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Photos from my trip to Havasu Falls (Tyger Gilbert)

Written by Subject: Just For Fun!
Last weekend I went with the Arizona Camping Club up to the Havasupai Indian Reservation to camp out and
photograph Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls.

While there, I managed to shoot more than 3,000 images
overall, and I have been working the past few days to sort
out the best ones so I can post them on and
my own photo gallery on my website. So
far, I have narrowed it down to just over 400 photos, and I'm
going to do some serious selecting to get it down to about
200 for the websites. What I have chosen to include here is
only a few of the better pictures and some that help tell the
story of the trip. They aren't just the best pictures I took this
time, so I will send you a link to see more of them once I've
gotten more of them all finished up, should you want to.

>^. .^<

We started out on Thursday evening and Robert, the organizer of the group, rode with me. When we saw a
rainbow off I-17 just south of Flagstaff, we had to pull over and take some photos. It turned out to be a double,
with the brightest one being a complete arc from ground to ground. It was a signal of the beginning of a very good
weekend of photography, lucky for me. While we saw a little rain there, it was the last we had for the next four days.

Robert knew of a place west of Flagstaff where we could camp for the night and we enjoyed a small campfire.
Robin, on the right, followed us up there, and we were joined by another couple, John and Anna. We all slept in
our vehicles, except Robert, who pumped up an air mattress and slept out next to the fire. We got up at about
4:00 am so we could get to the trailhead at Hualapai Hilltop by 5:00. Robin, David, and Anna would be hiking
down the canyon, so they wanted to get an early start and hike during the cooler part of the day. Robert and I
were going to fly down on a helicopter, so after we saw the others off, we got a couple more hours of snoozing.

Around 10:00 am, I checked my bags in at the pack mule building. The helicopter would be flying us down to the
village of Supai, but there would still be a two mile hike down to the campground below the falls. Everyone else
would be carrying a heavy pack of 50 to 60 pounds or more, but I figured I wouldn't be up to that task. The mules
go all the way to the edge of the campground, so I packed everything I would need in two large duffle bags and
let one of the pack trains take them down for me. It was one of the smartest things I ever did.

Taking the helicopter was as easy as boarding a local bus. We just had to show up and put our names on a list,
then wait our turn to get on. No security scans, no tickets and checking in, no hassle at all. The Indians and cargo
got priority on the flights, but we only had to wait until 11:15 before we got to go. Once loaded, the helicopter would
pop up and literally dive into the canyon below. I was lucky and got to sit in the front next to the pilot. What a rush!

It was a short trip of about eight miles from the hilltop helicopter pad through the canyon to the village. According
to the time stamps on my photographs, it only took from 11:15 to 11:19. A total of just four minutes, but what a ride!

Tall mesas surround the valley that the Hualapai (pronounced "Wall-a-pie") Canyon goes through. The now dry
Hualapai Creek cut a narrow opening in the rocks over centuries that was deeper and wider the farther we went.

The front of the helicopter had a window on the underside where I could see and take pictures of the canyon
below us. The seeming vertical panorama of this photo and the one above it was accidental, but a cool effect.

Finally, we could see the village of Supai at the convergence of the Hualapai and Havasu canyons.

The village is lush with lots of trees, horse pastures, cornfields, and other farmland used for the subsistence of
the tribe members, but their primary industry is tourism. They rightfully take great pride in their own unique culture
while allowing the rest of the world to come visit their beautiful natural attractions.

The airport consisted of two cement landing pads for helicopters and the terminal was a wooden picnic table
under a big shade tree with a laptop computer and a telephone wire coming out to it for credit card processing.
Passengers waiting to board simply stood around in the shade until it appeared it was their turn to get on. I did
notice a uniformed Indian police officer standing next to the tree, so that must have been their airport security.

Robert, on the left, and I joined up with our hikers, Robin, David, and Anna, along with Max and Faith, who had also
flown in on the helicopter with us. Later that day we were joined by three more hikers, John, Sharon, and Kimber.
You can see the size of the heavy packs they were all wearing. My little day pack, carrying my snacks, flashlights,
extra socks, miscellaneous supplies, and my Camelback bladder of water, weighed about 15 pounds total.

After a quick lunch at the only cafe in the village, where a double hamburger, fries, and a Diet Coke cost $19.93,
we hit the trail, going first through the streets of the village and then on down the canyon to the campground.

These waterfalls were about a mile down the canyon from the village. The falls in the far back center are the "new"
Navajo Falls, near where the original one was before it was destroyed by the giant flash flood in August of 2008.
The large waterfalls in the front, also new, are being called "Rock Falls" until the tribe decides upon a permanent
name for them sometime in the future. The Supai considered the flood as just another normal act of nature.

