Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Farewell to Supai

Day # 3 - Hiking out of Havasu Canyon

Me at the Havasu Trailhead:

     The hike out of Havasu Canyon was no easy feat.  We got up at 4:00 in the morning.  The walk back out of the village was quiet except for a few people signing up for the helicopter list.  We spent about a total of 40 minutes in the village during this trip, which explains why I have no photographs of it.  Stepping away from civilization made the experience seem even that much more surreal.  
     By the time we reached Rock Falls I realized I was in trouble.  There was no way on earth I was going to be able to use my hiking shoes, as the 12 mile walk into the campground had given me detrimental sores on my feet.  I’d done many, many hikes in these shoes before, and I was under the strong impression that they were broken in for good, but something about that Havasu Hike did me in.  As I look back on it, I think it was the fact that so much of the trail was sand and I hadn’t done much training in sandy territory, and your shoes move over sand differently than they do over rock or gravel.  It’s something that seems obvious to me now but at the time I hadn’t even considered it.  Up until that morning, I hadn’t tried out my shoes since the hike in;  I was in no hurry to realize how painful my hike home was going to be.  But now I was faced with the challenge full force and it didn’t look good.  
     I packed up my shoes and considered them lost for the day.  I dug around in my pack and found a thick pair of woolen socks that I’d gotten at Yellowstone National Park the Spring prior.  It was snowing that day in Yellowstone and my feet were freezing.  Ironically, if I hadn’t bought those socks my Yellowstone trip would have been pretty miserable, and if I hadn’t brought them along on my desert trek, the hike back home might not have even been possible.  What I was doing with woolen socks in the middle of the desert I’m not even sure; it must have been a strange twist of fate.  So I did twelve miles in socks.  I looked ridiculous but I couldn’t care less.  With each step I took, I could feel the gravel under my feet, the sharp sticks, the rough rocks.  All I could think about was overcoming the obstacle.
     I took one last look at Supai before we headed for the last wooden footbridge.  A Havasupai farmer waved at us and smiled.  Before I left for my trip, I’d done a considerable amount of research and now that I have been there myself, I am surprised at how many reviews stated that the Havasupai Indians were unfriendly.  I didn’t find this to be so at all.  Most of the Havasupai nodded a hello here and there, some of them seemed a bit more outgoing, but there were a lot of them who looked right through us as though we weren’t even there.  Perhaps it is this total indifference that we experienced that others are relating to when they call the Havasupai unfriendly, but this didn’t bother me in the least.  If I had thousands of complete strangers hiking through my home every year, after a while their presence probably wouldn’t affect me either.  
     Havasupai means “people of the blue-green water”.  Until the 19th century they had roamed the Grand Canyon for nearly 1,000 years, along the upper plateau as well as the inner canyon.  Upon US Westward Expansion, miners began staking claims upon the land, and in the 1880’s the US Government confined the Havasupai to a mere 518 acres, causing them to lose 90% of their homeland.  Over the following decades, their land was taken away and redistributed several times, until finally in 1975 the amount of 185,000 acres was officially given back to the tribe.  I am an advocate of the National Parks but I am very grateful that the waterfalls belong to the Havasupai Indians.  It is their sacred land, always has been, and should remain so forever.  
     Every mile that we hiked before 8:30 am that morning was done in the shade.  It seemed to be in the lower 60’s all that morning, and made the trip that much easier, even considering the socks.  My iphone had a full battery so I turned on my ipod and we listened to some music to pass the time.  
     The hike out didn’t seem any longer than the hike in until we got to the last mile and a half.   That is where the incline starts.  This incline is somewhere around 2,000 feet.  It was the worst part of the entire hike.  It was especially challenging for us being from central Iowa where the biggest elevation change we ever face is a small hill, and even that is rare.  Combined with the dry desert air that we are unaccustomed to and it made for a very, very painful experience.  Not only that,  but those long steep inclines and sharp switchbacks were bathed in hot sunlight.  
     I would consider myself to be in average shape, and Brett even more so, but we both had one hell of a time getting up the side of that cliff.  As I drudged along, I felt as though I’d aged 60 years somewhere along the way.  Every step was immense.  I had to keep stopping every 10 or 20 feet just to catch my breath.  Every piece of shade along the way we took advantage of.  At the top of every switchback we would stop for a few moments.  It took us a long time to do that last 1.5 miles.  
     Finally we were at The Hilltop; we were back at our car, and we were driving with the windows rolled down and the cool air whipping in.  It was a blessed feeling.  I don’t believe I have felt that happy since that moment, when we were driving down lone Highway 18 away from The Hilltop.  Not because we were leaving, but because we had been there.  Because I’d just had one of the most intense and beautiful experiences of my life.
     Supai and its canyons and waterfalls is one of the most astounding places on this planet.  There is just something about it that you can’t ascertain anywhere else.  The Grand Canyon is one of the world’s Seven Natural Wonders, which makes the trip worth it in itself, but to be able to experience a literal oasis inside of it is out of this world.  The fact that the land is so pure and unhindered and US civilization as we know it has yet to reach it adds great depth to its appeal.  Hiking in gives you a feeling of independence and self-preservation.  It’s an emotional reality that frees you in so many ways.  
     When you’re physically there, you don’t feel as though you’re on earth anymore.  You have reached some otherworldly paradise when surrounded by the golden dragonflies, the moonflowers, the aquamarine water, the snowy cottonwood trees, the towering canyon walls and the overwhelming beauty of the waterfalls; the smell of the hot sand and the horses, the wind rising up off the creek, the balminess in the air, the salty lime that lives and grows before your eyes.  
     There is a complete lack of distractions, your main concerns being where you’re going to sleep and what you’re going to eat.  The rest of the day is completely at your leisure, and you find yourself altogether diverted.  I haven’t felt like that since I was a kid.  The simplicities of life become more straightforward than ever before.  They become all-encompassing; they become your life, and suddenly your world is lucid as youth.  
     Make most of the experience that you can.  I learned a lot during this trip.  There are quite a few things that I will do differently the next time that I visit.  I believe that I will have a horse carry my pack in and out of the village to make the hike a bit easier, especially the hike back out.  I will stay closer to Highway 18 the night before I hike in.  I will make sure that I’ve done an equivalent amount of miles on the same terrain as the hike inside Havasu Canyon.  But more than anything else, I will make sure that I stay longer than just two nights.  Next time, I’ll stay as long as I possibly can.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Havasu & Mooney Falls

