Day 2: THE JOURNEY TO SUPAI
The wake up call had us up at 2:30am as expected. It didn’t take long before we packed our belongings, took advantage of the 24-hour reception to check out, and got in the Legend. By 3am, we already headed onto some local road that took us directly into Kingman (instead of having to backtrack onto the I-15 to get to that town).
The whole drive was dark but uneventful. It was quiet and peaceful with hardly any cars on the road. When we got to Kingman, I filled up on some real cheap gas (knowing I’d get ripped off any further along Route 66) and took the Route 66 turnoff, which left the I-15 after our brief stint on it.
From there, the drive continued to proceed uneventfully through the darkness. When we passed the Hualapai Lodge, we actually overshot the turnoff for Indian Road 63, which wasn’t much further east from that lodge. When we got onto the desired road, the paved road was a little bit more grainier than the smooth interstate and highway driving we were used to up to this point. But we couldn’t complain since the 60-mile road was still paved.
From the darkness and the high beams piercing through the darkness, all we could tell from the scene was that the desert seemed vast. This road really looked like it was cut into a wilderness of nothingness. This is certainly not a place to have your car break down!
Finally at around 6:30am, we had arrived at the car park at the Hualapai Hilltop. Just at that time, the sun started to rise above the horizon and we could finally start to see the depths of the canyon before us.
I was shocked to see how many cars had already crowded this remote hilltop. Still, we were able to find a parking spot against a canyon wall away from the drop-offs. It was practically ice cold this morning and there was some patches of snow clinging on to the canyon walls. Apparently, it did precipitate here not long ago.
And so after taking some time to sling on our packed backpacks and locking up the car, Julie and I started descending the trail into Hualapai Canyon at about 8am. It was an 8-mile one-way hike with at least 2000ft elevation loss to get to the Supai Village.
Since we had pre-booked a room at the Havasupai Lodge several months ago, I knew we only had to bring clothes and water. No need for a tent, Thermarest, nor sleeping bag. Julie was afraid they didn’t have a blow dryer so she actually packed one in her backpack.
The steep descent into the Hualapai Canyon seemed a bit long. Actually it lasted for about the first mile or so on the trail. I shuddered to think how brutal this would be on the way out.
Julie and I finally reached the wash at the base of Hualapai Canyon at 9am. The view before us was quite scenic. Even though we had been to the Grand Canyon twice before, we had never been to the base of the main canyon nor any of its side canyons. So the image of looking up the canyon with cliffs around us was really a memorable sight.
So the next few hours were spent walking along the sandy wash. The silence and pace of our walk were interrupted by frequent transits of Havasupai Indians on horseback with herds of horses and mules. Also breaking the quiet was the piercing sounds of the helicopter going back and forth between the village and the hilltop.
Most of the walk was pretty featureless once we got accustomed to the surroundings. The walls slowly started closing in until we got closer to the village. By then, the canyon walls reminded me of Hidden Canyon in Zion National Park with striations and streaks providing evidence of past flash floods.
At first the skies were sunny, but it didn’t take long for clouds to overtake us and keep things overcast for the majority of the hike. I was worried those clouds would be rain clouds and that was a shame.
The trail forked when we finally saw Havasu Creek some 7 miles into the hike. By now, Julie was getting tired (I’m sure that hair dryer didn’t help) and even my legs started feeling heavy from my pack weight.
Finally at 12pm, we saw the Wigleevas – a pair of balanced rocks watching over the roadless village of Supai. We walked through most of the town in search of the Havasupai Lodge. There were already folks at the building where campers pick up permits, but the lodge was way in the back of town past the cafe, school, and church. The lodge was nestled in the corner of town with some cliffs looming behind the complex.
Julie and I wasted no time trying to check in and relieve our hips and legs of our heavy internal frame Gregory packs. At first there was no one at the reception and apparently we must’ve caught them on their lunch break. Our watches said 11:15am, but I had forgotten that they were on Mountain Time here so really it was 12:15pm.
