Archive for March, 2018
Preface: this post isn’t directly related to my birth family discoveries, however it is related to the journey of unfolding the person I am discovering as a result of learning about my roots. Enjoy!
OMG! What an awe-inspiring place!
Sarah and I woke up early February 1st, 2018 and got the laptop ready to make a reservation online – a new system they used this year (I guess they tried it last year, prematurely, and it crashed; previously they used the old-fashioned telephone system). We wanted early June but the website wasn’t loading so all we could get was mid-March – so soon!! And we had to book 2 nights/3 days instead of the 3 nights/4 days we originally wanted.
We joined the Havasupai Facebook Group and started doing our research. Everyone was in a frenzy online because the reservations sold-out for the entire year within hours!
I checked the weather for mid-March (a month-and-a-half away, I know) and it showed rain, with mid-50 degrees 😦 At least the water stays 70 degrees year round!
I decided I would make the best of it, and so Sarah and I began our planning. Being a part of the FB group helped fuel the excitement and conversation!
My goal was to build up endurance by increasing the mileage and elevation gain in my hiking leading to our trip, and wearing a pack a few times before. We planned a hike for almost every weekend leading up to the trip, with some other extracurricular activities added in:
- January 22nd – Mt Baldy Lodge Hike (7.6 miles, 1500 ft elevation gain)
- February 4th – Black Star Canyon hike (6.8 miles round trip, 1000 ft elevation gain)
- February 10th – Snow Skied in Big Bear (1 day)
- February 11th – Whitewater Preserve hike (4 miles, 500 ft elevation gain) – Sarah and her daughter put rocks in my backpack because they wanted to help me “train” 😉
- February 17-18th – Bridge to Nowhere hike, with an overnight stay so I wore a 20 lb pack (10 miles round trip; 1500 ft elevation gain)
- February 25th – Spruce Grove Campground with a 10-15 lb pack (7.3 miles round trip, 1500 ft elevation gain)
- March 1-4th – Mammoth ski trip (3 days of skiing)
- March 10th – Mount Wilson (15 miles round trip, 3700 ft elevation gain)
- March 15-18 – HAVASUPAI!!!!!
We had tried to develop a work out plan for during the week but between our schedules it was hard.
At some point the FB group announced that the Reservation office had a few open dates and we learned that people were able to add more days to their trip – so I called in and got Billy (yay) and he added an extra night per our request so we got our 3 night/4 day stay we originally wanted!!! Woohoo!! Now we would have time to fit that 16 mile hike in the middle with a day off to chill.
As time lead closer to our trip I stayed committed to my goal to increase my endurance and strength in hiking and it paid off!! So my pack for the actual trip was 26 lbs, Sarah’s was 40 lbs (she is more experienced and really invested in beefing up her calf muscles, haha – seriously you should see them!). We packed our packs and packed them in the car.
And we were finally on our way!!!
Our drive to the trailhead was intense…it snowed! We were not prepared for that.
But as we got closer to the trailhead it turned to rain, so that was a relief – THAT is what we prepared for!
As we pulled into the parking lot we came to a stop…apparently they just let horses and mules roam free at the top. (You can pay to have them truck your stuff in if you don’t want to backpack it in.)
We started at the Hualapai Hilltop parking lot, which is about an hour off Route 66 in Arizona. Below is the route from the hilltop and the hike into the canyon, which leads to the village, Supai. That’s 8 miles. But the campground is another two miles from the village.
I stopped to take a few pictures just as we headed down promising Sarah I wouldn’t stop too much along the way, joking that this is what it’s like to hike with a photographer 🙂
It took a good two miles for me to find a good fit for my pack against my body. We would stop every so often to adjust some straps here and there, trying to shift the weight to my waist and off my shoulders. We found that tightening all straps and then loosening the shoulder and upper pack straps (the ones that attach the pack to the shoulder straps) helped us find a comfortable fit (thanks REI!). Also, trekking poles ($30 at Costco) are super helpful in taking all the weight off your legs. Some people find them to be very helpful going downhill, but Sarah and I find them to be very helpful going uphill. I haven’t done a lot of research on how to use them so it’s just personal preference at this point. (The tips on ours look a little different than the ones in that video link)
So – onward we hiked.
And we were passed up by the mule train on several occasions.