Day #2 (and evening #1) - Exploring the waterfalls of Supai
Mooney Falls 
     There was a short amount of time where I thought that I was done for the evening, that I’d just lay there in the tent on my little blow-up air mattress and fall asleep, my thin sleeping bag rumpled all around me, too tired to even change my still damp clothes from Havasu Falls.  But as the sun started to set, my body began to move of its own accord, a hiding place in my mind persuading me onward with the promise of some bewitching ideal.
     We were an even mile from Havasu in one direction and Mooney in the other.  I’d been waiting three years to see Mooney Falls and now that I was one mile away I could’t very well wait another day.  So we grabbed some water and my camera and we hit the trail once more.
     The easiest way to Mooney is to stay on the West side of the creek. There is a clear sandy path that leads right through the campground.  You will know when you have reached Mooney Falls.  The sandy canyon floor that you are walking upon fades into a rocky ledge, which ends abruptly and opens up before you.  This will be your first view of it:

     Remember that prime campsite I mentioned earlier?  Look closely at the top right corner of this photo and you will see the picnic table that marks the site.  
     Here is another view from the top, edging out just a bit closer to the sheer drop:

     This is a great spot to view Mooney.  If I could give just one word of advice about Mooney Falls overall, it would simply be watch your step.  There are no guardrails anywhere, and the paths that you take from this point on are dangerous. If you have a great fear of heights, this might be the best spot for you to enjoy the waterfall.  It only gets worse from here.  
    From the top of the canyon, you can make your way down to the next viewpoint by walking down a few steps and curving inward toward the canyon wall.  At this point, there is a precarious but nice place to sit.  This is the view you will get from there:

     Turn and start to zigzag down another 20 feet or so; the path is narrow with the travertine rock towering above you on one side, and sheer drop offs on the other.  There is a point where it looks as though the path has broken away and there is a four foot section that is only about 10 inches wide.  It’s very doable, just be extremely cautious and take it slow.  After that you must go through a short tunnel.  Upon emerging from it you will find yourself wedged inside a little cavern.  This is where the chains start and the second tunnel begins.  A lot of people consider this far enough and I don’t blame them one bit.  Besides, in my opinion, this is where you get the absolute best view of Mooney:

     From here, you get a perfect head-on view, tucked behind thick veils of ancient travertine.  It hangs down all around you.  Imagine the previous waterfalls that must have flowed all around at some point in the distant past to create all the spires and shapes that you are seeing.
     It wasn’t enough to just stand there; we were compelled to head down.  The descent I will describe in further detail later on in this entry.  Let’s suffice it to say that we made it down safely enough, but by the time I was coming down that last ladder, I was shaking so badly that the ladder was shaking too.  It is all worth it because once you’re at the bottom, this is what you get:

     We found ourselves completely alone at the bottom of the waterfall, the canyon ever darkening around us, the water turning blue as though reflecting the deepening of the sky.  There are few places left in the country where you can feel so detached and at peace.  This is unquestionably one of those places.
     One of the reasons why I revere Mooney Falls is because of the unique contrast it possesses.  The water plummets in heavy torrents for 200 feet, and where you would think that it would crash down like a white monster and delve itself into a deep rugged pool, it does just the opposite.  As the water hits the ground, it seems to barely make a sound, turning into a billowing mist that rises softly as a cloud, the pool shining demurely like a flat blue diamond, continuing on to ripple over rock and sand in a lucid sheath.
     This is why I love photography.  I can attempt to describe it but in words I’d never be able to do it properly.  There are some sights for which photos do a great deal more justice than words ever could.  Therefore, this is the closest way I can explain it to you, in this photo:

