To our dismay, the shimmering blue waters of Havasu Creek flowed with brown sand and silt runoff from the flats above these Grand Canyon valleys.
This couldn’t be; we had traveled too far. To have briefly tasted the heavenly beauty of this water hours before, only to be betrayed by Mother Earth, was a harsh and crushing reality. However, we were determined not to let some storm ruin this spiritual experience. We went straight to the office and extended our stay. If we had to push back our flight to spend more time in the blue waters of Havasu, then that’s what we were going to do. We added two extra days to our stay.
With a bit more time and our bellies full of beans,
Supai Burgers, and fried bread, we stopped at the village store and bought some frozen Gatorade. We headed north on the trail. Three miles, and a few blisters later, we arrived at smallest of the falls, Beaver Falls. Being the farthest fall away from the village, we marinated in the complete isolation and peace.
Age-old caves speckled the canyon. We soon discovered ancient parietal art of men and horses interwoven with the newborn graffiti of present day hikers and travelers. A timeline of human history.
We took shelter during a shower and ate jerky while drinking the now half-melted Gatorade. I had left my trail-mix on the picnic table only to be robbed by a fearless squirrel who loved nuts and M&M’s. We got carried away in our relaxation. In realizing the intensity of what awaited us, we began to hustle back towards the village.
With a two-hundred foot ascent up the wet rope-ladders of Mooney Falls, we made haste to take advantage of the quickly fading sun. We ventured up the saturated ladder system and wove back and forth across the creek as the trail disappeared and reappeared on each bank. Making it to the precipice had become our survival goal for the day. We were thankful to finally reach the top with some residual light hanging around; our precarious ascent became another unforgettable memory.
Hitting the room with conviction, I peeled off my red-crusted boots
that had been my reprieve throughout the day and enjoyed one of the best showers of my life. Tomorrow would be a new adventure hunting for the elusive Ghost Falls. Hopefully, we would have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the signature Havasupai blue water that brought us on our pilgrimage.
Until this point, in all of my research and attempts to find the elusive Ghost Falls for the Big Swings App, I have failed miserably. Though, on day two I got my first lead. We had met an incredible couple from South America whom were traveling with a guide. While the couple basked in the sun and water; I chatted with their guide- whose job it was to know this area. I managed to pull some information about the clandestine falls before they moved on.
Following the guide’s instructions, we ventured on to our destination. In between Little Navajo Falls and Havasu Falls was a long stretch of trail that meandered away from the creek. In 2008, a flash flood eroded parts of the creek making some of the ledges unstable and extremely dangerous. The area is rightly fenced off with signs and wire to keep the curious at bay. Navigating past Little Navajo Falls by way of the waters edge led us closer to our awaiting treasure.
The trail disappeared, and we had to leave our backpacks and gear behind to cross the waters that lay ahead. We climbed massive boulders and crossed deep creeks at two narrow passes- carrying only our determination and a GoPro.
At last, we arrived atop a twenty-five-foot, gushing waterfall
that flowed fervently into a deep crevasse guarded by forty-foot vertical cliffs on either side. This was Ghost! We admired the beauty and isolation, but I steamed with anxiety knowing that our journey wasn’t yet complete. My girlfiend and I both knew what we came to do. We came to JUMP! Would the morrow satisfy our desires?
Havasu and Mooney Falls were death wishes and out of our league. Their heights gave me vertigo just by looking over the edges. Little Navajo Falls was awesome, but I had jumped cliffs triple its height. Ghost is where we belonged. I headed to the bottom of the falls to check the depths and feel out the heavy current. I swam to the landing zone and headed straight down. There was no bottom to be found, and I didn’t last long swimming either because the current from the falls produced waves that rocked me downstream in seconds. It was perfect- deep bottom and moving water. I climbed back up to the peak of the cliffs and reassured my girlfriend that it was safe.
A few deep breaths, and before I knew it, she was airborne! A scream of terror and excitement pierced through the Canyon as she flew through the air and plunged forty feet into the blue, rushing water below. I watched her surface and grin ear to ear with happiness before I took one last step off the edge. The wind chased me through the sky. I crashed into the white, turbulent bubbles and sank deep below the surface. When I emerged, I felt free.
I let the current guide me downstream to the bank, and I grasped her hand to pull me out. I held my breath and put down the camera. She started to recount the exhilaration of the free fall as I took a knee. She looked me in the eyes and felt the weight of the moment. One more deep breath as I gained my composure, and I asked her to marry me. The tears rolled down her face, and I knew that I couldn’t have timed anything in my life better than this day.
For step by step directions, insights, pictures, reviews and more, check out the Big Swings App from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store today.
Article edited by: Big Swings Editorial Staff