From LA, we rode eastward through the San Gabriel mountains toward the Grand Canyon for one of our biggest challenges to date - a 10 mile midsummer hike into the desert canyons in search of neon turquoise waterfalls. We drove 8 hours on Route 66 to a Native American reservation hotel to rest up for the night before the sunrise hike. We did our best to get some sleep, but our room backed up onto a railroad track and shook with noise every 30 minutes when a train came through. We "woke up" at 4am and drove another hour into the desert to the upper rim of the Grand Canyon.
We dropped our tent, food and other camping gear at the mule hut for horses to carry. By the time we started, the sun was just starting to peek over the steep canyon walls. We asked the Native American man inside the hut for directions. He stoically pointed up in the sky and said "follow the sunrise." We descended the canyon toward the sunrise for 8 miles, traversing endless switchbacks, towards the tiny reservation town of Supai. The town is only accessible via hike and helicopter. The tribe restricts tourists and reservations are required months in advance just for a camping spot on the sandy ground.
We turned on an audio book about Elon Musk and trekked straight for hours, stopping only for a minute here and there to drink some water. Since we left so early, we were able to hike in relative comfort before the daytime heat set in. The weather was scheduled to be in the low 100s all weekend. We hiked through red and orange canyons with walls hundreds of feet high and were the only people in sight. Intermittently, we heard loud rumblings heading towards us. We hugged the narrow canyon walls as horses galloped past.
Once we were a few hours in, we started to follow a bright blue green stream, which led us into the oasis that is Supai. The canyon floor opens to abundant green forests cradling the stream (fed by the Colorado river) and a few scattered houses signal the start of town. We stopped at one of the first tiny houses with a porch and screen door for some snacks - a strawberry ice cream cone and some traditional Native American food. We tried fry bread, which is exactly what it sounds like and was perfect after such a gruelling hike. From there, we registered at the local office and paid a small fee to help preserve the reservation. We walked through town, which included about 25 houses, one small lodge, one school, one christian church, one restaurant and one store. We felt surprised that such an isolated town still exists in the states, especially with the unique and amazing features present in Supai.
We followed the stream another 2 miles beyond the town in the high heat. We turned a canyon corner and were completely stunned at the 90 foot waterfall before us. Even though we'd seen pictures, the color of the water, especially contrasted against the red desert rock, was totally shocking and breathtaking. There are 4 different waterfalls in Supai, all open to swimming, climbing and whatever else anyone wants to do. There are no safety rules; however, you can sense that medical care is far off. The first waterfall we came across, Havasu Falls, stands nearly 100 feet high spouting opaque baby blue water. It opens to a natural rock pool as large as a football field. After all of the hiking and all of the heat, we couldn't wait to jump in and swim around. The water was cool and refreshing from the constant heat. We felt the powerful suction underneath the waterfalls then laid out atop picnic tables resting within the waterfall pool.
After our swim, we picked up our gear from where the horses left it, found a spot in the sparsely crowded campsite, and set up camp. Since there is only one restaurant, and it is a couple mile hike back into town, we ate PBJ's and snacks most of the weekend. After setting up camp and chowing down, we hiked another mile to the next waterfall - Mooney falls. To access it, we had to scale down a 300 foot cliff on wet ladders and slimy ropes with no safety ropes. Looking back up at the cliff we scaled, we were shocked at the dangerous conditions we just survived. The ladders and ropes did not appear to be kept up at all. We climbed in the tree overhanging the falls and enjoyed a swim before climbing back up. We scanned the sky for stars and tried to drift off to sleep. Despite our sweet tent setup and sleeping pads, neither of us slept at all on the hardened ground. But at least we had the clear sky full of stars to ponder while we waited for daylight.
On day 2, we hit the other two waterfalls. First, we located the hidden 50 foot falls and traversed wet rocks with the whole area to ourselves. Then we climbed up Navajo falls and tried cliff jumping into the mouth of the falls. We climbed underneath the falls into hidden caves, and then floated around on inner-tubes in the pools below the waterfalls. At this point we were tired of PBJ so we headed into town to the one restaurant, which was more like a public pool snack bar circa 1993. The Native American teenagers were dressed in FUBU gear and baggy mesh shorts. We snacked on onion rings while observing this detached culture.
We headed back to the falls and tried to savor the unique beauty of the area. We did yoga near enough to the the main waterfall to feel the forceful mist and watched as other hikers arrived and reacted to the waterfall for the first time. It was fun watching every person scream with joy and run to jump into the falls - almost like a religious experience. We watched the sunset over the falls and headed back to camp for another sleepless night.
We woke up at 4am, packed up our gear in the pitch black, and turned on the audio book for another 10 mile hike, this time uphill, back out of the canyon. Even though we had already hiked nearly 14 miles in the past 2 days, the fresh air and scenery kept us going. We were dirty and tired, but we knew once we got to the top of the canyon, it was only a couple of short hours to the immaculate, modern and clean Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas. We hiked for hours, listening to stories about how Elon Musk founded Tesla, Space X and Solar City. It was tough and long, and we were exhausted, but we made it. And, as if sent from above, right at the top of the canyon edge stood a beautiful little old woman selling slices of ice cold watermelon. We ate about a watermelon each while we waited for the horses to catch up with our gear.
All tallied, we hiked about 25 miles in 3 days. We felt grateful to experience Supai before modern civilization spoils it with a paved road. The staff at the Mandarin was probably horrified at these smelly, dusty fools rolling up in a dirty car. As we lounged in the rooftop pool, we both missed the natural pools we worked so hard to reach in the canyon floor.
Expat Adventure Blog