Monday, March 16, 2015

Havasu Falls, Nature's Mutable Masterpiece

           Water.  It shapes our world, sustains our lives and is capable of inspiring both wonder and terror.  In my last post I described the delightful experience of discovering Upper Calf Creek Falls in the Utah desert.  
           Grand Canyon’s Havasu Falls is delightful, yes, but it also elicits these emotions:   Disbelief, awe, reverence.  After a ten mile hike in blistering June heat I rounded the corner on a rocky downhill path and, with a deafening roar, Havasu Falls burst into view.
            I looked down to my aching feet; real.  Glanced to the left and right at my hiking companions; real.  I had to conclude that the plunging double columns of whitewater before me also were real.  I stood—wide eyed—afraid to even blink should this sensational vision of paradise disappear like a desert mirage.   How silly.  This canyon and these falls have been here since time began; something so lovely and enduring couldn’t change in an instant.  Could it?

My first view of Havasu Falls. Breathtaking.
Havasu Falls view from the beach near the campground entrance.
My site in the campground along Havasu Creek.

            Yes it can.  And it did, when a flash flood raged through the canyon several years after my visit, altering the course of the creek and the falls.  Instead of adoration and amazement hikers and campers in Havasu Canyon during the event expressed alarm, fear and dread. 
            Thankfully no one perished in the 2008 flood but, for those of us who spend time in the natural world, this event reminds us of things beyond our control—of the wonder and terror of water.

New Havasu Falls.  The flood collapsed a rock ledge
at the top of the falls, channeling the water
into a single column.
(Photo from Wikipedia.)

Old Navajo Falls.  On our hike to the hilltop, the group stopped
to cool off at Navajo Falls—a short side trip from the main trail.
(That's me, enjoying the blissfully frigid water.)

New Navajo "Falls".  As you can see, they no longer exist.
The flood rearranged this part of the canyon,
diverting water from Navajo Falls and creating two new
falls downstream.
(Wikipedia photo.)

            I’ve traveled to many places in this country and others.  And I’ve seen my share of “picturesque and scenic” vistas.  Havasu Canyon and Falls is in a class by itself—literally breathtakingly beautiful.  
            I highly recommend a visit to Havasu Falls but, be prepared.  This is not a walk in the park but a grueling 10 mile hike through the desert, especially during the summer months.  The area is heavily visited but access and visitation are controlled by the Havasupai Indian Tribe.  The Havasupai—people of the blue-green water—have lived here for 800 years so please be respectful of the people and their customs.  Find out more by visiting this website:

A permit is required for camping along Havasu Creek.  The campground
was destroyed in the 2008 flood but has been rebuilt.
With prior arrangement, mules—shown above—will carry most of your gear the 10
miles to the campground.

Ready for the hike out of the canyon.  One thing I learned on this
long desert hike?  This is not the time to break in new boots!

Starting the hike back to the hilltop in the early
evening.  You can see the reflective patch
on my backpack (lower right).
We hiked out in the evening shade to avoid the
116 degree heat of the day.

Mooney Falls, downstream from Havasu Falls
and the campground.  These falls appear much
as they did before the flood. However, the travertine
pools at the base of the falls are gone.