Havasu Falls


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 The pride and pain of Arizona's Havasu Falls
 By Jarrett Bellini | @JarrettBellini 
 June 20, 2018
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The Diamond Creek Restaurant in Peach Springs, Arizona sells a massive six-pound taco.

They call it "The Devastator." It's eighteen dollars. But free if you can finish it in under an hour. At the time, it seemed like a completely reasonable idea.

Fortunately, my six functioning brain cells enjoyed a rare moment of solidarity and balked at the prospect of having my colon explode at the bottom of a canyon.

I mean, put me in an actual city with proper medical facilities and I’d be more than happy to tempt digestive fate. But, here, we were basically in the middle of nowhere, enjoying our last proper meal before hiking down to Havasu Falls.


I’ve known Nathan since we were about two years old. We went to preschool together in Phoenix. And now, 38 years later, we (along with his brother, Josh) would be celebrating his 40th birthday at a remote northern Arizona oasis known just as much for its natural beauty as it is for its elusiveness.

Camping permits for Havasu Falls are limited and high demand makes them incredibly hard to get, let alone securing the exact dates you’ve been hoping for all along.

Somehow we did it.

Every year, when permits go on sale at 8am (Arizona time) on the first day of February, people – literally all over the world – try to score a golden ticket. In Phoenix, Nathan was working the phone and, simultaneously, refreshing his web browser. I was doing the same in Atlanta. Which is to say I was eschewing actual work.

Presumably, Josh was sleeping in. Because he is older and wiser.

For a while, it wasn't looking good. Even with dual laptops going side-by-side, I never got through the virtual line. But some 1,800 miles west, Nathan finally did.

We would be down in Havasu Falls celebrating his actual birthday on April 14th.


And that's how we ended up at the Diamond Creek Restaurant.

Josh had flown into Phoenix from Denver and I arrived from Atlanta. From there we hit the road three-and-a-half hours north for Peach Springs where we had a reservation at the Hualapai Lodge, nestled right along historic Route 66. It’s a basic hotel with basic cable and a basic restaurant.

Which is to say: The town’s ONLY restaurant.

But they do have a life-threatening taco. So there's that.

Having shunned The Devastator, we ate our otherwise basic meals and by about 8pm crashed out in our basic beds. Thanks for the memories, Peach Springs!

The next morning, we were up and awake at exactly 4am, and on the road just thirty minutes later. This kind of pre-dawn punctuality is a uniquely male skill. Mind you, we're not good at much else.

But, just as planned, we were on our way. It was dark outside. And the car thermometer read 39 degrees. Which seemed slightly higher than the reported temperature transmitting up from my balls.

The drive from Peach Springs to the Hualapai Hilltop trailhead takes about an hour-and-a-half. And, during that time, the temperature didn’t get noticeably higher. However, upon arriving at the parking lot, and despite the cold and howling plateau wind, at least we were well-rested. Many other hikers we met didn’t seem to share that luxury. It turns out sleeping in your car is popular for those hoping to get an early start on the trail.

Which sounds one part miserable and two parts insane. Especially considering just 70 miles away sits a perfectly basic hotel, with a perfectly basic restaurant, with a perfectly basic six-pound taco.

By around 6:30am we started our hike - well before even some of the car campers.


The trail begins with a 1,000-foot vertical drop through a series of switchbacks. It’s all comfortably manageable, and only takes about 20 minutes to get down to the canyon floor – a dry creek bed covered in sand and rock. Plus the occasional mule turd.

Generally speaking, the first eight miles - including the switchbacks - are pretty easy going. We only stopped once to shed layers as the sun came up. But, otherwise, charged along and made it to Supai Village in almost exactly three hours.

Supai Village is the deep-canyon home to the Havasupai tribe. Havasu meaning blue-green water. Pai meaning people. People of the Blue-Green Water.

They’ve long resided at the bottom of Havasu Canyon, and, at least for a time, wintered up on the plateau. That was until white people came and took the land for railroads, mining, and the formation of Grand Canyon National Park. The conversation largely went like this.

“There’s a big hole in the ground and we want this land so tourists can come see it.”

“But we live here.”

“Lived.”

It took several decades for the Havasupai to convince everyone from the US government to the Sierra Club that A) This was their ancestral land and B) They weren’t going to pop up an amusement park. Fortunately, the tribe prevailed and “won” back most of their territory.