     The water barely covers my ankles from where I stand in the creek.  From the base of Mooney, it continues on down a few more layers of bone white travertine, and then past several more waterfalls that are not as grand but are still absolute perfection in their own way, until eventually 8 miles later it meets up with the Colorado River.
     That night, despite a rowdy group of people who were up well past midnight doing nothing to abide by the 8pm - 6pm quiet hours, I dreamed about waterfalls.  Perhaps the creek being a foot outside my tent door had something to do with it.  Before I knew it my eyes were opening, blue light was filtering in, and it felt like I hadn’t slept at all.
Havasu Sunrise
     The next morning we made it to Havasu Falls just before the sun did.  While walking through the campground in the quiet early morning, I noticed that many people had ingenious ways of making camp.  There were a couple of guys who brought in air mattresses and blankets and that’s it.  Air mattress set right into the sand by the side of the creek, covered with one blanket, and I’m going to presume a heavy dose of bug spray since they had no tent.  Others had thin, simple tarps hanging from trees and sleeping bags nestled right into the sand, some had no more than a hammock.
     It would be worth fighting off the bugs and sacrificing the tent if it means that much less weight to carry on the 12 mile hike.  Every ounce makes a difference when you’re hiking through the desert.  
     When you walk up to Havasu, the first thing you might notice is its travertine:

     The blue color was still vibrant as ever because the sun wasn’t up yet.  Once again, Brett and I found ourselves quite secluded, sharing the falls with only one other photographer.  
     Havasu is 120 feet tall and falls in one feathery stream down into a deep blue pool.  It’s perfect for swimming and this, along with the ease of getting to it, is probably the reason why it’s arguably the most popular waterfall in the Supai lands:

     This was a photo I was trying to compose but the sun began to come up right at that moment:

     The photographer left as soon as the sun started hitting the water.  After that, we had Havasu Falls to ourselves and we couldn’t believe our luck.  Here are some different views of the falls- from the front of it and also from the side, where the sun is hitting the canyon wall and lighting it up:

     Several mineral springs flow down from the Grand Canyon and feed into what is Havasu Creek.  To make a complicated process short, basically what happens is the waters filter in with the limestone that is in the creek bed, and as this happens, the limestone gives off carbon dioxide.  Once the carbon dioxide is dissolved and calcium carbonate precipitates out of the water this allows the other rocks in the groundwater to take shape into what becomes travertine as it utilizes its ability to lime over other materials such as logs, sticks, leaves and other debris.  The lime builds and creates what are the benches and dams that make Havasu so unique and alluring.  
     If you look closely, you can actually see it happening before your eyes.  All along the creek and at the base of the falls especially, you will see fallen trees becoming subject to preservation under a guise of aqua-white lime.  
     Travertine is found all over the world, frequently in caves.  A famous example are the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.  Left to its own devices, travertine will build and build as mineral-filled water pours over it.  Unfortunately, the limey travertine is relatively fragile and a vigorous flood has the potential to devastate it.  The last time that happened was in 2008.  
     It’s hard to imagine the possibility of Havasu Falls being any more beautiful, but before 2008 it used to pour from two sides whereas now it falls from just the one, and its pool used to be twice the size. The line it used to fill is obvious as there is now a deep basin lining the present pool with logs, debris, and loose rocks.  There also used to be several more travertine benches, leading up to the waterfall like an ethereal liquid staircase.  Some still remain, while others are being built at this very moment:

The Descent to Mooney Falls
     After the sun came up, we went back to our campsite and ate an early lunch.  Our food for the three days that we were there consisted of summer sausages and dense cheeses, rye crackers light as air and apples.  Foods that were small but full of calories, protein, and essential nutrients suited us best for the long trails.  I couldn’t have survived too many more days without a vegetable, but for this trip it was fine.  I’m grateful the Havasupai let us use their spring, but the water comes out lukewarm and doesn’t taste so well.  What really helped was bringing crystal lite lemonade packets to put in the water.  
     Maybe it was the fact that there was a throng of people there, or that the hot sun was beating down and making my hands sweat, or that I knew ahead of time exactly what I was in for, but the second trip down to the base of Mooney Falls was more difficult than the first one:

     This is me looking out at beloved Mooney, from the nice viewpoint before the first tunnel:

     Here is Brett about to head into the first tunnel:

     The tunnels are short and in the daytime enough light filters through where if you just watch your step you will be fine.  
     This is where things get frightening.  From this point, it’s still over 100 feet until you get to the ground.  From the second tunnel, your descent begins with what I’d like to call stairs, but are really just footholds chiseled into the side of the rock.  From this point of view, it doesn’t look so bad:

     Brett has a little smile on his face because he was hardly fazed by the descent, even though he was carrying our backpack and my tripod.  This made him a sublime partner to head down the face of the cliff with as he encouraged me the whole time and told me precisely where to put my feet as there were some points where I couldn’t see or feel anything.  
     Every once in a while there is an iron plank meshed in with the wall so as to make a step or two.  There is a series of chains nailed into the canyon and held down by iron spikes.  You will use them, trust me.  There will be parts where if it wasn’t for the chains, you would be falling backwards like a bad dream.  In fact, there is one part where you literally have to lower yourself down from a swinging chain:

     I’m 5’2” so this was the worst part for me as I literally had to repel myself against the cliff wall to get to the next tiny ledge of space.  Then you continue on down, inch by inch.  I got some strange looks but I found this much easier to do barefoot.  I like to be barefoot anyhow so maybe I’m just more comfortable this way but if your shoes are slipping and making you nervous, it’s worth a try.  This view might give you a better idea of how steep it is:

     The chains are very sturdy, but the whole time you’re climbing down you can’t help but think that you’re doing something very, very stupid.  You just keep going.  The last part is the ladders.  There are two.  The first one takes you down to a tiny platform where you so very carefully have just enough space to turn around and start heading down the next one.  One of the rungs was broken off and replaced by a piece of wood and wire:

     And then you’ve done it.  You’re at the bottom.  It’s scary.  There’s no doubt about it.  There are places where you don’t know where to put your foot, where you’re clinging onto a chain and your hand is sweating and you’re slowly slipping, but just be assertive and take it slow.  There will always be a foothold.  I would advise everyone to go with someone, for physical and moral support.  I didn’t see anyone going up or down by themselves, not even the experienced guides or hikers.  And I promise you this:  going up is not nearly as hard as going down, so don’t stress about it while you’re at the bottom of the falls.  I honestly believe anyone in respectable physical shape could do it if they’re just careful.
     Here is a picture of Mooney in the sunlight that day:

     Mooney Falls was named after a miner who died here in 1882.  His death is somewhat of a mystery, with different stories being told about what happened.  Deeper research into the miners’ records show that no one actually saw it happen.  They discovered him missing at the end of the day and then saw his body on the ground below, at the base of the falls.  At that point in history, no trail had been cut to the bottom of the falls, the miners had been using ropes to lower themselves up and down.  It was almost a year until they could get to the bottom to retrieve and bury his body, which was encrusted with limestone by that time, and has been buried somewhere in the west wall of the canyon.  
     Not long after Mooney's death, a Supai Indian was noticed wearing his boots and when the miners asked him how he’d gotten them, the Indian then showed them a way down following an extremely narrow crevice along the side of the canyon wall.  The miners refused to take the same trail but ultimately this is what inspired the path be carved.  This crevice became the trail that you will follow today, as the miners discovered two natural caves and then widened them and blasted through them, also making stepping stones in the bottom.  These became the tunnels.  They then worked to chisel steps and handholds into the wall, dredging the massive iron nails into the rock and attaching chains, with two wooden ladders being the last millstone to get you to the bottom.  Back then, Mooney Falls’s pool came right up to the ladders.  Over time the rock has grown right up over the Iron planks that assist as steps.  They have been climbed upon so many times over the past century that parts of these rocky steps are polished smooth, making the trip down even more challenging. 
     Depending how adventurous you feel that day, your journey can stop right there at the bottom of the falls where there is plenty of room to sit and relax under the cottonwood trees, or you can hike 3 miles downstream to Beaver Falls, which is a massive staircase of four wide cascades.  From there continue on for 5 more miles and the canyon opens up, becomes flooded with trees and you can keep hiking in the creek until it takes you right out into the Colorado River.  Shortly after Beaver Falls, the Havasupai Reservation ends and becomes Grand Canyon National Park.
     This is the first piece of travertine after heading downstream from Mooney:

     The creek heading for miles just waiting to meet up with the Colorado:

     Brett in the water which stays around 70 degrees the whole year long:

     Travertine and mini falls, what I believe to be a cottonwood tree, and the mist of Mooney:

     This is where I should probably mention how important water shoes are.  Get a good pair with a sturdy sole that stays on your feet.  The rocks at the bottom are painful.  I brought water shoes but wasn’t able to wear them because the 12 mile hike to the campground gave me a hellacious blister on each heel, something that wasn’t done haunting me yet, but that’s for another story.  
     Brett had some good ones and was able to meander through the creek with perfect ease:

     We made it about a mile downstream.  Every so often there would be another dam of travertine and another little cascade; pool after pool dropping into one another, the sheer orange canyon on one side of us and trees and dark shade on the other.  It was surreal how beautiful it all was.  
     It was a precarious journey for me holding my camera and not having any water shoes.  If the circumstances had been a little different no doubt would we have made the journey to Beaver Falls but we were happy with finding another small cascade down the way:

    This is the view from the top of that little unnamed waterfall:

     Next to the falls was a smooth patch of dirt and green plants growing.  The rocks above bore yet another spring down into Havasu Creek.  These ribbony cascades were everywhere. It was the perfect place to sit until the sun got so warm on my skin that I had to get into the water:

     There were little benches to sit on in the sun and spray of the falls:

     At the base, on the edge of these rocky ledges, Brett jumped off and sunk straight down in over his head.  We had no idea how deep it was and it was a shock when he jumped off and disappeared completely for a few moments. 

