As I stood in the hilltop parking lot overlooking the Grand Canyon, on my way to one of the places that was at the top of my bucket list I didn’t expect the following thought to cross my mind, “Well this is going suck on the way back up”. The negativity caught me off guard, after all I had been dreaming and obsessing about getting here, to this exact place, the place where I could start my journey down to one of the “most magical places in the USA”. Destination was Havasupai, best known for their (insert cliché word here, such as ‘beautiful’ or ‘awe-inspiring’) blue green waterfalls that have been heavily Instagrammed over the past several years. It didn’t matter to me that social media had kicked this place to the forefront of travelers “must go” destinations, I wanted to go.
Getting to these “magical” waterfalls is no easy feat though. Its months of planning, days of sitting on the phone for hours on end getting a busy signal while trying to obtain a permit and then a gruelling 10-mile hike down to the campground, and that is only if you were successful in obtaining one of few permits. After years of trying to obtain my own permit, unsuccessfully, I was lucky enough to join AOA (Arizona Outback Adventures) on their 4-day tour where they not only got me a permit but also set up camp, fed me and trekked me around to all of the waterfalls. Even if I would have been able to obtain my own permit, the chance of me making it down with all my camping gear, cooking my own food and finding all the waterfalls would have been slim to none. Although outdoorsy and adventurous; I have been known to get lost once or twice in my life.
Rewind for a second and I find myself starting to descend the two miles of steep switchbacks that lead the way into the Canyon, those same switchbacks I will be cursing four days later when I come up them. I am only hauling my daypack (thank goodness) which is loaded with a suspicious number of full bottles, three water bottles, sunscreen, my camera and my water shoes. Although it felt like it only weighed 10 pounds when I slung it on at the top of the Canyon, by mile 6 it feels as if it weighs 40lbs. Forcing myself to drink water, if only to lose some of the extra weight, I trudge through the Canyon thinking it looks more like an alien landscape than a dessert. The towering bright red walls, the boulders that look as if they have been dropped from Space, the dust that is constantly kicked up by the horses that run on through and the lack of anything green makes me wonder how it’s possible these waterfalls even exist.
By mile 8 we have reached the Supai village where approximately 400-600 Supai people still live, relying much on tourist dollars to keep their village running. Houses are spread around the village square which houses exactly one store, one restaurant, one basketball court and one set of public restrooms, as well as a tap where you can fill your water bottle. Kids and adults alike are roaming through town, as well as a large number of dogs, who according to our guides all have owners in town. As I sit on the ledge outside the one store I spot job notices pinned up on the bulletin board. A wild and insane idea crosses my mind as I read one that is seeking someone to work with the tourists that visit. “I could do that”, I think to myself, come live down here for a year. Heck I could pitch a tent, live off the land, learn about the mysterious Supai people. And then I remembered….this is indeed a dry reservation where alcohol is prohibited. “Well there goes that idea”, I say aloud to no one in particular.
As we make our way out of the village and towards the campsite I am struck by a feeling of panic, what if the waterfalls aren’t as pretty as I thought? What if I am disappointed? And what if I built this whole experience into something that wasn’t realistic? As we rounded the corner and I caught the first glimpse of one of the waterfalls, I gasped.
Stay tuned for Day 2……