We whizzed past Havasu Falls on our way down the trail to the campground, but I got a couple quick shots of it.

Everyone else went to the far end of the campground about a mile further to set up camp just above Mooney Falls.
The pack mules (my stuff was actually on a horse) took everything to the upper end of the campground and then
dropped them just outside the fence that let the campers know where they could and could not camp. I got my red
duffle bags and found a place about 15 yards from where they were left to pitch my tent. I wasn't carrying that stuff
any farther than I had to, coming or going. This little tent, which I got at Walmart for $19.95, was a lot lighter than
the one I bought in 1972, but it was also much shorter in width than I had thought it was going to be. The single air
mattress, which the pack horse was kind enough to carry down for me, was about six inches too long for it. That,
and the fact the the batteries for the air pump I brought had gotten hot and died, essentially meant that I would be
sleeping on the ground. I quickly discovered that night that sleeping on the ground was not the horrible experience
I imagined it would be. Not comfortable, but doable.

I hung out with everyone at the main camp for the evening, then walked the mile back up to my tent to sleep, and
back down the next morning again. I stayed mostly in contact with the group using my walkie-talkies. The plan for
the next morning was for the group to go down below Mooney Falls and swim for a while, then hike to Beaver Falls
two miles further down the canyon and back up. I lugged two gallons of water from the spring near my tent to the
main camp first thing in the morning, and because I was too stubborn to pour the water out about halfway there
so I could walk faster, I told them to go on without me and I would catch up with them at the ponds below Mooney
Falls. Signs above the falls said "No Jumping," but it quickly became obvious to me that jumping would have been
the only way I could quickly get to the bottom.

It was about 200 feet down to the bottom of the falls, and the river was just as beautiful there as it was at the top.

Mooney Falls, at about a 200 foot drop, was beautiful from the top, and I would have
liked to have photographed it from below, as well.

I could see everyone having fun in the water below me, but because of the roar of the water, they couldn't hear me
when I tried to holler at them. After seeing the route down and talking to other hikers who had just come up from
below, I concluded that even if I somehow managed to get down to the bottom, someone would have to haul my
carcass back up out of there with a rope. And, I couldn't let them know I wasn't coming down because Robert had
left his walkie-talkie radio back in camp so it wouldn't get wet. I guessed they would figure it out.

I took this telephoto of the group coming back up late in the afternoon, and after watching them climb the ladders
and pull themselves up holding onto chains that were anchored into the rocks, I was certain I had made the right
decision about not going down there. It would have taken me way too long, if I even made it up alive at all.

So, instead of hiking to Beaver Falls, I stayed around camp, played in the water, and took photos of the cascades
of the bluish-green creek, the many lizards and bugs, and whatever else I found entertaining. I took a nap next to
the creek and generally relaxed and enjoyed the beauty and tranquility of the place.

Max and Faith had also declined to go to Beaver Falls, and Faith graciously took this photo of me with my camera.
They fixed lunch for the three of us and we sat and enjoyed the pools together until the group got back.

It was a really hot day, even to a Phoenician like me, and everyone wanted to cool off in the creek waters. We had
a great time fixing dinner together and then sat around a propane-and-candle "campfire" talking for a while. They
all were anxious to leave by Sunday morning, and I think everyone had decided to use the helicopter instead of
backpacking all their gear the eight miles to the top. Even Robert, who had planned to stay the extra night with me,
opted to hike up to the village and fly out that morning. I gave him my keys so he could sleep in my truck and meet
me when I got back up to the hilltop on the next day.

After the group left about 9:00 in the morning, I waited until about Noon so the light
would be just right when I hiked back up to Havasu Falls to take photos of it.

Havasu Falls is only about half as high a drop as Mooney Falls farther down the canyon, but the travertine and
greenery surrounding it is every bit as beautiful, if not more so. The waterfalls used to come down off the front of
the rocks here and there was a much deeper pool at the bottom before the flash flood of August, 2008. After that,
the water changed course and flows off to the right, and the pool is much shallower because the retaining walls
that contained it were washed away. It's still a spectacular sight, in my opinion, though.

The Supai have rebuilt some of the retaining walls artificially and those are quickly being covered over by the high
levels of calcium and other minerals in the water. Though the water is only about 70 degrees, it appears that a lot
of people enjoy sitting and swimming in the new pools.

The afternoon was relaxing, entertaining, and very photographically productive for me. It was well worth the time.

By mid-afternoon, the sun was at a good angle for me to get some interesting back-lighting effects on the falls
and of the mist and spray coming off of it. I got dozens of nice shots from various different directions.