     Other groups passed by on their way to Beaver Falls, some stopped to enjoy the tumbling water alongside us, and others just stood at the lip of the falls before turning back.  
     We lost track of time.  We could have been there one minute or one full day.  Time has a way of warping your memory when you’re victim to such nostalgia.
Havasu Sunset
     We hiked back to our campsite and sat at our picnic table by the creek playing cards and swatting away bugs as the sun began to set.  By that time, we noticed the campground was even emptier than the day before.  Then we decided to head back to Havasu Falls to end our day.  When we got there, the last bit of sun was in dregs in the sky, so the water was showing a tremendous blue color like this:

     That’s when I finally got the shot I’d had in my mind all day:

     I wanted to capture the travertine terraces and the falls in a unique way, and it wasn’t easy because I had to balance my tripod in the creek with nothing behind me but a two foot drop into some dark plants, the force of the water coming at me and over my legs, but it was worth it because this shot represents the seductiveness of travertine.  
     Here is another picture with the same idea:

     Another, this time focusing on the thin ribbons of white:

     Here is a close up of the water and the beautiful green moss that grows all along the back wall, adding such life and color:

     Here we are.  Hey ... we're not in Iowa anymore:

     And just like that morning, we had the waterfall to ourselves again.  Apparently the waterfalls just aren’t as popular with the majority of the tourists unless the sun is shining down.  That is just as well with me since it is one way to experience the waterfalls at all, but to get to enjoy them in the solidarity of their natural state, unencumbered by none other than your own thoughts and your own eyes, feeling like you’re the only person in the world... that is another experience entirely.  Those are the experiences that bring you closer to god.  
     If you walk to the west of the canyon wall you can cross a wooden beam and up twenty feet of sand and rock onto a ledge and get an entirely different view of the falls:

     Here I am standing on that ledge and looking out at Havasu:

     See how blue the water is here?  Even the falling water itself glows blue since the sun isn’t shining down to defract its white light upon it.
     Back against this wall the immortalized travertine breaks apart in layers and you can see another spring gushing from some unknowable source, coursing its way to join up with Havasu Creek.  Also, this is where I discovered a big cave, and inside, surprisingly, is a picnic table.  I’m going to assume that not many people know about this, so if you find yourself there on a hot day and want some cool shade, check out this cave.
     Just as my light was disappearing completely, I found another magnificent vantage point from the South, just above where the creek begins meandering around the bend and towards the campground:

     By this point, the water was as blue as I’d ever seen it.  For a scattering moment while editing these photos I thought about desaturating the colors in Lightroom because I thought, everyone is going to think this is fake, but the thought left as soon as it entered my mind.  There are some things that are too good to be true, and yet there they are.
     Then before we knew it, it was time to head back.  We got to our tent just as the darkness settled completely, and fell asleep to the resonance of Havasu Creek, the only sound for miles.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Journey to the Grand Canyon Oasis

Day #1 - From The Hilltop to Supai; Havasu Falls & The Campground 

     At five o’clock in the morning on Monday, May 14th I was awoken by my best friend, love, and faithful travel companion Brett.  I arose from our tent at Mather Campground in Grand Canyon National Park.  We packed up the car and were turning South onto Highway 64 just as the sun was peeking over the horizon.  
     Highway 64 met up with Interstate 40 in seemingly no time at all, the desert sun already burning away the chill of morning air.  From this point it’s a good 150 miles to the Hilltop, and there is no guarantee when you will see the next usable gas station.  The Hilltop has no services, and you’ll need to be able to get back out onto the main road after your Havasu adventure is complete.  So fill up your gas tank somewhere between Williams and Ash Fork.  If you’re heading in from the West, I’d suggest filling up in Kingman.  And don’t forget last minute water and snacks. 
     43 miles later, we got off at the exit for the town of Seligman, which took us onto the original Route 66.  Driving on it, the past is evident.  Along the way there were a couple ghost towns packed with memorabilia along the “main drag”.  Old cars from the 50’s, their tail-fins rusting slightly, statues of Betty Boop and old gas pumps with their glass bulbs still intact, that sort of thing.  There appeared to be some motels still in use along with a cafe or two and perhaps a small gift shop, but it was hard to say for sure.  
     Eventually 66 brings you up into the Hualapai Indian Reservation.  A few miles after that and there will be a sign for Hwy 18.  This is the only highway that will take you to Hualapai Hilltop.  The checkered road that you see on Google Maps or your Atlas that takes you through a town called Williams is strictly 4x4 only and is impassible to most vehicles.  It’s widely advised to avoid that road.  
     From the turnoff onto Hwy 18, it is approximately 70 miles to The Hilltop.  It took a little over an hour because of the slow speed limits and the numerous cows meandering across the roads at their leisure.  In my prior imaginings I’d always envisioned Highway 18 as a desert road, empty and stretching up to the horizon, but this wasn’t so.  It was surprisingly hilly, the ground covered with thick desert greenery and sprinkled with the most fascinating dead trees, their limbs coal black and reaching vertically into the sky.    
     We arrived at the hilltop at 9 in the morning.  This whole adventure to Supai was an enormous learning experience for me, so let me fill you in on what I would do in retrospect.  I would not have started this day out at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  I would have camped or lodged somewhere near as possible to the entrance of Highway 18, in either Seligman or Peach Springs, and I’ll tell you why.  It’s obvious but it stands to be repeated:  The desert sun gets HOT, even in the middle of May, so the more hiking you do before those rays stretch over the canyon walls, the better off you will be.  From my experience getting out of the canyon, I found that the sun didn't start hitting the canyon floor until 8:30 to 9:00.  (Please remember this is May, so those times will vary according to the time of year that you go.)  
     Where was I?  Oh yeah!  9 in the morning and we’ve just arrived at The Hilltop.  And so the adventure begins....
     This is the view from the very first switchback of the trail:

