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DEEP IN THE CANYON
HIKE INTO HAVASUPAI FOR AN OASIS ON THE DESERT FLOOR
By Lauren Kramer
(for Travel Writers' Tales)

You have to hike 10 long, hot, dusty miles to reach Havasu Creek, but when you finally reach this oasis of fast flowing water on the valley floor of the Grand Canyon you will be astonished by its brilliant, blue hue. You'll wrench your backpack off your tired shoulders and wade into the cool water, gratefully allowing the soft current to wash the desert sand from your skin.

The Havasupai Indian Reservation starts on the canyon rim and extends deep inside the Grand Canyon, neighboring the Grand Canyon National Park. To get there you drive four hours north of Phoenix, arriving with sufficient water, energy and supplies to hike into the canyon, or a budget to fly in by helicopter.

The travelers who come this way hoist backpacks on their shoulders, committed to the hike and ready to go. Some have been before and experienced the magical beauty of Havasupai. Others, like this writer, have seen pictures of the ice-blue creek and its many spectacular waterfalls and known instantly they want to see it firsthand.

We joined a group with Arizona Outback Adventures, making our way down the canyon wall's switchbacks in the early morning and hiking along the canyon floor as the sun gradually illuminated the deep, rich reds and browns of the vertical rock face. Six miles into the hike spiky cacti give way to a trail lined by lush cottonwood trees. You feel the creek's moisture in the air before you hear its bubbling sound and when you finally lay your eyes on it, its sheer color is stunning.

It's travertine you're seeing in that brilliant blue water. The creek is laden with carbonates that separate when they meet the dry canyon air, coating the stream bed and giving it a turquoise, icy hue that's nothing short of brilliant. Take photos of this water as it cascades over curtains of mossy rocks and they look too good to be true. They must have been digitally enhanced, others will say. But no, you'll tell them. It's really, truly this magnificent.

Two miles past Supai Village lies a campground, and there, steps from the creek, is our base camp. Once there we settle in for two days of exploring the canyon, examining its exquisite symmetry, picking its fossils from the ground, swimming in its waterfalls and learning of the people who came this way before us.

We spend the day on trails that follow the bubbling creek, crossing valleys filled with fragrant canyon grape and plunging frequently into pools of clear creek water to escape the searing desert heat. At Beaver Falls, which marks the boundary between Havasupai land and the Grand Canyon National Park, we unleash our inner child. There are joyful yelps as swimmers young and old do cannonballs over the smaller falls, standing beneath curtains of travertine that drape the slope of the falls to feel pelting water relax tired shoulders.

The desert is at its finest as dusk falls and tiny bats begin a moonlit dance between the cottonwood trees. A chorus of red-spotted toads deliver throaty chirps as they leave the creek and the canyon walls change color as they fall into shadow. We watch the beauty unfold from a hammock as our guides prepare a steak, chicken and quinoa meal from a portable kitchen, food that belies our remoteness some 2,500 feet inside the canyon.

The hike out on our final day begins literally at the crack of dawn, but we're grateful for the morning shadows, moving quickly from oasis back to desert and towards the steep switchbacks that traverse Hualapai Canyon. Much later, after the horses have lugged our bags from campsite to hilltop and the long drive back to Phoenix is behind us, we check into Scottsdale's Four Seasons Resort for some well-deserved luxury.

First on the menu is a long shower, chased by a couple hours in the spa beneath the hands of an expert masseuse. The Healing Hiker Massage removes any last traces of travertine from our skin leaving us scented with mountain arnica and a sublime sense of accomplishment at having truly experienced the Grand Canyon.

Travel Writers' Tales is an independent newspaper syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com

IF YOU GO:

Arizona Outback Adventures (aoa-adventures.com ; 866-4551601) offers all inclusive Havasupai Adventure tours 3-5 days long ($848-$1,499 per person) from March through October.

The 80-minute Healing Hiker massage at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale (fourseasonsresort.com/Scottsdale; 866. 8886540) is a great way to start a day of replenishment after a hike in the desert.

For more information contact the Arizona Office of Tourism at www.arizonaguide.com

PHOTOS: By Lauren Kramer and Tyler Scheven

1. The view from the canyon rim is a captivating one, though the journey from canyon rim to canyon floor is challenging - hard on the way down, and much harder on the way up. Photo credit: Lauren Kramer

2. The brilliant blue water of Havasupai Creek is a welcome reprieve from the desert heat and hikers young and old cavort in and around the waterfalls. Photo credit: Tyler Scheven

3. Mooney Falls is the largest of the canyon's waterfalls at 200 feet, and to reach the water you have to pick your way carefully down the rock face, down a path excavated back in 1883.Photo credit Tyler Scheven

4. The turquoise water at Havasupai is colored by travertine, which coats the creek bed and offers hikers a wonderful cool-down after a long, dusty walk. Photo credit: Tyler Scheven

5. On our daily hikes through the canyon we cross valleys filled with fragrant canyon grape, their lush foliage defying the hot desert sun. Photo credit: Lauren Kramer

 


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