Supai, Arizona and Zion National Park, Utah
Marie and I spent the first week of June revisiting two of our favorite places.
First up: one of the most remote towns in the American West. Supai, Arizona, the capital of the Havasupai Indian Reservation, sits right next to Grand Canyon National Park. No roads go there. The closest you can get in a car is eight miles away. And to reach Supai from that spot – a parking lot on the edge of a plateau – you have to hike, ride a horse, or take a helicopter.
Marie and I first visited Supai in 2012. We hiked in, spent two nights at the only lodge in town, and found ourselves so mesmerized by the place that we knew we’d have to return.
Visiting Supai takes some advance planning. The lodge and a campground are the only places you can stay, and reservations fill up almost immediately when they become available at the beginning of each year. We tried unsuccessfully to get a reservation in 2017, but this year we were lucky enough to book three nights at the campground.
The hike to Supai is an experience in itself. Marie and I arrived at the Hualapai Hilltop parking lot at about 8am. We chugged some water, shouldered the big backpacks that held all of our camping gear, and started down a series of switchbacks. The temperature rose quickly, and we were grateful whenever the steep canyon walls gave us a break from the sun.
About a mile from the town a bright green line of vegetation suddenly appeared in the otherwise orange sandstone landscape. We’d reached the point where the trail begins to parallel Havasu Creek, Supai’s heart and defining feature. The creek, fed mostly by an underground spring rich in calcium carbonate, has a distinctive blue-green color that inspired the name of the local Native American tribe (Havasupai means “people of the blue-green water”). The creek’s minerals also create an ever-changing array of travertine terrace waterfalls that are so otherworldly you feel like you’ve entered the land of the elves in a Lord of the Rings movie.
The town itself is small, only about 200 people. In addition to the lodge there’s a cafe, a general store, a school, and a post office that still uses mules to carry the mail. Marie and I stopped at the cafe for lunch before continuing another two miles to Havasu Falls, the most famous of Supai’s waterfalls.
Just past Havasu Falls we reached the start of the campground, which stretches for about a mile along the creek down to Mooney Falls, Supai’s tallest waterfall. The best campsites were already taken, but, completely worn out, we didn’t have the luxury of being picky. We set up our tent and collapsed.
It turned out that the spark mechanism on my Jetboil camping stove was broken, so the next morning – after switching to a much better camping spot – we walked back to town to buy matches and eat breakfast before exploring more of the canyon.
Our plan for the day was to start at Mooney Falls and work our way down to Beaver Falls, which is not too far from the spot where Havasu Creek joins the Colorado River. But the descent to Mooney Falls is extremely steep, with chain handholds and precarious ladders, and Marie opted for some hammock time instead. (After making the descent in 2012, Marie had commented, “I’m glad I’ll never have to do this again.”) Rest sounded pretty good to me too, but that stretch of the creek from Mooney Falls to Beaver Falls is a wonderland and I wanted to see it again. Photos don’t even come close to doing it justice.
My rest came the next day, when we mostly just lay around camp and cooled off in the water at Havasu Falls.
We were both dreading the 11-mile uphill hike back out of the canyon. We packed our gear early the next morning and timed it so we arrived at the Supai cafe as soon as it opened. A big breakfast definitely helped us make it the rest of the way, straining under our packs and sweating in the heat. Marie left me in the dust and by the time I hobbled up to the hilltop she’d been there long enough to have a cold Gatorade waiting for me.
From Supai we headed to Zion National Park in southern Utah. It really surprises me that Zion isn’t better-known. Its towering canyon walls impress me just as much as Yosemite, and two of the hikes in Zion – Angel’s Landing and The Narrows – are among my favorites in the whole country. Plus Zion is home to one of my favorite trees.
Marie and I spent a night at the Watchman campground and woke up early to catch the first shuttle bus to the trailhead for The Narrows. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve hiked The Narrows (most recently in 2017, 2015, and 2012), and it never disappoints. The crowds can be oppressive, but – by taking the first shuttle and hurrying along the initial section of the trail – Marie and I had the river entirely to ourselves for the first hour or two.
Worn out, sore, and happy, our trip was over. I dropped Marie off at the Salt Lake City airport and continued back to Montana, excited to see what was happening in Yellowstone.