Earlier that morning, I met a professional tour guide who was tending his commercial campsite while the tourists
were away for the week, and he told me about a mine that I could explore on my own that was located up a side
canyon north of Havasu Falls. When the sun got too low for good lighting on the falls, I decided to take a look at it.

The Havasupai nation being a whole other world than the paranoid, litigious civilization I unfortunately now live in,
the mine hadn't been blown up, filled in, or blocked off so the ignorant and stupid public would be kept from any
danger caused by their own carelessness or reckless behavior. In other words, even I could just walk up to the
entrance of it and go exploring inside. It was wonderful and fun!  I took two flashlights with me since it was pitch
dark (and cold) inside and I was very careful where I walked. The tracks you see here didn't seem to be anchored
to anything, so I doubt they were actual rails for mine carts at any time, but they looked neat. The mine shaft split
in several different directions horizontally, and a couple of shafts went farther down vertically. I explored as much
as I felt I could do easily and safely, which means I went in every horizontal tunnel and avoided the vertical ones.

The primary mineral that had been mined there was calcite, which is a crystal that looks a lot like quartz but is
much softer, being only a 3 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, while quartz is a 7. Apparently, there were
optical and other uses for it which made it in demand during World War II and for a period of time it was mined
here, according to what Chris, the tour guide, told me. By playing around with my flashlight as a targeting device
for the flash sensor and infra-red distance sensor on my camera, I was able to get a pretty good shot of some
of it in the mine, even though I was operating in total darkness without the flashlight.

Surprisingly, I was able to zoom in on some calcite and get reasonable focus in the darkness, too. Happy daze.

After an hour or so of exploring (since I don't wear a watch anymore, I didn't really know exactly, BUT by looking at
the time-stamps on my photos, it would appear that I was in there about 48 minutes, from 4:45 to 5:33 pm), I got
back out to the entrance where I had left my backpack. I figured if anything were to happen to me, this would show
someone where I was if they came looking for me. Or, they would just steal the backpack and I would never be
heard from again. I really didn't think either of those events would be likely, however. I went back to camp and had
dinner with Chris at his site, told him about my adventure, and had a very nice evening before ground-crashing.

I woke up about 6:00 am the next morning, got all of my stuff packed up, and was ready to go just minutes before
the pack horses arrived around 7:00. I had decided early on to rent a horse for going back up the canyon instead
of flying up in the helicopter, for several reasons: One, the saddle horse would be brought down to the campsite
so I wouldn't have to hike the two miles to the village with my backpack, Two, it would cost no more than flying up
in the helicopter, Three, I would already have done the helicopter ride coming in and riding a horse out would be
something different, and Four, I love to horseback ride, having done a lot of it while growing up in Estes Park.

Once again, this was one of the best decisions I made. The Supai owner of the horses, a BIG professional rodeo
bull rider, showed up with this nice buckskin (and in fact, called it "Buck") for me to ride. He hung my backpack on
the saddle horn, I got up in the saddle (yes, I can still do that by myself with not too much difficulty), and he told me,
"If you want to go on ahead by yourself, I will catch up with you when I get finished loading up the pack horses."

Wow! This would be no nose-to-tail trail ride for tourists like I had often experienced anywhere else. This turned
out to be, without question, the best horseback ride I have hever had. A quiet, peaceful, relaxing, slow-paced ride
through one of the most beautiful canyons anywhere, comparable to Grand Canyon or Canyon de Chelley, in my
opinion. Ten miles, and I was getting to ride by myself.  It would have been fun to have a friend accompany me,
but I have been used to doing things alone all my life, and this was a wonderful experience. About a half mile up
the trail, this mare and her white foal came out of the bushes and walked along in front of us. How adorable.
When they had enough of this foolishness, she turned off the trail and the foal followed her. What fun!  Not the
greatest photo I've ever taken, but not too bad for being shot from the back of a moving horse, eh?

Most of the local residents and all of the incoming hikers and tourists seemed friendly and waved or spoke to me.
Many of the houses had a horse or three anchored outside the front door. This one was curious, but friendly, too.
I had an idea that I could make a film about my ride and title it, "Fat Man Not Walking!" (Stupid reference to an old
popular movie.) I suppose the bright red T-shirt I was wearing drew attention to me anyway, riding a horse or not.

This was pretty much the main street heading in and out of town and up the canyon to the southwest. The coral
to the right appeared to be their rodeo grounds where they were to have a professional rodeo this next weekend.

At the end of the coral next to the road, there was this magnificent white bull. It was just lying on the ground, acting
unconcerned about anything or anyone else. It wasn't fenced in or tied up in any way. It was just minding its own
business and hardly paid any attention to me riding by. I felt I could have gotten down, gone over and scratched its
head or petted it if I had wanted to and no one would have objected, even the bull. I decided not to try anything like
that, though. He was happy. I was having fun, and I had no reason to find out if my assumptions were right or not.