And saw many a beautiful site along the way…
And then we hit the sign! SUPAI!!! So close!! (probably about 2 more miles to the village from here)
The scenery changed from a barren, rocky canyon with minimal foliage to a lush garden growing along a fast moving creek, Havasu Creek.
At this point it started raining again. The rain was minimal and so beautiful. I know it’s weird but I love the smell of wet dirt ha! There’s nothing like a full 5-senses experience to make you feel enveloped in a magical place…
And then, finally, there it was! The Supai village!
We wandered in until we found the Reservation office where we registered and got wristbands that we had to wear our entire visit.
For my FB Havasupai peeps – WE SAW BILLY!! He was sitting at a desk in the office and answered the phone (saying they’ve reached the reservation office), and as soon as he said his name into the receiver Sarah and I both looked at each other wide-eyed with secret smiles! It was Billy!!!
For my non FB group peeps – Billy is…the man. He *makes reservations happen* when nobody can. As you read earlier, reservations sold out within hours.WITHIN HOURS! So you can imagine how grateful we have all been for Billy’s help 🙂
I almost asked for a picture with him and wanted to tell him how internet-famous he has become but something inside me thought maybe I shouldn’t say anything and just let the magic keep happening…would he be so helpful if he knew we were all stoked on him? I guess I’ll never know.
So on we continued, hiking 2 more miles to the campground. I was TIRED. I was dragging. Sarah was giving me pep talks, “We’re almost there!”
Based on some advice from the FB group I wanted to stop by Fifty Foot Falls, Navajo Little/Old Falls and Havasu Falls on the way to the campground from the village because people tend not to make the hike back to them once they set up camp. I noticed there was a trail that lead down to the falls on the way to the campground so I headed that way. As soon as I saw the falls I was rejuvenated with energy! I practically ran to them to take pictures. Sarah was like “Who is this person?” haha!
I didn’t snap pics of the Navajo Falls because it started to rain as we trekked further and I was nervous about getting my camera wet. I figured I would come back on the way out.
Onward we trekked and then we hit Havasu Falls, kind of hard to miss it. It was raining but I found a cover near the side of the trail under a rock wall.
We checked in at the ranger station for a bucket – the last one. The buckets are essential for keeping squirrels and raccoons out of your food stash. We had brought a dry bag and some fishing line as a backup (to hang our food) in case they were out of buckets (although I don’t think that would have sufficed so I was grateful for a bucket). The bucket was dirty and had some trash in the bottom of it. It also had written on it, “Only Food, No Trash.” We stored our food in the dry bag inside the bucket. We also kept our bag of trash in there when we were asleep or away from our campsite (I know, I know). We hauled the trash out in our pack since you are not allowed to dump it at the site or the village.
The campground itself is a mile long-ish. We hiked almost the whole way through and it was pretty full. Hardly any spots left. We finally saw a spot and put our packs down to save it but walked a little further to see if we could find one with a quieter area (Havasu Creek can get loud with all the little falls running through). I couldn’t make it much further and so Sarah scoped out the remainder of the site and found a place…right next to Mooney Falls! In hindsight we realized we were probably not supposed to camp there but the picnic table made it seem like an available site so, before realizing this, we set up camp in excitement of our waterfall-front view.
We planned to hike to Beaver Falls (4 miles from camp) and then to the confluence (4 miles from Beaver Falls) for a total 16 mile round trip. My understanding was that the hike to these places wasn’t very difficult and that it didn’t include much elevation gain.
My understanding was off.
The hike included several creek crossings (at least 5 on the way to the confluence) and various climbing obstacles. This is not to say it isn’t achievable, I just completely misunderstood the terrain! Actually it was more enjoyable than I ever could have imagined.
Sarah’s pack has a detachable ‘head’ that you can use for day hiking when you don’t need the whole pack, pretty cool. So we stuff some PB & J sammies, along with some nut mix, protein bars, dried mango & beef jerky in it and we carried a 24 oz. water bottle. We also took a water filter since we didn’t have a place to carry the water bladder. This came in really handy. We wore our suits and carried these small quick dry towels we picked up on sale at REI.
Now onto the descent to Mooney Falls!
So we met these chicas at camp that morning who were also planning to hike to the confluence so we all decided to hike together (and we were glad we did – but more on that later!). Christine is pictured above in the blue, and Irena is in the pic blow in red. They were great companions on the hike!
