Flooding cancels trips to coveted waterfalls
Remote gorge near Grand Canyon closed for at least a week
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.
A waterfall on the Havasupai reservation in Supai, Ariz., before flooding, left, and after. The flooding forced the evacuation of about 200 tourists.