Ari­zona Canyon Famed For Stun­ning Wa­ter­falls

Riverbank News - - ADVERTISER -

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Weeks af­ter flood­ing rushed through a world-fa­mous gorge off the Grand Canyon, send­ing tourists flee­ing to higher ground, the Ari­zona tribe that calls the area home is ready to wel­come visi­tors to its reser­va­tion known for tow­er­ing wa­ter­falls that cas­cade into blue-green pools.

The Hava­su­pai reser­va­tion is re­open­ing Satur­day for the first time since July 11, when about 200 people had to be evac­u­ated by he­li­copter as wa­ter surged through the camp­ground. Foot­bridges col­lapsed, tents were buried in sand and de­bris was strewn about.

The brunt of the dam­age was on an 8-mile (13-kilo­me­ter) trail that leads to the tribal vil­lage of Su­pai. Heavy rain wiped out the switch­backs and left be­hind large boul­ders, Tribal Coun­cil mem­ber Car­letta Tilousi said.

Tourists can reach the reser­va­tion only by foot, mule or he­li­copter. An es­ti­mated 30,000 to 40,000 people visit an­nu­ally.

The tribe has spent the past few weeks clean­ing up with the help of neigh­bor­ing tribes and vol­un­teers, Tilousi said.

Here’s a look at the flood­prone canyon, its pop­u­lar­ity and weather con­di­tions:


The reser­va­tion is ex­tremely re­mote, but vis­it­ing it rises to the top of people’s bucket lists. Day hikes aren’t al­lowed, and a lim­ited num­ber of overnight per­mits sell out quickly ev­ery year.

Get­ting to the trail­head takes 4½ hours from Phoenix and four hours from Las Ve­gas, the clos­est cities with ma­jor air­ports.

Hun­dreds of reser­va­tions were can­celed af­ter the flood­ing, and the tribe gave those people first dibs on spots in 2019 or a re­fund.

Lise Ben­nett and her sis­ter are hik­ing in Mon­day for a three-night stay with a tour group. She said she checked on­line daily to be sure the trip wouldn’t be can­celed.

“My sis­ter thinks that it will be a very spir­i­tual experience for her, and she just wants to be able to touch the sides of the canyon,” said the 49-year-old from a sub­urb of Toronto.


The reser­va­tion lies amid a se­ries of creeks and canyons that make it sus­cep­ti­ble to flood­ing.

A 2008 flood shut down the reser­va­tion for more than nine months. Hun­dreds of tribal mem­bers and tourists — some of whom were stranded for a cou­ple of days — had to be flown out.

A wa­ter­fall was lost and smaller ones formed. Kurt Schonauer of the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey said a Colorado River trib­u­tary was flow­ing at 100 times its nor­mal base flow.

More evac­u­a­tions came af­ter an Oc­to­ber 2010 flood that caused $1.6 mil­lion in dam­age and closed the reser­va­tion for three weeks.

The lat­est dam­age is es­ti­mated at $300,000. The tribe is seek­ing fed­eral as­sis­tance for what Tilousi said is an un- con­trol­lable phe­nom­e­non.

“All visi­tors should be very thank­ful they’re able to come into our reser­va­tion, en­joy our wa­ters and our canyon,” she says. “At some point, they might not be able to have ac­cess to that.”


Weather fore­cast­ers called the reser­va­tion around 6:30 p.m. on July 11 with a flood advisory.

Campers didn’t see heavy flows un­til an hour later as rain fell over the camp­ground, un­de­tected by gauges up­stream. A gauge down­stream of the camp­ground caught the mag­ni­tude of the flood­ing, show­ing a rise of about 7 feet (2 me­ters), the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said.

Tribal mem­bers on ATVs were at the camp­ground to alert visi­tors within 10 min­utes of get­ting the advisory, Tilousi said. Most didn’t have time to pack up camp­ing gear and sought refuge in trees or on benches. A sec­ond flood hit in the dark, but by then, al­most ev­ery­one was at the vil­lage on higher ground.

The Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey has five stream gauges on the reser­va­tion, three of which were added af­ter the 2008 flood.

Tilousi said the tribe has talked about adding an­other closer to the trail but the high cost is a fac­tor.


The mon­soon sea­son in Ari­zona that can bring sud­den and heavy rain­fall has peaked, but it doesn’t end un­til late Septem­ber. The tribe ad­vises tourists to be pre­pared.

The risk of flood­ing is not un­like vis­it­ing other re­mote ar­eas of the Amer­i­can South­west in the sum­mer. Visi­tors can check stream gauge data or sign up for weather re­ports, but cell re­cep­tion is spotty.

The Havasu Falls in the Su­pai Gorge of the Grand Canyon.

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