There was a little cave we had to climb down through to get to the ladder portion – a little advice: DO NOT hold onto the ladders. They aren’t secure. Defer to the chains for your hands and only use the ladders for your feet.
Here is a video Irena took as we waited to climb down (press the HD setting in the lower right corner):
Once we got our feet on the ground we turned around to see…Mooney Falls!! In all its glory! I headed to the ‘stump’ for the usual photo opp that I had seen so many times in the FB group – now I was there!!
After we spent some time at Mooney Falls we continued our trek to the next destination – Beaver Falls.
At some points we were hiking higher in the canyon with the creek far below, and then other times we were hiking right along the creek. Every turn we took provided a new perspective. We would see hard canyon edges jutting into blue skies with this pristine blue water cutting through the reddish canyon rocks. I was in photography heaven.
The water is what draws you here but the entire scenery is what makes it feel magical!
Not to mention how fun it was to climb stuff and wade through the creek! There are several water crossings along the way.
After climbing through a cave we came upon the creek and I loved the way the ladies’ silhouettes looked against it.
And then, 4 miles later, we came upon Beaver Falls!
Enjoying Beaver Falls
After swimming around in the 70 degree F waters at Beaver Falls and munching on PB & J sammies we continued our trek with amazing views to the confluence (where Havasu Creek meets the muddy Colorado River in the Grand Canyon). As we moved through the canyon we came upon more creek crossings, a cave we had to climb through, a skeleton of an animal, some bighorn sheep and more beautiful views of the creek and rocks.
We saw only one party of hikers on our way to the confluence. They let us know we were about a mile and a half out. Our new hiker friend Christine was considering holding back due to some knee pain but when she heard we only had a short while to our destination that rejuvenated her and we continued on!
Note about drinking water: Since we had only brought a 24 ounce bottle we were frequently refilling it using our water filter, drawing the water from Havasu Creek. That is one of the pluses to hiking along a creek – unlimited water supply!
Meanwhile, I snapped some photos of the canyon wall along the creek.
And this was one of the most beautiful views along the way.
I wonder what it would be like in May or June and if there would be more greenery filled in and not so much stick-brush along the trail? Maybe next year!
And then…there it is was! That beautiful blue narrow part just before the Colorado River!
Although this is often referred to as the confluence I think the part where it meets the Colorado River is the actual confluence, which is just a few yards up from this view. You have to hike up above the creek on the LEFT side to see the actual merging of the waters. We unfortunately hiked up to the right because we were already on that side of the creek and had 20 miles of hiking under our belt in 24 hours. We had 8 more to go for the day so I wanted to reserve my energy, and although we were able to see the Colorado River on one side, and Havasu Creek on the other side, we did not see where the two merged
If we had gone to the left side, we would have seen this (not my pic, I got it here):
Of course I regret not grabbing my phone for the photo opp, and hiking to the right instead of the left side, but like I said, I was fatigued, and knew I had 8 miles back to camp. Oh well, I guess we will have to go again 😉
We played around in the creek for a while enjoying the view of the trout chillin’ in the waters and taking in our surroundings. We ate our last PB & J sandwich.
Side note: You’ll notice the difference in the colors of the rocks & water between these photos above. The top two were taken on my Canon with a 50 mm lens and the bottom one of just me in the creek was taken on a cell phone. (Disclaimer: I’m not a professional photographer, I’m still very much learning). My canon weighs like 5 lbs, I swear, and so it was tricky on some of the climbs on the way but totally worth taking it. On the way back I wrapped the neck strap around my arm a few times and held it to my side because the weight on my neck would start to hurt.
I cannot tell you how appreciative we were of the cairns along the way (those little rock piles you see along trails). I honestly never realized what those were for and always just thought that it was people leaving their “mark” in nature but apparently they have served a whole load of purposes including ‘marking a trail’ which helped guide us to the confluence and back. We would be walking along, and then have the option to climb up some boulders or cross the creek, and we would see some of these stacked by the water and so we knew we needed to cross.
Our hiking friends had left the confluence to head back before we were done playing in the water and exploring but Sarah and I had booked it back so we ended up catching up to them after a few miles. This would turn out to be a blessing as nightfall approached and decisions needed to be made about which trail to take. 4 heads are better than 2!
