Where the Wild Things Are: Havasu Falls

Adventure Travel, Cabins & Camping, Featured, Fitness & Workouts, United States — By on September 29, 2009 at 6:00 am

Havasu Falls by Jessica Goldstein
LG Adventure Editor

There are a few things you cannot do when you hike Havasu Falls. I say “when” and not “if” because once you know it’s out there, there’s no not going.

Things not to do: take a helicopter down, ride a mule, have a mule carry your backpack. That would be the camping equivalent of reading the Cliff’s Notes. The hike is ten miles long; eight miles downhill to the Havasupai Village, then another two to camp. Sleep in your car in the parking lot at the trailhead- go to bed as soon as it gets dark and set an alarm for 2 a.m. Hike down in the dark (that’s why man invented Petzl headlamps, people) to avoid the worst of the sun and heat. The worst is really bad. You’re not in whatever-state-you’re-from anymore. You’re in Arizona, a state where 90 degrees of dry heat is considered easy breezy and beautiful because it’s “dry”.

Once you’ve set up camp and you set out to hike the falls, there are a few things to know. Travel light down there; put everything you need in one or two packs so you can take turns carrying them. In order to get down to Mooney Falls, you’ll have to tackle this cliff. It’s really steep. Not like “watch your step!” steep. Like there are chains and spikes sticking out of the rock and you will be clutching them while cursing, either at the top of your lungs or under your breath. You’ll mentally make a list of all the things you wish you’d told your loved ones before you left. Then you’ll be at the bottom, grateful that you didn’t look down, and be just fine while thinking that there’s no way whatever you almost died to see was actually worth the descent.

It’s okay. You’ll be wrong. Because it’s worth it. Damn, is it worth it.

You’re in this place that can’t possibly be real. It’s something out of a Lost Boys Neverland fantasy, a lagoon-like world where all the words you know for colors seem suddenly inadequate. The water, you’d say that it’s blue except that it’s brighter and bluer than any blue you’ve ever seen, and so clear you can see straight to the bottom and count your toes. There are places where you can swim down the stream instead of just walking it, spots where you’ll have to hold your backpack above your head, Vietnam-style, to cross the river, stretches where there’s Emerald City-green ivy all around you, higher than skyscrapers. Ropes are tied to the just-right tree branches for taking Tarzan leaps into the water. It is the ultimate childhood fantasy.

The hike back uphill could be anticlimactic, like the flight home from the perfect vacation, but mine wasn’t. We hiked in the dark. My legs felt like Jell-o someone had set on fire; sweat dripped off my nose in drops as big as cherries. I didn’t want to take a break because I just wanted to get to where we were going, the faster the better. But we had to stop before our bodies gave out, and when we did we all turned off our flashlights. And it was like the sky stole the shine from the headlamps and threw it into the air. The brightest, breathiest dark. All we could see was the outline of the rock, this silhouette of a natural skyline, and the black upside-down bowl of a universe overhead. No noise, except the inhale-exhale rhythm of a dozen people catching their breath at the same time. The closest major metropolitan area was Pheonix, 270 miles away. It was this split second of America that was everything you want your country to be: powerful and beautiful without trying to be either.

For the information you need about reservations, fees, and all things logistical, go to the Havasupai Tribe website.

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  • Heather Rae says:

    Wow, I used to go to Havasu all the time when I was a kid (we lived close), and I never knew this was there. I'll definitely have to make the trip. Thanks for the info!

  • www.alittleadrift.com says:

    Really beautiful post and really makes me want to get out there and explore my own country!