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.


  1. Fantastic pictures! The Grand Canyon will of course, continue to remain on top of my wishlist and it appears the topography is highly susceptible to the sweep of Nature, else the deep gorges could not have been formed.
    I wish you could have included more pics of your trek :)

    1. You're so right about the Grand Canyon being a force of nature. And, as we can see, geologic time includes "now".

      I should have taken more pictures during this hike. But I didn't! Back in those days I used a film camera and didn't have the luxury of snapping away. Also, my hiking companions were not photographers and didn't want to stop for too many pictures along the way.

      I do have a story to tell, though, about the hike out of the canyon. But that will have to wait for another time...

  2. Somewhere beyond awesome, Rita!

    For whatever strange reason, what came to mind upon reading your posting was the following statement by the character Piglet (from 'The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh'): "I beg your pardon, Owl, but I th-th-th-think we coming to a fatterfall… a flutterfall… a very big waterfall!"

    I'm certain that the delights of this marvelous experience far outweighed the throbbing feet you experienced from breaking in new boots on this hike to Havasu Falls.

    Thanks for sharing another of your many travel adventures!


    1. Yes, I agree John—somewhere beyond awesome! Even though the canyon and the falls have changed since I've been there I imagine the single water column of the new Havasu Falls is just as impressive as the double columns were.

      I like your reference to Winnie the Pooh! And I agree that the adventure and scenery on this excursion more than made up for my aching feet!

      Thanks for commenting.

  3. A fascinating post, Rita, of a place I have experienced only through your writing and photographs. I especially appreciated the history of the flood and the falls and the photograph of your foot. At times in my younger life, that foot was mine. The writing, as always, is skillful and attention-getting. A highlight for me was your glancing around to make certain your view of the falls was real. Excellent!

    1. I'm thrilled to hear that you enjoyed the description of my reaction when I first saw this too-good-to-be-true natural wonder.

      Unfortunately I've "owned" those blistered feet too many times to count!

      Thanks for reading and replying, Janet!

  4. Hi Rita,

    I was off visiting Washington, D.C. - inspired by your blog to travel more in our own beautiful country - so, I'm just getting around to reading this post. What a story your pictures tell of the changes that can happen with one great storm and flood! I bet frequent visitors to this area miss the double-falls - what a spectacular view you had (I can see why you might have to pinch yourself after a 10-mile trek through desert!).

    Also, I caught the movie "Wild" on the plane, and your photo of your foot reminded me of all of Cheryl Strayed's painful descriptions of her battered feet and too-small hiking boots. Here's to comfy, worn-in boots! :)

    Thank you for sharing so many fascinating details of Havasu - it's now on my Rita-inspired U.S. travels list!!


    1. Hi Vickie,

      Well, first let me say that I'm thrilled that you're using me as your inspiration to travel the USA!

      The double falls of Havasu is (was?) the most stunning thing I have ever seen (so far) and it's sad that one weather event has transformed the falls. The canyon is still exceptionally beautiful though—well worth a visit.

      When I read your comment on the movie "Wild" I had to laugh. Gee, I thought, why couldn't they make a movie like that from MY stories? (Not enough personal "drama", I know!)
      Well, at least I never take a long hike anymore in brand new boots!

      Good to hear from you, Vickie!

  5. Hi Rita,

    I would totally see a movie based on your travels - especially if the cinematography rivaled your beautiful photographs of the landscape and its inhabitants.

    I definitely hope one day you'll start selling calendars of your photography on this site. I will be the first to buy!!

  6. Thanks, Vickie,

    You'll be the first to know when I make a calendar (and/or movie!) based on my travel adventures!

  7. Absolutely gorgeous pictures! Grand canyon is on my bucket list! :)

    PS - I broke in a hiking shoe during a Himalayan trek and luckily ended the trek with just one blister!

    1. I'm envious of your Himalayan trek - that's on my bucket list!
      And, only one blister with new boots - that's pretty good!

      Thanks for commenting, Preeti. I hope you fulfill your wish of traveling to the Grand Canyon!