At one point on the trail you have to walk in the creek for like 25 feet because the canyon gets narrow. On the way to the confluence we had to climb down this slanted rock wall into this part of the creek but on the way back it was hard to remember this part because it’s essentially just a rock wall . But, there were cairns on a rock near the wall and that helped us remember this part of the trail on the way back. Although – we missed it at first and walked further down the creek only to find a sign that said “Wrong Way Go Back” ha! We made our way back and figured out that we needed to scale the rock wall to get back up to the trail. Shortly after that we hit the sign that lets you know you are entering the Grand Canyon from the Reservation:
How happy we were to see this sign!!! We knew we would be hiking back in the dark but we just wanted to get back as soon as possible. This sign is shortly after Beaver Falls so we knew we were approaching the halfway mark on the way back.
As we hiked on nightfall came and we pulled our headlamps out. We snacked on beef jerky and dried mangoes. Our friends led the way, and at one point spotted a cute little frog on the path as we moved along. Thankfully we did not step on it!
At one point we chose not to cross the creek and to continue on one side of the creek but the path was not very well groomed so we were walking in high grasses. The thought that ticks might be living in the brush did cross my mind but I don’t know much about their environments, and I hadn’t read anything about them being present on the FB group so I didn’t worry about it too much.
Eventually we crossed the creek to the other side for a more maintained trail.
It got darker. The trail led to the creek. A crossing in the dark was necessary.
Christine snapped some footage of our crossing too (press HD for clearer quality):
It was difficult to tell whether we should cross where the trail ended or further back and even more tricky to tell where the trail picked back up on the other side.
Across we went, and we used our light to find the trail. Success! We found it. We continued on, praying for no more crossings! I think we only had one more after that which required a leap from one shallow area to another.
Eventually we came to several paths that we could choose. I somehow ended up in the front of the pack and made the announcement that I don’t remember where we came from and was open to suggestion on which direction to take if they didn’t want to go the way I chose. It was so hard for me to recognize anything in the dark! I mean, this is what we were seeing:
So we continued on making choices here and there. One area especially got confusing where we hiked to what looked like the back of a trickling waterfall. We knew that wasn’t right. So back we went and up the side of a slope we climbed.
Another crossroads occurred and we split up into two, Sarah with Irena and me with Christine. They were veering off to the right into what seemed to be another canyon passage, and our route seemed to be leading closer to the creek (we just needed to follow the creek back which lead straight to Mooney Falls, so as long as we did that we were good). So we called Sarah and Irena over to our path (we could see them with their lights so they weren’t out of sight).
On we trekked and a few minutes later we started to see some small particles flying in our headlamp light-streams – were they bugs?? No! It was mist! It was the mist from Mooney Falls! We were approaching the falls!!! Hallelujah!!! We did it!!! Now we just had to climb Mooney Falls…in the dark….no big deal right?
Yeah. So somehow I was first up the ladders, remembering not to rely on them too much but instead grabbing the chains. I was so tired. I had hiked 16 miles that day. 11 miles the day before. I was hungry, grungy and tired. All I wanted was a warm meal and to cuddle in my sleeping bag, preferably in Sarah’s arms (a warm shower would have hit the spot but alas, it would be another two days until that happened). And we just had this one HUGE obstacle to go.
So up we went. The ladders, chains and rocks were slippery and cold to the touch. My hands were cold and stiff. I used my mental powers to tell my hands to hold on tight despite their lack of wanting to do anything. My right pelvic muscle cramped up about 20 feet up the wall and I had to take a minute to hang my leg down straight and stretch it best I could – another mental directive to my body in the form of a gentle reminder to relax a little, and that we were almost to the top, so keep going.
We approached the cave area and I pulled myself up and looked back down to see that Sarah was unable to use her phone light (we had only one headlamp which I was using) and was relying on the light of Irena, who was climbing right above her. Irena would turn her head back to aim it down for Sarah, such a nice gesture in this demanding circumstance. I motioned for Irena and Christine to move past me through the cave and I would stay back with Sarah and use our headlamp for light together.
Once we made it through the cave we came to a ledge and walked around for the way out. We found some rock-formed stairs we had to climb up to get to the top of Mooney Falls. I had forgotten about this part. One more climb and we would be there!
We made it to the top where some other campers were hanging around, checking out the falls out at night, and they seemed surprised to see us flood out of the canyon. They remarked in surprise, “Wow you went down to Mooney Falls at night?” If only they had known – we just got back from a 16 mile round-trip hike to the confluence!