So Julie and I lingered around for a bit and checked out the cafe, which was basically a featureless diner serving simple greasy stuff. Of course, we noted the fry bread offerings and were determined to get ourselves some of this stuff for dinner.
When we got back to the lodge, someone was there to check us in. And with that, we unpacked our stuff and proceeded to bring just my fanny pack, which detached from my Gregory pack. It was 1:30pm when Julie and I continued down the trail on lighter feet towards the Shangri-La of the Grand Canyon (i.e. Havasu Falls, et. al.), which was about another 2 miles further.
At least sun was breaking through the clouds and some blue skies were showing. If this was going to be the only sun we’re seeing this weekend, then we weren’t going to be denied seeing the waterfalls of Havasu Canyon on this afternoon.
So the dirt trail was well worn and easy to follow as well as mostly flat. After about 30 minutes, we were at Navajo Falls, which was a bit difficult to photograph due to obstructing foliage surrounding it. There were signs around the cliffs warning us to stay away from the edge as they were unstable. So I took a few shots of the 75ft waterfall against the sun the best I could before continuing on the trail.
We noted the trail by the falls actually forked but then reconvened later. I guess there were other ways to explore Navajo Falls, but we’d worry about that later.
Even though I had seen this waterfall thousands of times on postcards, the internet, on TV, on calendars, on guidebooks, you name it, it was still awesome to see in person!
Julie and I stared at the falls before us and we even engaged in conversation with this cute hiker who wanted us to take a picture of her. I asked her if she had been to the base of Mooney Falls since it was a concern of mine for tomorrow, and she said it was scary. She told us she thought her life was in danger as the bottom parts of the steep descent were slippery from the mist of the falls.
Well, this wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but I would just play it by ear and see what happens tomorrow.
Anyways, Julie and I continued down to the base of the waterfall after a short but muddy descent. Before us we beheld travertine dams that were starting to rebuild after they were washed away in the big flash flood of August 1997. That flood, by the way, also changed the shape of Havasu Falls into the dual-flume state we saw this day as well as knocked some 30ft off its height.
When we were done taking photos of this waterfall with the orange reflected glow of the setting sun bouncing off the upper canyon walls, we continued down the trail towards Mooney Falls.
Along this mile-long stretch, we passed by numerous campsites that lined the trail. They were all primitive sites and I could tell you basically had to rough it if you were here.
By the time we had made it to the top of Mooney Falls, the sun had already disappeared behind the tall canyon walls behind us and there was nothing but shadows cast over the falls and its precipitous drop into the canyon below. It gave us butterflies to look down into canyon at the waterfall from the top. I could see the signs indicating where you would go down to the base of the waterfall, but there was no way we were going to attempt it as nightfall threatened.
But based on my first impressions, it was a cliff-hugging trail all right. Havasu Creek looked tiny as I stared down at the base of the Canyon. So I thought we mind as well worry about doing the rest of this hike the first thing tomorrow. For now, we had to get back to the Supai Lodge.
And with that, Julie and I were back on the trail. It was dark by the time we returned to the Supai Village. Since we held out on a full blown meal up to this point, we headed dropped our day packs into our room and wasted no time heading over to the village cafe.
Once in the cafe, we got our fill of the oh-so-tasty-and-satisfying Navajo Taco. We were liberal with the amount of salsa we had put on it, but man that fry bread with southwestern topings above it really hit the spot.
After the satisfying dinner, we got back to our room. After I got a hot shower and we brushed our teeth, we had no trouble going to sleep. Julie opted to defer her shower till tomorrow morning. But as I was in the process of falling asleep, I could swear all the lights outside the lodge went out and everything was pitch black. Even the noisy generator outside went quiet.
“Was this by design to save energy?” I thought.
Well I didn’t give it any further thought as I slept. Julie was sound asleep a while ago.