This was what the trail out of the village looked like for the first mile or two. It was cool with lots of trees and shade.

But this is what the trail looked like farther on up the canyon. Still lots of shade, but not nearly so cool. I have to
say, though, that I enjoyed both parts very much. Once I got up out of the narrow parts of the canyon and started
up the trail to the hilltop, there was no shade and I got a lot warmer. I wasn't too uncomfortable, though. I was
just having too much fun and enjoying the beautiful view of the cliffs surrounding me to care about the heat. That
was where I probably benefited from being used to the Phoenix summer temperatures.

This line of pack mules went roaring past me like a freight train behind schedule. I suppose you could call them
that, since they carry frieght and are known as a "mule train." This was just one of several that passed me during
my ride, and he was actually leading the animals. Most of the wranglers had untied their horses and mules and
essentially were driving them as fast as they would go to the top, since there appeared to be a lot stuff up there to
be transported to the bottom that day. Not long after this, the horses carrying my bags came galloping around me
with their owner right behind them. My horse suddenly wanted to go charging after them and I had to rein him in
to a walk. The owner called back to me, "You can hold him down and come on up at your own pace. Just pull over
to the side and let the loaded horses coming down go by when you get higher up on the trail. There's only another
three miles to go. See you there!" And that was the only instructions I got as he disappeared into the dust.

My horse kept energetically calling after them and wanted to get going faster, but he responded perfectly to my
insistance that he walk. He was a very good, well-trained animal that was easy to ride and handle. Lucky for me,
since I had the reins in my left hand and my camera in my right hand for most of the way. He gave me no trouble,
and I was surprised how little saddle-soreness I experienced from my first ride in more than ten years, too.

This was one of the last pictures I took that morning, the last one being the one of me on the horse, which a hiker
from "the Boston area" was kind enough to take for me. I thought I had about 500 shots left when the camera said
it had a card access error and wouldn't record any more images. I consoled myself with the thought that I only had
a couple more hours to go and I had already photographed on the way down most of what I would be seeing yet.
To add insult to disappointment, I discovered later that I still had one full disk from the previous weekend trip that I
simply forgot to erase. If I had only looked more carefully at the contents of Disk 3, I would have seen I could erase
it and have another 700 shots or so to take going up the side of the mountain. But, I guess I was preoccupied by
the activity of riding a horse at the time. Just one more thing to check before I leave the house on the next trip.

Robert was waiting for me at the hilltop when I arrived. He had enjoyed watching some elk in the forest during the
day before and had gotten a good night's sleep tucked into my 4Runner overnight. We picked up my bags and
drove back to Flagstaff to have dinner at the Beaver Street Brewery together before returning home. It had been a
really great trip for us, and the next big task was to go through all the tons of photos we both had taken.

This was indisputably one of the best photography trips I have ever done, and with a fun horseback ride included!

This next weekend, I will be camping in Oak Creek Canyon, north of Sedona, for Friday and Saturday nights. It will
probably be the last campout I will do before spending five days on a houseboat at Lake Powell in September. I
expect that to be a spectacular experience, too, if it is anything similar to my last trip up there in 2008. I will try to
get caught up on processing and posting my photos soon, and I will send you a link to them when I do.

In the meantime, let me hear what you have been doing with your summer.

4 Comments in Response to

Comment by Hp Ps
Entered on:

Great photos! I'm doing that hike in a couple of weeks so really appreciate your description.

Comment by James Eldridge
Entered on:

One more thing. When you mentioned it being a rush to take that plunge over the side in the helicoptor, that reminded me about flying in a small plane for the first time and sitting up next to the pilot. I was flying from the Florida Keys after it was dark and without knowing there was a space shuttle that took off and the entire sky was lit up like daytime. All of us on board and the pilot were caught by surprise and that was quite a rush also. That also was over 30 years ago.

Comment by James Eldridge
Entered on:

Thanks also for posting this wonderful adventure for others to share with you. I saved some of the pictures to use as my PC background. I was wanting something that would help me to relax and enjoy looking at. I too would half to have stayed up the hillside and not ventured down. I would have taken along time to get back to the top. Unfortunately I can't break away to do something like what you did. So I will have to view your other trips and pictures and by that take that trip with you. Thank you very much, Jim.

Comment by Forty Four O Nine
Entered on:

OMG...I so want to do that....Thanks for making this and sharing your experience. Never seen or heard about Havasu Falls.What did it cost to take the helicopter down? I've never been in a helicopter before but I always wanted to.