The Indian Village of Supai
The Most Isolated Village in the United States
by Gordon Burhop
[DesertUSA note - This story was written in 2006 - many things have changed in the area as there was a major flood in 2008, and another in 2010. The old Navajo Falls is gone. We have updated the village census to reflect the 2010 population but have left the rest of this story as it is. You can find more updated information on the conditions in the area now in this story: http://www.desertusa.com/desert-arizona/havasu-falls.html ]
In spite of being one of the most famous and most visited attractions in the United States, the Grand Canyon National Park area still holds some “best kept secrets.” One of these is the Indian village of Supai, perhaps the most isolated village in the United States and the home for about 200 of the 650-member Havasupai tribe. It is located some 35 air miles west northwest of Grand Canyon Village, on the Havasupai Reservation.
Supai lies several miles beyond the reach of the nearest improved road, Indian Route 18, which ends at Hualapai Hilltop, at a parking lot and helicopter landing pad. You can reach the village, which depends on tourism for income, by helicopter, mule or your feet. If you choose to go by foot, you can stop at Hualapai Hilltop and hike the rest of the way, or you can stop at the river’s edge during a Colorado River boat run and hike up to the village from there.
My daughter-in-law Kathy, her friends Lisa and Linda, and I decided that we would visit Supai by hiking from Hualapai Hilltop. (As I was about to discover, being the only man in the group came with one disadvantage and some very real advantages.) Our plan was to leave early in the morning, drive 230 miles northwest from Phoenix, park at Hualapai Hilltop, and hike to the village on the same day. A long first day, but it would also give us more time in the canyon.
It was at Hualapai Hilltop that I encountered the only disadvantage to being the man in the party. Lisa, a slight woman who had never camped, could handle a 35-pound pack. The other women could carry a little more. As the only man, I felt compelled to carry whatever was left, filling my pack with about 60 pounds of gear. It was the heaviest load I’ve toted since leaving the Marines, but we planned to be entirely self-sufficient, including doing our own cooking.
From Hualapai Hilltop, the trail drops steeply through a starkly beautiful landscape for about a mile and a half, then it levels out somewhat as it reaches the bottom of Hualapai Canyon. As we approached the juncture where Hualapai Canyon and Havasu Creek meet, sheer walls close in, creating an eerie sense of isolation. Hualapai Canyon is dry most of the time. Havasu Creek provides the water for Supai. A few years ago, a flash flood all but wiped out the entire village. It isolated the Havasupai for weeks.
After hiking for about eight miles we arrived at the village, where we took a much-needed rest. There is a general store, a café and a post office. You might want to mail a post card from Supai, the only place in the United States where the mail is transported by mule. It will be postmarked accordingly. There is also a lodge where you can rent rooms. You will need reservations. The village is also a jumping off point to other attractions.
Out of respect for the Havasupais’ privacy, there is no camping within the village. Firearms, drugs, alcohol and machetes are forbidden. The campground is located another two miles downstream. On the way is the first of the large waterfalls we had come to see. Navajo Falls cascades 75 feet over an undulating rock ledge. That meant that it was time for a swim.
Refreshed, we continued to Havasu Falls, the beginning of the campgrounds, which stretch for almost a mile along the fast moving creek. Every campsite will lull you to sleep with the sound of rushing water. We enjoyed more swimming below 100-foot Havasu Falls, soaking in sculptured travertine ledges and pools. Much of the travertine sculpture was washed away by the flash flood, but the formation has since rebuilt itself. Signs point to the high water marks.
We set up camp for the next few days. This is where being the only man along turned into an advantage. We had two tents, one for the women and one for me. They had the largest tent, but I had the most room. I do not cook, and although I assisted with camp chores, the women did the cooking. Those benefits made it worth carrying a 60-pound pack.
The largest falls, Mooney Falls, at 200 feet, is spectacular. It was named after an early explorer-miner who fell to his death while trying to climb the adjacent cliff. Today climbers, in search of an adrenalin rush, serpentine their way down through a series of tunnels, wire cables and steps. There are still other pools and falls below Mooney. Some provide privacy and serenity, although some 30,000 people visit Supai every year.
Looking up on the sheer canyon wall, about 500 feet above us, we could see makeshift ladders, catwalks and steps leading to a long-abandoned early mining endeavor. Those miners had more nerve than I have.
If you continue three more miles, there is another, lesser, but nice falls, Beaver Falls. Five miles further is the Colorado River. This eight miles of hiking requires time and planning, and the trek downstream requires several crossings, which can be waist deep or deeper.
After our stay in paradise, we loaded our things and headed back to Supai. There we packed small daypacks with water and lunch, and at the tribal office, we hired, for a small fee, a tribe member to haul our big packs out by mule. Back at Hualapai Hilltop we found our waiting 200 pounds of packs, put them in the car, and headed back for Phoenix.
If you choose to make the hike to Supai, the most isolated village in the United States, I recommend that you do it in April or May, when the weather is relatively cool but still warm enough for refreshing swims in Havasu Creek. You will need a permit for a hike to the village.
You can find additional information at:
P.O. Box 10
Supai, Arizona, 86435
P.O. Box 159
Supai, Arizona, 86435
1-928-448-2111 or 1-928-448-2201
P.O. Box 160
Supai, Arizona, 86435
1-928-448-2121 or 1-928-448-2141
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