This guy greeted us right before we started down:


Here are the main things you need to know before planning a trip to Supai.  

The Hilltop:

About a mile or so before the actual Hilltop came into view, the right side of the road was packed with cars.  It seems that during the busy season and on the weekends especially, the parking lot fills up quickly.  It is on the small side, but it seems you’re allowed to park anywhere along the road within reason.  As it was Monday morning and the weekend crowds were trickling out of the canyon, we got a spot right up front.  There is a night guard at The Hilltop.  There were Supai natives selling water and Gatorade out of the back of a truck.  There was a line of horses ready and waiting for riders and packs.  There are also restrooms.  
Getting there:  
From The Hilltop, it is a 1.5 mile descent and then another 6.5 miles through the bottom of a canyon to get to the village.  From the village of Supai, it is another 2 miles to the beginning of the campground.  There are no vehicles allowed.  You have three options for getting to Supai.
  1. Take a Helicopter into the village.  It leaves directly from The Hilltop.  It will get you there quickly, but just know that the helicopter does not fly every day.  To determine the days that it goes into the village and how much you’re allowed to carry on, such as bags etc, I would suggest calling the Havasupai Tourism Office.    
  2. Ride a horse.  There is also the option of putting your pack/bags on a horse so that if you choose to hike in, you can do so unencumbered.    
  3. Hike in with your pack.  This is what we did, carrying our packs and in them everything we would need for the next three days... and I mean everything from food and water to first aid and camping supplies. 
Staying there:  
There are two ways to stay inside the village.  Stay in the lodge or the campground.
The Havasupai Lodge is located in Supai.  From what I have read, it is simple and small but pleasant.  There is no phone or TV, but there are showers and A/C.
The campground is located precisely between Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls.  It is a 2 mile hike from Supai to the beginning of the campground.  The creek runs directly through it, with sites on either side.  It is nicely shaded, and the sites are marked by a picnic table.  There are no fires allowed.  There are three big outhouses located throughout.  The maximum capacity is 300 people.  The campground is 2 miles long, and you can choose your own site.  It is worth it to walk further in to find a more secluded spot.    
You will need to get a permit.  It’s available at the tourism office when you arrive inside the village.  This applies for each individual, no matter where they are staying.  You can buy it right along with your choice of lodging.  
A reservation is absolutely necessary for the lodge, as it only has 24 rooms.  If you’re planning on staying there during the peak season, then reserve immediately.  Reservations began February 1st of 2012 and the lodge was filled by the first day for the entire month of May. 
Reserve your spot for a campsite as well.  I’ve heard stories of people hiking into the village with all their stuff and being forced to turn right back around because they did not have a reservation and the campground was already full.  This most likely isn’t the case during the colder months but I’d make one just in case.  
Food and Supplies:  
There is a cafe in Supai.  The days that it is open and its hours vary, so I wouldn’t necessarily rely on it.  There is a market when you first enter the village, and a second one further on.  There is an array of snacks and treats; keep in mind that they’re marked up about three times the normal price you’d pay for them elsewhere.  Just be aware and be prepared so that you don’t get stuck a day without food.
There are no health services available, so make sure that you’re fully equipped with your own first-aid kit, bandaids, moleskin, aspirin, and whatever else you would need in case of an emergency.  
Getting back out:  
You can reserve a horse and/or a spot on a horse for your pack.  Sign up at the tourism office 24 hours in advance.  The helicopter is first come, first serve.  Just remember that it doesn’t leave every day, and also that the locals and vendors of Supai are allowed to go ahead of you.  Put your name on the helicopter list first thing in the morning and be prepared for a wait.  The time varies depending on the day and the season.  As you’re standing in line grumbling, just remember that you could be walking 10 miles out, where the last mile and a half is a vertical climb in the inevitable desert sun up a sheer canyon cliff.  :-)
Costs as of May 2012:
Permit:  $35.00 
Lodge: $145.00 w/ $40.00 deposit each night
Campground:  $22.00 per person each night (this includes a $5 environmental fee)
Helicopter:  $80.00 one-way
Horse:  $70.00 one-way
*Call the office for the most accurate list of prices during the time of your visit.  They are subject to change throughout the year; also ask about the cost of a horse carrying your pack for you if you so desire.  There is also a 10% sales tax.

