Hard-earned peace on Ari­zona canyon hike


Framed by pitch- black canyon walls ris­ing mon­u­men­tally on ei­ther side of the rush­ing, rainswollen Havasu Creek, the night sky burst with snow- white stars and Milky Way swirls.

It was the last night of a gru­el­ing three- day Hava­su­pai Trail round trip to the wa­ter­falls in north­ern Ari­zona’s Havasu Canyon, an off­shoot of the Grand Canyon.

The hike of­fers bliss by way of blis­ters, far from the crowds.

I’d promised my­self that I would com­plete the hike ever since a dan­ger­ously un­der­planned at­tempt 13 years ear­lier ended barely 2 miles in. On horse­back, a mem­ber of the Hava­su­pai tribe, which ad­min­is­ters the area, spot­ted my ver­mil­lion face and half- bot­tle of wa­ter on a tor­rid sum­mer af­ter­noon, and or­dered me to go back.

On my sec­ond at­tempt, I left the plan­ning to six tire­less stu­dents from North­ern Ari­zona Uni­ver­sity’s Out­door Ad­ven­tures. All I had to do was show up at the crack of dawn with my back­pack on the pine- scented Flagstaff cam­pus. ( Many uni­ver­si­ties around the coun­try of­fer trips to a va­ri­ety of out­doors des­ti­na­tions, open to the public at a steal: My US$ 360 fee cov­ered pricey per­mits, ex­cep­tion­ally car­ing guides, most gear, all food in­clud­ing lux­u­ries like cook­ies baked on the spot and fresh av­o­ca­dos and sprouts, and the eight- hour round- trip drive to the trail­head.)

Even though the mesa- top Huala­pai trail­head is less than 30 miles ( 48 kilo­me­ters) as the ea­gle flies from tourist- thronged Grand Canyon Vil­lage in­side the na­tional park, it is 191 miles ( 307 kilo­me­ters) away by car, most on de­serted roads. Tribal mem­bers head­ing home and hik­ers, not day- trip­pers spilling out of buses, em­bark on this trail.

The vis­tas into the red and white in­fin­ity of rock for­ma­tions, punc­tu­ated by un­ex­pect­edly green desert brush, are breath­tak­ing. The first cou­ple of miles of switch­backs, drop­ping 2,000 feet ( 610 me­ters) to a wash at the canyon floor, take away what lit­tle breath you might have left.

Mer­ci­fully flat, the next 7 miles ( 11 kilo­me­ters) snake through gauntlets of or­ange- tosalmon smooth ledges, along a cot­ton­wood- l i ned stream, through tiny Supai vil­lage and its cor­rals of pack mules and horses -- for the hik­ers who pre­fer not to stag­ger un­der a 30- plus­pound back­pack.

About 2 miles ( 3 kilo­me­ters) af­ter the vil­lage, I dumped my pack with a yelp, tore off the steam­ing boots mid­stride, and waded into cool­ing wa­ters right be­low Up­per Navajo Falls, the first of mul­ti­ple wa­ter­falls cas­cad­ing from red rocks into lay­ered turquoise pools to­ward the Colorado River a few miles away.

Wo­ken up the next day be­fore dawn by a ranger warn­ing of flash floods, but un­de­terred by rain, we splashed in the pools be­low Havasu and Mooney Falls, which book­end the long canyon camp­ground.

A stu­dent leader talked me down nearly 200 ver­ti­cal feet ( 61 me­ters) through slick rock- hewn tun­nels and steps to the Mooney pool. The swim un­der the pow- er­ful spray was worth the limb­shak­ing panic, fol­lowed by my first af­ter­noon nap in years.

On the last day, it was out by the same trail, from the shady creek- side paths to the un­for­giv­ing, and awe- inspiring, climb up the canyon walls back to the trail­head.

There, scream­ing calf mus­cles pre­vented me from stand­ing up­right — but not from mar­veling one more time at the kalei­do­scope of shades and colors un­fold­ing in all di­rec­tions, now un­der a full- blast sun.


(Above) This Sept. 26, 2014 photo shows hik­ers en­joy­ing Up­per and Lower Navajo Falls, the first wa­ter­falls on a gru­el­ing three-day hike in Havasu Canyon in north­ern Ari­zona.

(Right) This Sept. 28, 2014 photo shows a pack horse by the side of Hava­su­pai Trail, in north­ern Ari­zona’s Havasu Canyon.

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