The Havasu ’Baaja (meaning the-people-of-the-blue-green-waters), or more commonly the Havasupai, are a Native American tribe located in the northwestern part of the American state of Arizona. The tribe is well-known for being the only permanent inhabitants in the Grand Canyon, where they have lived for over 800 years. It also holds the distinction of being one of the only places left in America whose mail is still delivered by mule, the other being Phantom Ranch. But the main "claim-to-fame" for the Tribe is its richly colored waters and its awe-inspiring waterfalls, both of which have made this small community become a bustling tourist hub that attracts thousands of people every year.
The Havasupai Indians have lived on their land for over 800 years. They are considered nomads, as they used to spend the summer and spring months in the canyon farming, while spending the winter and fall months on the plateau hunting. In 1882, the U.S. government formed the Havasupai Indian Reservation which consisted of of land inside the canyon. For 93 years they were confined to staying inside the canyon, which led to an increased reliance on farming and outside revenue (tourism). In 1975, the U.S. Government reallocated of land back to the Havasupai. As of today the tribe consists of 639 members, and around 200 others who claim Havasupai heritage.
The Tribe is governed by a seven member Tribal Council democratically elected by the people. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is the entity charged with law enforcement and protection for the Tribe, while the Indian Health Service clinic provides health care and emergency services. The Tribe is the largest employer of tribe members, which runs Federal programs for the tribe members. Other members often work as packers and/or workers for tourist ventures, or work at the lodge, tourist offices, the café, etc.
Supai (Havasupai: Havasuuw) is the name of the Havasupai city located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The town is the capital of the Havasupai Indian Reservation. It is home to around 500 of the tribe members and is one of the most remote cities in America, as it can only be accessed by taking the Old U.S. Route 66 and traveling about 60 miles (96 km) along BIA Road 18 to the trailhead. The city can be reached from the trailhead via a helicopter ride or an 8 mile (13 km) hike. The town has 136 houses, a café, a general store, a tourist office, a post office, a school, an LDS chapel, and a small Christian Church, among other buildings.
The trailhead is located at Hualapai Hilltop (which is located at the end of BIA Road 18), where there is a large parking lot, a heli-pad, bathrooms, and the main office for the Havasupai. The trail can be traveled by foot, by horseback, or on a mule service the Havasupai offer. The mule service can also be purchased for luggage/packs only, which allows an easier hike and the ability to bring down more luxuries. The trail starts out at the hilltop, where it switch-backs down the side of the canyon for about ¾ of a mile. This is by far the most difficult part of the trail, and is much more difficult on the way back up. The trail is approximately long to Supai, with an extra added on in order to reach the campgrounds, and descends some 3000 vertical feet (914 meters).
The switch-backs stop when the plateau is reached, a point that is marked by a small rest area made from rocks and cement. The trail then leads down off the plateau into a dry streambed. Caution should always be taken when entering a dry streambed in any desert, as it is a prime place for flash floods. The trail follows the streambed down. There are multiple trails leading down this small canyon wash, but they all lead to the same place and never stray more than away from each other. The trail meanders down this streambed for approximately until the canyon starts to open up into another canyon. This spot is marked by a drastic increase in vegetation. Follow the trail down the new canyon to the left.
The trail will take you next to the stream where you will encounter a bridge. The trail crosses the bridge, thus entering into the city of Supai. Stay on the trail and respect the fences as the land behind them is private property. The trail enters into the city main, where it first encounters a small convenience shop that sells drinks, ice cream, candy, food, and other snacks. Straight ahead lies a rodeo corral where there are usually bulls penned-up. The trail leads to the town square where all the public buildings are located. The trail then goes through the city along the canyon wall to the right. The trail makes an obvious right-hand turn and enters into more vegetation. After leaving the vegetation the trail follows the canyon to the left.
After completely circling the small canyon (this is where Navajo Falls is located, see below) the trail starts to head down towards the creek, ultimately crossing it twice, over two small separate bridges. After crossing the bridges, the trail leads to the top of Havasu Falls. It then moves toward the canyon wall on the left, ultimately hugging it. On the right side of the trail is the cliff that is next to Havasu Falls, where there is a good spot for photographs of the falls. There is a hand rail on the right side to help prevent falls. The trail heads down and enters into the campgrounds. The campgrounds are about half a mile (nearly a kilometer) long and offer many campsites, ranging from group to single size. There is a small spring located in the middle of the campgrounds which offers fresh water (the Tribe recommends treating the water, such as with boiling, filtering, etc.). The campground has many composting toilets and picnic tables. The Tribe asks to please pack out all trash and does not permit campfires. The trail then goes through the campgrounds and ends at Mooney Falls.