Mileages starting from The Hilltop:
Village of Supai:  8
Havasu Creek:  6
Rock Falls:  9
Havasu Falls:  10
Campground:  10-12
Mooney Falls:  12
Beaver Falls:  15
Colorado River:  20
     The first mile and a half of the hike is a steep descent down into the bottom of Havasu Canyon.  It goes by relatively quickly.  The whole time I was walking down into the canyon, all I could think about was how painful each step was going to be on the way back up.  When you get to the bottom of the canyon, you see this sign:

     It would have been nice to see a sign like this every couple of miles but this is the only one.  By this time it was about 10:30 in the morning and the air was still relatively cool, but the sun was over the canyon walls and slowly warming everything up.  The temperature was in the 70's when we started out and eventually made its way into the lower 90's by the time we were done.  The rest of the hike to Supai is flat, and a good portion of it is sand.  What isn’t sand is gravel and slickrock.  I am told that it’s an easy to moderate hike compared to the rest in the Grand Canyon.  I can’t compare it personally because I have never hiked inside the Grand Canyon, only at the rim.  
     We brought two liters of water each and I wouldn’t have wanted a drop less.  In the summertime heat, I probably would have needed at least three liters if not more.  Make sure to rest frequently, at least once every hour.  Bring food for the hike.  Take advantage of every piece of shade!  Every once in a while there is a nice little shaded ledge like this one that Brett is sitting on:

     It is a fun hike when the sun isn’t blasting upon you, and it’s neat to see the other groups of people along the way.  We passed a group from England that was being taken in by a guide; we saw families with kids as young as 10 years old, people well into their 60’s, and lone hikers that included both men and women.

     Every forty minutes to an hour you can hear the helicopter overhead.  It’s a bit disconcerting to hear something so loud and intrusive in what is one of the most remote places in the US but you start to appreciate it after a while, because its proximity to the ground lets you know how close you’re getting to the village.  
     One of the best things about the hike is the horses.  Supai is the only place left in the US that still gets its mail taken out by horseback.  Infact, every bit of food and supplies is taken in either by the helicopter or the horses.  The first group of horses that we saw were carrying out the day's mail.  They were followed up by horses saddled for riders, and others were carrying supplies.  A Havasupai rider is usually at the head of the pack, with a second one following at the back, and there is usually a dog or two at the very end, panting, covered in sand, and clearly enjoying itself immensely.  It’s a rule to always stop and get to the far side of the trail to let the horses pass.    
     The first sign of relief is when the canyon walls close in tight around you and you start to see green trees like this:

Pretty soon after that, about 6 miles from where you started, you will see Havasu Creek:

     Once I saw the water all I wanted to do was jump in.  It was so beautiful, clear as glass and the most lovely aquamarine color.  The pictures don't lie.  The water really is that beautiful.  You just have to see it to believe it.  Instead of jumping in though, we kept going, and it was a quick two miles until the village began.  I read that it takes the average person 3-5 hours to make the hike into the village.  Somehow, we managed to do it in 3.5, which I thought wasn’t too shabby for a couple amateurs from Iowa.  We definitely did not take as many breaks as we should have, but our late 9:30 start had the sun pressing against us, so we hurried.  
     The village begins with a wide road of sand with big wooden fences lining each side.  Behind them there are fields, horse corrals, and the homes of the Havasupai Native Americans.  Their homes are modest and well kept, with the exception of a couple whose yards were filled with litter and garbage.  That was sad and disappointing, as was a horse corral with some very thin horses tied up on short ropes in the hot sun.  One of them had an open wound that seemed to be festering.  It broke my heart.  It was probably the only bad thing I saw the whole trip, but it sticks with me just the same.  
     There is a market at the village entrance.  Out front under a shade tree there was a big group of hikers sitting and eating push-pops; just another little thing you don’t expect to see in the middle of nowhere.  The village opens up into a sort of circle and that is where the tourism office is.  This is where you check in, and is also a great spot to fill up on water, which is free and drinkable without the need of treatment.  In the circle there is another market, the cafe, the lodge, a church, and the helicopter landing field.  To the left is the path towards the falls and the campground. 
     Those two miles from the village to the campground were exhausting.  The sun was officially overhead as well as laying heavily inside the sand at our feet, reflecting the heat of the day at us from all angles.  I thought we were never going to see Havasu Falls.  Thank goodness for the water in the village.  I drank another liter just in getting to the campground.  We took a lot of breaks under the trees that become abundant; we sat listening to the widening creek.  About halfway to the campground you get your first look of why you came here in the first place:
     This is a new waterfall, created in 2008 by a massive flood that swept through the canyon.  The Supai people have named it Rock Falls and it is 100 feet across.

