Flood­ing can­cels trips to cov­eted wa­ter­falls

Remote gorge near Grand Canyon closed for at least a week

Albuquerque Journal - - OBITUARIES - AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Hun­dreds of tourists who booked cov­eted overnight trips on tribal land deep in a gorge off the Grand Canyon will have to resched­ule af­ter heavy flood­ing forced evac­u­a­tions and shut down the area for at least a week.

Ab­bie Fink, a spokes­woman for the Hava­su­pai Tribe, said 300 peo­ple had reser­va­tions for ei­ther the camp­ground or the lodge in the next sev­eral days. Crews were as­sess­ing the dam­age Fri­day to de­ter­mine when it’s safe for vis­i­tors to re­turn.

“Ev­ery day it’s closed, it’s an­other set of peo­ple im­pacted by it,” she said.

The remote reser­va­tion out­side Grand Canyon Na­tional Park is best known for its tow­er­ing blue-green wa­ter­falls that ap­pear like oases in the desert. The tribe doesn’t al­low day hik­ers, so vis­i­tors have to re­serve overnight trips. The reser­va­tions fill up quickly.

An­drea Molina saw only two dates avail­able un­til 2020 when she checked ear­lier this year. She and her part­ner booked a trip for Fri­day, rented camp­ing gear and re­served a pack mule for the trip from Phoenix.

She was look­ing for­ward to the chal­leng­ing 10-mile hike down a wind­ing, dusty trail to the camp­grounds on her 34th birth­day. But she felt grate­ful she wasn’t amid flood­ing this week that sent tourists scram­bling as a shal­low creek rose sev­eral feet. She said she won’t be able to re­coup all the costs but will try next week to re­book.

The flood­ing hit just be­fore dark Wed­nes­day and again be­fore sun­rise Thurs­day, forc­ing the evac­u­a­tion of about 200 tourists. Some, wear­ing only their swim suits, had to aban­don their camp­ing gear.

Foot­bridges col­lapsed, tents were buried in sand and de­bris strewn about as water rushed over the land­scape. Campers sought refuge on benches, in trees and in caves. The ex­ist­ing wa­ter­falls turned a muddy brown, and new ones emerged from the steep walls of the canyon.

Chris­tian Raftopol and the three oth­ers in his group planned to hike out early Thurs­day and were pack­ing when the rain started fall­ing. They ducked into their tents, but he said the water lev­els rose quickly and he warned oth­ers.

He fled to a nearby re­stroom af­ter pulling fel­low campers from their tents. He thought they were close be­hind but saw them fall into the water af­ter a foot­bridge broke and was swept away. They were able to trudge through to join him and later used head­lights to hike to the tribal vil­lage.

“It was fu­ri­ous,” the New York res­i­dent said.

COUR­TESY OF BENJI XIE

A wa­ter­fall on the Hava­su­pai reser­va­tion in Su­pai, Ariz., be­fore flood­ing, left, and af­ter. The flood­ing forced the evac­u­a­tion of about 200 tourists.

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