Navajo Falls is the first prominent waterfall in the canyon. They are named after an old Supai chief. It is located from Supai and is accessed from a trail located on the left side (right side when heading upstream) of the main trail. This side trail leads down to the creek, where there is a crude bridge that crosses over the creek. The trail then leads back into the trees, where the main pool and falls are located. The pool is popular for its seclusion and its ease to swimmers. The falls are approximately tall and consist of separate sets of water chutes, the main one located on the right side where the water cascades down the canyon hill. To the left of the main chute there are other smaller ones that are steeper and more vertical. There are a few places that are viable for cliff jumping, although extreme care and caution should always be taken.
Havasu Falls is the second waterfall in the canyon. It is located at (1 ½ miles from Supai) and is accessed from a trail on the right side (left side when heading upstream) of the main trail. The side trail leads across a small plateau and drops into the main pool. Havasupai is arguably the most famous and most visited of all the falls, and is considered one of the most photographed waterfalls in the world. The falls consist of one main chute that drops over a vertical cliff (due to the high mineral content, the falls are ever-changing and sometimes break into two separate chutes of water) into a large pool.
The falls are known for their natural pools, created by mineralization, although most of these pools were damaged and/or destroyed in the early 1990s by large floods that washed through the area. A small man-made dam was constructed to help restore the pools and to preserve what is left. There are many picnic tables on the opposite side of the creek and it is very easy to cross over by following the edges of the pools. It is possible to swim behind the falls and enter a small rock shelter behind it.
Mooney Falls is the third main waterfall in the canyon. It is named after D. W. "James" Mooney, a miner, who in 1882 (according to his companions) decided to mine the area near Havasu Falls for minerals. The group then decided to try Mooney Falls. One of his companions was injured, so James Mooney decided to try and climb up the falls with his companion tied to his back, and subsequently fell to his death. The Falls are located from Supai, just past the campgrounds. The trail leads to the top of the falls, where there is a lookout/photograph area that overlooks the canyon wall that the waterfall cascades over. In order to gain access to the bottom of the falls and its pool, a very rugged and dangerous descent is required. Extreme care and discretion for the following portion is required; it is highly exposed and should not be attempted when the weather and/or conditions are not suitable.
The trail down is located on the left side (looking downstream), up against the canyon wall. The first half of the trail is only moderately difficult until the entrance of a small passageway/cave is reached. At this point the trail becomes very difficult and very precarious. The small passageway is large enough for the average human, and leads to a small opening in which another passageway is entered. At the end of the second passageway the trail becomes a semi-vertical rock climb. At this point it is advisable to turn your body around like you are descending a ladder. There are strategically placed chains, handholds, and ladders to aid in the climb. Take extreme caution and do not rush.
More than likely the rock will become slippery due to the mist from the falls, and there will probably be people heading up. Always let the person who is the most exposed to pass. The pool is the largest of the three, and along with the others there are some places for cliff-jumping (please use extreme caution). It is possible to swim to the left of the falls to the rock wall, and then shimmy your way across the rock (while staying in the water) to a small cave that is located just above the water line, approximately 15-20 feet (5 to 6 meters) away from the falls (only attempt if you are a strong swimmer). There is an island located in the middle, which breaks the pool into two streams.
Beaver Falls is arguably the fourth set of falls, although many claim that it is not a waterfall, but merely a set of small falls that are located close to each other. The falls are located approximately downstream of Supai, and are the most difficult to access. To reach the falls, follow the trail down to Mooney Falls. After descending the last ladder, look to the left (downstream) and there is a visible trail.
About 1/4 of a mile down, there is a small stream which feeds into the creek, over the side of the cliff, effectively creating a place to shower. Follow the trail off to the right towards the creek, then back towards Mooney Falls a bit and you'll find this mini-waterfall. Be sure to use biodegradable soap so as not to pollute the creek. About 1/2 of a mile down, there is a nice rope-swing (take extreme caution).
The next 3-4 miles are remote and rugged, and require multiple crossings of the creek. The trail is tough to follow at some points, but all that is required is to head downstream. The trail will lead to a point where there appears to be no way to go, except for getting wet. But to the right, on the rock ledge, there is a rope hanging down (always test ropes you did not place before climbing them). Climb up this rope. It is a difficult climb of around , but the rope is located above the water, so any fall will be lessened.
Follow the trail up and follow it downstream. There is a rock chute/slide located to your left; this is the access to the falls. Slide down to the creek and the falls are just upstream. These pools are small, but still offer good swimming. Like the previous three falls, there are many places to cliff-jump and there are many good sites to explore.