     It is a short walk down a rocky hill to get to it and people were jumping off the top down into the pool below.  You’re also able to walk behind it.  We didn’t explore this one, just viewed it from above as we were driven for Havasu and our campsite.  And oh yeah, we kind of just wanted to be done with the hike already because we were on our 11th mile and were dead tired.
     We were sandy and sweaty, which is an abominable combination if you think about it.  I kept looking at Brett and seeing that he looked just as I felt: like hell.  That last mile was a mixture of laughing at ourselves and wincing with pain.  There was a tourist group that passed us, a few ladies in their 40’s who were trotting down to the falls from the lodge, decked out in beachwear and looking us up and down.  One chided at us from over her shoulder that we should drink more water, and not in an all-too-friendly way.  I thought of the eight minute helicopter ride she’d probably taken to get into the village and wanted to throw my sleeping bag at her head. 
     All the sudden we found ourselves at the edge of a cliff and saw that the creek disappeared over that edge.  We rounded the corner and sure enough there it was:  Havasu Falls!

     You then walk down around the side of the cliff which is a little bit steep but I’m certain just about anyone could manage it, and it’s sandy so that makes it easier.  I couldn’t take my eyes off that beautiful water.  It was like a living dream.  I’d imagined this very moment so many times, but this was better.  We climbed down to the foot of it, dropped our packs and just stood in the spray of the thundering waterfall.  In a minute I had my shoes off and was wading in the water; in a second I was fully submerged in the blue pool, still wearing my hiking clothes.  Brett looked at me like I was crazy and then forgot himself and joined me.  I don’t know how long we stayed in the water, getting as close under the falls as we dared, the force of it trying to keep us back.  The water was shockingly cold but after all those hours of sun and sand it felt like a pure slice of Heaven.  After our baptism we sat in the sun at a picnic table and ate our lunch, delirious with exhaustion and happiness.
     You walk up the far side of the falls and there is the campground.  It is shaded, lush, and gorgeous.  The sites range from big groups to tiny singles, each is defined by a picnic table.  There are no fire rings.  Some people chose to camp hugging the canyon wall, others next to the path, but most prefer to be right next to the blue creek.  There are sites on each side of the creek.  In the Summertime, I could easily see how at full capacity the campground could get very crowded and congested.  It’s clear the Havusupai put as many sites into the area as possible.  But on a Monday in the middle of May, the campground was barely half full and we had our pick of some amazing sites.  This is the one we chose:

     This is the view downstream from our site, and there was no one next to us on either side:

     Here is our little site mascot.  These guys were everywhere, but this one was particularly brave:

     Towards the beginning of the campground, against the far West wall of the canyon there is a spring.  The water does not need to be treated.  This is where we got all our water for the time we spent there.  You cross a tiny wooden foot bridge to get to it.  If you can’t find it, some friendly camper will no doubt point your way there.  It’s called Fern Spring:

     All around there was lush foliage and these flowers were blooming.  I’m not sure what their proper name is but I just called them moonflowers.

     We walked about halfway through the campground to find our site.  Here are some photos of some nice empty sites, and another of an occupied one:

     The great thing about this campground is that you can walk around at your leisure and choose any site that you want.  Though you may be extremely tired when you arrive at the campground, it's worth it to take a rest and then continue on into it to find your perfect site.  The campground is two miles long and sits neatly between Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls.  There is a big site almost within viewing distance of Havasu at the very beginning of the campground.  And there is a spectacular site right at the very top of Mooney Falls.  Both of those sites, not surprisingly, were taken.  The next time I visit this place I'll be hoping to hook that Mooney site, because can it really get any better than camping in the shade in the middle of a narrow orange canyon, right next to a pure blue pool that tips into a straight 200 foot plummet of one of the most gorgeous waterfalls on the planet?  *sigh*  But even still, I was very happy with the site we found for ourselves.
     Here is a picture of the gorgeous creek which widens and tapers and creates perfect little pools all throughout the campground.

    These dragonflies were everywhere, orange as the canyon walls:

     By the time we got our tent set up it was around 5 in the evening.  I had just experienced some of the most intense and yet beautiful hours of my life.  We tossed all our belongings inside our mesh sanctuary and just lay there resting for a while, marveling at how sore we were from the hike, hurting in places we never knew existed.  We stared up at the trees, while listening to the creek, and planned out the rest of our precious time there... which was already slipping away much too quickly.