The whole ordeal is a long and complicated celebration of federal bureaucracy.


At Supai Village, hikers check in and receive their camping wristbands. The ones Nathan secured back in February. There’s no “just showing up” at Havasu Falls. It’s regulated. As it should be. Hence, the demand.

From the village, it’s another two miles to the campground. And, at parts along this portion of the trail, thick sand actually renders it the most difficult segment of the entire hike down. But it’s all relative.

And I'm sort of a wuss.

Finally, just before reaching the campground, you get your first stunning look of the destination’s namesake. While the term “Havasu Falls” is sort of loosely used for the general area, there is, in fact, a singular fall known as Havasu. This is it.

Downstream at greater “Havasu Falls” there are other cascades that go by different names. But this first one is Havasu, and your reward for ten miles of hiking is a wondrous gaze at it from above.


A little further down into the designated mile-long camping area it’s first come, first serve. Show up. Find a spot. Claim it.

Or as the native Havasupai might say: “Yeah. No shit.”

Setting up camp is another reason people try to get started early – to get the good spots. Of which there seemed to be plenty. So, no need to throw elbows.

We chose a clearing along the creek near the far end of the campground – a wide, sandy flat with several good trees and a couple picnic tables. And not too far from one of the compost outhouse cabins.

The only (slight) drawback was that it was about fifteen minutes away from the start of the campground where you find the fresh water spigot.

This thing is wildly important. From a PVC pipe sticking out of the canyon wall, a seemingly endless supply of fresh spring water pours out upon lush ferns. It tastes far better than adequate and none of us had any digestive issues.

So, a smart move is to hike down with a couple empty jugs. They barely weigh anything, and once you arrive in camp they can be filled up at the spigot for cooking and drinking. And maybe an impromptu wet t-shirt contest. You know … if things get weird.

They didn’t.


The rest of our first night was basically spent setting up camp and mulling about. After an early rise and full day of hiking, you sort of earn your afternoon laziness. Which, for us, included Trivial Pursuit and a smörgåsbord of Ramen noodles and assorted freeze-dried space food.

But not too late into the night.

It gets dark early in the canyon. Which is totally OK. You’re exhausted. And there’s no Netflix. Thus, at an absurdly early hour, and under a full sky of stars, we called it a night. Nathan slept in his tent. And I slept suspended in the air, serving as the mystery meat of a sleeping bag and hammock double-decker taco.

Josh split the difference and just sort of slept on the ground. Near his tent. As one does.


The next morning was calm in the canyon. Our previous day's intense winds had subsided. It was cold, but with the promise of nicer weather. We cooked breakfast – some celebratory birthday carne asada Josh packed down with him in a small cooler.  

After a round of "Happy Birthday," and a less-enthusiastic round of old-man stretching, we hit the trail. Today’s mission: Reach the bottom of Mooney Falls and then hike three more miles downstream to Beaver Falls. 

Mooney Falls, arguably being the most scenic of all the cascades, is right at the end of the campground. And you can absolutely enjoy its splendor from above. But to really appreciate it, you have to climb down to the pool. And it’s no joke.

Nathan would later refer to it as the Tower of Doom.

A sign at the top clearly states: DESCEND AT OWN RISK. And it’s the only warning you get before crawling through a cave, deep into the rock wall.

Here, the worst case scenario is that you might bonk your head and scramble your brain. Which, for some of us, might actually be the best case scenario.


The cave is the easy part.

It’s the final descent down a series of ladders and chains that truly tests your physical strength, mental ability, and continence. Which is to say it probably doesn't jibe well with the lingering remains of a six-pound taco.

What we also learned is that this descent is a feat best attempted much earlier in the day rather than later. We were heading down at 8:30am. There was nobody in front of us. And almost zero upward traffic. This is a real consideration. Because it’s basically single file. Both ways. And you can only go as fast as the person above or below you.

The wooden ladders are slick with mud and spray from the waterfall. The chains are rendered equally as dangerous. Baseball batting gloves would’ve been helpful. As would an escalator.


Once safely at the bottom of Mooney Falls, and having enjoyed the magical view, we then ventured off to Beaver Falls. The trail is a little confusing at first – it isn’t well-blazed - and, at seemingly random points, you have to cross the stream a couple of times.

Other than that, it’s a fairly simple hike.

