Less than three weeks ago, our friends Randal and Rebecca invited us to hike Havasupai Falls with them. They had secured a permit for a group of ten to hike in on Sunday, July 26th and hike out the following day. Permits are extremely limited for this hike - usually you're lucky to book months in advance - but Randal's brother was fortunate to call the permitting office shortly after someone else had cancelled their spot. So Jon and I committed to a 20-mile round trip backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon with only a week to prepare.
I was pretty nervous. I'm not in shape, not particularly adventurous, and, in short, I wasn't sure if I had the constitution for it. My worrying was pointless though, because this trip ended up being the single most incredible experience of my life.
The magic started before we even got to the Hilltop parking lot, where we camped the night before. There's a 60+ mile long road that leads to the trailhead from Route 66. I'd read on other peoples' trip diaries to be cautious on that road, especially when traveling at night, because of "animals." I figured they meant cows so we both kept our eyes peeled and went a few miles-per-hour under the speed limit since it was well past dark. Just about five miles down the road, Jon slowed and flashed his brakes for Randal, who was following behind in a van. There was a massive female elk standing on the right side of the road, only feet from my face. She stood like a statue as we passed; it was eerie. Jon knocked another couple of miles-per-hour off his speed as we continued. Not long after, we started to see the largest bucks any of us (including a bunch of guys who were raised near the Canadian Rockies) had ever seen. I still get covered in chills just thinking about it. We would slow nearly to a stop as soon as their eyes caught the headlights, and as we crawled past they would slowly turn and disappear into the forest. Elk after elk after elk. One of them had a rack of antlers that ran the entire length of his body. Jon turned the car so our headlights illuminated him for the group behind us. He moved into the forest and leapt a 5 foot high fence like it was nothing. I could cry thinking about it. Magical.
We camped that night in the Hilltop parking lot. I slept on the back seat of the Honda and everyone else braved the mosquitos on cots outside. I successfully murdered the two that snuck into the car while we were setting up camp, and ten seconds later Jon tapped on the window wondering why I was "beating up the car."
No one slept well, and we were on the trail by 4:30am. We used our headlamps for the first 30 minutes or so before sunrise. I would like to use this opportunity to whole-heartedly recommend seeing the canyon at sunrise.
This dog followed us in. The kids kept calling him "Max" and when Randal asked how they knew his name, his 7 year old daughter chirruped, "Because we named him that!"
Most of the hike was in this narrow canyon, so even once the sun was up, we were shaded.
We were all in fits of joy over this tree. It was HUGE and literally glowing in a pool of sunshine.
^These^ pack horses were more subdued than most. The first train that passed us went galloping by. Randal's son, Carson, heard it coming and exclaimed "I can hear the falls! We're so close!" (There were still at least 5 miles to go.) We all went leaping out of the way.
WATER! As soon as we met up with the river, the temperature dropped about ten degrees. It was glorious.
These rock formations are called "The Watchers." They overlook the small village of Supai, where most of the Havasupai tribe lives. It's the most remote community in the lower 48 (and the only place in the US where mail is still delivered by mule! I'm kicking myself that I forgot to get a picture of the mules all lined up at a hitching post at the hilltop, behind a United States Mail sign.)
The first waterfall! This one is New Navajo Falls, created when there was a major flood event here in 2008.
Same falls, downstream view (and there's another cascade in the background)
Addie and me. Jon took lots of sneaky trail photos.
Havasu Falls. It's even more incredible in person, of course. I did a lot of research and looked at a lot of photos, and I was still completely overwhelmed by how beautiful it was.
"Havasupai" means "People of the blue green water." (The water is so-colored because of an abundance of limestone.)
Because of our early start on the trail, we had almost all day to enjoy the falls. I was so glad to have gone when we did - the water is pretty chilly, so if it were any colder than 100 degrees outside, I doubt the water would have felt pleasant.
As the sun dropped behind the canyon wall
Inside the campground (which was nearly empty?? I couldn't believe how few people were there! We had our pick of amazing campsites.)
Mooney Falls - twice as high as Havasu Falls, but much less accessible. Of course, you can't really get an idea of height from a picture, but that lip of rock at the bottom of this photo is the top of a sheer 200 foot cliff. My heart was pounding as I took this. (Me + heights = diarrhea.)
"Descend at own risk"
I knew ahead of time that the descent involved some intense climbing, passing through an old silver mine, and negotiating some rickety ladders bolted to the cliff wall. I knew I wouldn't be able to make it all the way down, but figured I'd go until I got too freaked out. It happened earlier than I thought it would. I quite suddenly found myself on a narrow ledge , navigating a tight corner, with a 250 degree view of the sheer drop and the thundering falls below. It was impossible to turn around, so I slithered down to a safer area, and it took me a good twenty minutes to work up the courage to turn around and go back up. My whole body was shaking when I finally did.
Safely at the top again
Feeling a little braver: Nestled in an alcove, inches from the drop.
From Mooney, we headed back to Havasu Falls. It was dusk and we were the only people there. I couldn't even believe it. Again, magic.
The turquoise pool was calling to me, so I hopped in. (My Teva sandals are very buoyant.)
NO ONE THERE
Falls, moon, bat
We camped that night on picnic tables near the river under the starriest sky I have ever seen. There weren't even any mosquitos in the canyon! Jon did wake up with a mouse on him though. He never quite managed to fall back asleep after that. In his own words: "I kicked it pretty far."
It was another early wake-up call to get the majority of the hike out of the canyon done before the sun was too intense. (The blue thing on my shoulders is a cooling towel. We bought a couple from Costco and they were lifesavers.)
Most of the hike out is a steady uphill slope through the canyon, with about a mile and a half of switchbacks up the cliff wall at the very end. I dreaded that last mile and a half the entire time. It was really intense but we went slow, took lots of breaks, and drank lots of water. I never felt like I couldn't do it, or like I was at risk of heatstroke or super tacky (I only ever have issues with my heart anymore during strenuous exercise).
We'd stashed some frozen Gatorades and coconut water in a cooler in our trunk, and they were perfectly slushy when we finally climbed out of the canyon. (A Twitter follower had promised me a spiritual experience if I did that, and he was right!)
Oh my gosh, this blog post is so long. But there's more. I decided to take another day off of work so we could stay the night in Seligman, AZ and do the full Grand Canyon experience the next day. Seligman is a kitschy Route 66 stop. We checked into our quaint little motel (Aztec Motel, I can't recommend it enough), hobbled around on un-bending legs, showered, nursed our blisters, napped for three hours, went and got burgers here...
...came back, laid in bed drinking Gatorade and eating Oreos, watched the Bachelorette season finale, and crashed at 9pm. As we drove away the next morning toward the Grand Canyon and after having eaten a hearty breakfast at a local diner, I teared up, sad to be leaving the falls and our cozy little motel room behind.
This was my first time at the Grand Canyon. WHOA you guys.
Jon: "I think you bent that railing." Hahahahaha. Death grip.
The biggest a-hole at the Grand Canyon, everyone!
Then this happened as we were leaving the visitor's center parking lot. (But I've seen bigger.)