We hugged each other – twice – thankful for the company on the way back and snapped a photo. What a journey!!
It was about 8pm. Sarah and I headed to our campsite and set the stove up to boil some water for a hot meal.
Fettuccine Alfredo Chicken it was. Hot tea. And some other hiker’s dessert packet which tasted like watery cake batter. We may have also split a top ramen. We needed the calories!
Into the tent we went and there we rested until the next morning. We let ourselves sleep in and lay in our sleeping bags until it got too warm to hang in the tent any longer. We emerged to blue skies and sunshine.
We boiled some more water and enjoyed the view. We even got a rainbow from the waterfall! We ate our oatmeal, more top ramen, and drank our coffee over the side of the falls.
The sun was shining. We had nowhere to be. And we had just planned to explore Havasu Falls later, which was at the other end of the campsite about a mile away. AND to get some of that famous Fry Bread from the locals!
We changed into our swim suits and headed to Havasu Falls.
We had hiked past Havasu Falls on our way in, so it was nice to go back to swim around in the waters and just hang out.
We spent about an hour there and then we got out and headed for some lunch at the Fry Bread hut where we promptly ordered more than we could eat: two ‘Indian Tacos’ as they were called (ground beef, lettuce, refried beans, tomatoes and salsa) and a three-layer fry bread that we could add toppings to (we chose a variety of fruit syrups and powdered sugar). The perfect treat for our ‘day off’. I couldn’t finish my Indian taco so I asked the guy manning the booth if I could feed it to his dog and he said sure. There were lots of dogs roaming in the village and a few here at the campground.
After the Fry Bread we headed back to camp where we promptly passed out for a few hours, a nice long nap! Then we got up and took another walk checking out the campground and different setups that people had going.
We headed back to camp and watched a movie we had downloaded from Amazon Prime. We were so full from lunch we didn’t eat dinner, and we settled in for a stormy night. You can see the brooding skies above the canyon walls below. It was windy and rainy all night and I barely slept. I was so nervous about being swept over the water fall ha!
I woke Sarah up and she asked if I wanted to move the tent but I realized we probably would be fine. Finally, I fell asleep. Thanks to the cool weather in March we were in no hurry to get up and out, so we were able to sleep in a little. During hotter months the heat is a real issue.
We packed up camp and our packs and headed out of the canyon. We dropped our bucket at the ranger station. There were tons there now.
Most people are traumatized by the steep switchbacks during the last two miles of the 10 mile hike out of the canyon – but the hike back to the village (2 miles) from camp is pretty steep too. I snapped some photos on the way out.
Navajo Falls and Fifty Foot falls
We made it to the village were we ate lunch and stopped by their ‘store’. I was hoping to purchase a souvenir but they only had youth size T-shirts and a postcard magnet thing. I was surprised. I feel like they could be making way more off tourists. I was hoping for some local art or jewelry. No such luck.
We saw a huge line for the helicopter and saw it land and take off while we were there. I had contemplated using the helicopter to take my pack out but felt pretty good that morning and decided to carry the pack out myself.
We filled up on spring water and headed out. We came across a cute pup along the way. He was a love bug ❤
We finally hit the Hualapai Hilltop sign (which is behind the Supai sign). About 6 or so more miles to go.
We stopped a few times for snacks and water but had a pretty good pace getting out. I was surprised. Meanwhile, I was mentally prepping for the switchbacks on the way out.
We finally made it to the top! I have no picture of us but we did scream into the canyon a victorious cry. I was expecting that I would collapse and cry tears of exhaustion but I did no such thing. Instead I felt serene. I was exhausted and worn out but totally fulfilled. We headed to the car to unload our packs and head out.
I had pushed myself harder than I ever have before. I achieved something I had never achieved before. I essentially hiked about 40 miles in 4 days. I felt good!
Over the next few days I felt content. I wasn’t as sore as I thought I would be. We stretched and we walked, to work it out, over the next few days. That night we stayed in Laughlin and headed home the next day. I was pumped from the experience, I felt changed. It was an incredible journey, not only through the lands of the natives, but a spiritual one too.
I hope we get to go back again. I will never forget our experience and have learned a lot about what I’m capable of!
If there’s one thing I’d do different it would be to read one the books suggested by the FB group, before my visit, that expands on the culture and history of the natives.
Here’s to more adventuring!!