Climbing down to Beaver Falls only requires a few more ladders, but it’s all perfectly manageable. Nothing like the Tower of Doom. And the payoff is just as remarkable. Its flowing waters become a peaceful place to hang out, socialize, and ponder a great question that's as old as time: "Why the hell did I hike in Chacos?"


So that's what you do at Beaver Falls. At least until about 11:45am when the late-wakers start arriving. And then it actually becomes noticeably more crowded and far less peaceful. Read: It’s time to leave.

As the crowds poured down the cliffside en masse we started back, walking against traffic back to Mooney Falls. Had we carried on in the other direction – the way we traveled earlier in the morning - the trail continues another 3.5 miles to Havasu Creek's confluence with the muddy Colorado River.

We considered doing it. And, in retrospect, I wish we had. But an additional seven miles with now-blistered feet didn’t seem like the best idea. So, we returned to Mooney Falls, climbed the Tower of Doom, and settled back into camp.


After another meal of REI's finest space food, we then walked over to the start of camp to finally experience the actual Havasu Falls. This is a breeze - super easy to get to - and it’s perfect for lounging around in the 70-degree water. Essentially, Havasu Falls is the social spot in the canyon with plenty of room for different groups to just hang out.

And be lazy.

Which is what we did. We soaked in the water. We listened to the falls. And we stared at things.

And then we went back to camp and did it again. But this time we replaced the crashing water with some Bob Marley. It was all very productive.

This same level of human intensity continued on into the night with several more rounds of Trivial Pursuit and whatever was left of our space food.

And then, later, blistered and sore, I climbed back into my double decker taco to call it a night.



I woke the next morning around 6am. Our neighbors were already up and about. We were not.

In fact, Nathan and Josh were still deep into dreamland. Ever since I've known them, they've always been good at sleeping in. I've always been good at worrying about things.

But it was time to go home. And by 8am we were packed up and back on the trail

Walking out of camp we passed several mules that were being loaded up with people's gear. Round trip costs $470 per beast, and each can hold up to four bags.

We hauled our own.

Mule valet is just one of the available services for hikers. Another service allows you to avoid being even just that. A hiker.

In Supai Village we were astounded to see such a long line of people already queueing for a helicopter ride back to the hilltop. It's $85 dollars each way. And, like everything else, it's first come, first serve.

Judging by the line, it was going to be a long day for those waiting for a lift.

Long. But not nearly as grueling as ours.


We bought some snacks at the general store in Supai and then began our final eight-miles back to the hilltop.

And it was soon thereafter when we discovered that, unlike two days before, the hike out of the canyon is a completely different experience. Sure, we knew the switchbacks at the end would be an uphill grind. But we were sort of under the false impression that the rest of the way was flat.

At least it seemed that way walking in.

But the truth is that the trail rests at an ever-so-slight gradient. Which means you're pretty much going uphill the entire way. And it's miserable.

Sorry. There's no other way to put it. The hike out of Havasu Canyon sucks huge donkey balls.

It's hot. You're tired. And instead of heading into paradise, you're stumbling closer and closer to the joy and wonder of a five-hour car ride back to Phoenix.

So, we didn't talk much. And the few words we did speak to each other were all obscene. Basically, you just walk. And walk. And walk.

By the end, I had nothing left in the tank. My skin was hot. And my water was gone. Which is (according to some experts) generally considered unsafe.

But it was all worth it. You cross that invisible finish line and all the agony and anguish of the journey is quickly replaced by an immense feeling of triumph and pride.

Though, to be fair, it might've just been a cramp.


Finally, only a couple minutes apart, we each reached the top. We hugged it out and, together, gingerly limped back to the car. I then dumped the contents of Miami Beach out of my shoe. Which was basically the most satisfying thing I've ever done in my life.

Soon, it was sandals on. Air conditioning set to high. Wheels heading south.

On the way back to Phoenix we stopped at the first thing resembling a civilization. This would be Seligman, Arizona. And the best dining option presented itself as a Roadkill Cafe. As we walked in, one of the servers remarked, "Oh, you must be coming in off the Supai!"

"How could you tell?"

"I mean ... look at you."

He went on to explain the "Supai Shuffle." They see it all the time. Hikers entering the restaurant, barely able to walk, hobbling to a table in a desperate clamor for calories.

"You don't happen to have a six-pound taco?"

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