Oct. 16, 2016: A Postscript to the Havasupai Falls Hike and a Few More Pictures

Since coming home, I have continued to process our experience, both the beautiful falls, the camaraderie of wonderful women and the plight of the Havasu people.  Amy mentioned on her Instagram site that she will never eat Indian Fry Bread again, because what it has done to the health of the Havasupai, specifically, but Native Americans in general.  The Pima tribe in Arizona has the highest diabetes rate in the world related to obesity–61 to 78% of 20-64 year old men are obese; women’s statistics  are even worse, 81 to 87% are obese.

While I don’t know what the actual statistics are for the Havasu people, we all were shocked at how obese the people were, especially the women. From what I saw, the children started showing trends toward being overweight by the age of ten or so.  By the time they are young adults, they are quite overweight.  We didn’t see too many teenagers, because the high school children go to boarding schools sponsored by the federal government somewhere else.  There is only an elementary school in Supai.

The Bureau of Statistics show that 5.2 million people are classified as “Native Americans” and 22% live on reservations.  Reservations  are remote, often on land that is not very conducive  to agriculture, where the wild game has been depleted, making it impossible for the people to practice their traditional ways of being hunters and gatherers.  The remote locations, coupled with the inability to access and store fresh food like fruits, vegetables and dairy products, lead to a diet based on staples that have a long shelf life, such as white flour, sugar, lard, chips and other highly processed foods. We saw both children and adults walking or riding with bags of chips in their hands. While we thoroughly enjoyed our Indian Fry Bread, a regular diet of that is devastating for living a healthy life.

A Supai tacos on Fry Bread; enough for two people!

An article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition addresses other  factors that impact the health of Native Americans:

  • An inactive life style
  • Genetic factors: the “Thrifty Gene” hypothesis, which scientists are still exploring, that suggests that some people have a greater ability to store energy efficiently which evolved during the times of feast and famine cycles.  So during lean times, the body stores energy in fat cells which are then used during the famine times. It served the  Native American population well during the time as hunters and gatherers, but today with the ready access to food and the less active life style, that genetic trait has a very negative impact.
  • Access to good medical and dental care is also an issue for people living on the reservation.  At Supai, for example, there is a small clinic, but the literature for tourists warned us that there is not a doctor available, and in cases of emergency, the nearest hospital is a long distance from the village and the top of the trail.
  • Poverty–a very high unemployment rate and the median income for Native Americans is the lowest of all ethnic groups in the US.

The song that has run through my head since the beginning of the trip has been Paul Revere and the Raiders “Indian Reservation:”

They took the whole Cherokee nation

Put us on this reservation

Took away our ways of Life

The tomahawk and the bow and knife

They took the whole Indian nation

Locked us on this reservation

Though I wear a shirt and tie

I’m still a Red Man deep inside


We really didn’t have much chance to interact with the villagers.  They are a “shy and private people” as Iliff described them in her memoir “People of the Blue Water.” Mostly they just went about their business and ignored us.  We did have a brief conversation with a Havasupai Ranger who was checking to make sure we had our permits for going to the Falls.  I asked him if he had lived there all his life and he said “yes, there is nothing up there for me.”  His children, too, came back to live in the village when they finished school on the outside.

I had read some reviews on Trip Advisor of people complaining about this or that being broken, the café running out of food, etc.  They obviously didn’t think about the difficulty of running a tourist operation where everything has to be either brought in  and out by helicopter or horse.  For example, the ice machine broke down in the café, and we asked when it would be fixed.  The young woman behind the counter told us it is hard to tell, since a repairman (or woman) has to be flown down, the parts have to be ordered, all of which is expensive and time delayed.  Nothing is easy or quickly resolved.  The ice machine in the general store was also broken and there was a sign dated July 16 that said: “The Ice Machine is broken and there are no plans to fix it.”

We saw quite a few houses that had some of their windows boarded up and we wondered if that was for privacy or if they were broken windows that are too expensive to fix

While we were very respectful and tried not be intrusive, and our presence in Supai helps support their only  economy, to me it still felt like I was trespassing on their sacred land.

Mail being delivered by Pony Express! 

Looking at Mooney Falls after safely navigating the chain and ladder descent 

Havasu Falls 




 Oct. 13: Hiking out of Havasu Canyon……and then we were six again

After our hike yesterday, we decided to hire a mule to carry out our big packs (xcept Ellen and Nancy), and just carry our small packs with water and food. We ate our last meal at the village cafe, repacked our bags, and retired to our respective rooms. By 6am this morning we headed out with just enough light to not need our headlamps. Most of the village was still asleep, just a few dogs out for their morning forage and some horses standing patiently behind barb wire fences, waiting for their work day to begin, while the early morning light illuminated the sacred towers above the sleeping village. On the outskirts of the village we came upon a beautiful Indian pony grazing among the cottonwood.

Early morning in the village

On the trail 

The sacred sentinels watching over the sleeping village

Indian pony on the side of the trail

The shaded trail in the canyon with the sun visible as we neared the mouth of the canyon

Besides one other couples, we were the only ones on the trail. I walked a while by myself, lost in the stillness and beauty of the canyon, watching the morning sun move slowly down the canyon walls.

I was fascinated by the beautiful natural patterns of the rocks

View as we were coming out of the narrow canyon . 

Looking back to the right from where we had been as we climbed out

After about 2 hours we were out of the narrow canyon, and back in the wide valley. The trail begins to climb at that point and ends with steep switchbacks as it nears the top of the trail. We were out by 9:45 but had to wait for 1.5 hours for the packs to arrive. 

We drove back to Peach Springs to rendezvous with Jacque. Over lunch Jacque told us how she spent her two days while we were in the canyon. After we left on Tuesday she spent several hours on the Internet trying to find her brother who she had not heard from in eight years. She was able to track down an address for him in Flagstaff , but had no working phone number for him. She decided to take a chance and drove to the address in Flagstaff. She knocked on the door, not knowing what to expect, because the last time she saw him he was in very poor health.He and his girlfriend were thrilled to see her; he said he had been thinking about her for months.  He is doing well and about to move to a 44 acre property in a remote part of Northern Arizona. They spent two days going through documents and memorabilia from their parents and parted with the commitment to stay in touch. 

Sometimes the universe does indeed work in mysterious ways. If Jacque hadn’t rolled her ankle, she would not have reconnected with her brother, especially once he moved. When she finished telling us her story, we all had tears in our eyes.

We said good bye to Nancy who was driving back to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to hike to Flagstaff , about 118 miles to complete the Arizona Trail.

The drive back to the airport was uneventful. It was an epic hike, parts of which were the scariest I have ever done, and one more  thing I can  cross off my bucket list. Observing life in the village was another sad reminder of how the intersection of the white man’s culture and the indigenous people never seems to come out well for indigenous people.

Oct. 12, 2016: And Then There were Four….Falls that is!

What an epic day!  We had a quick breakfast in our room, making hot water for coffee and oat meal in my newly acquired electric hot pot…thanks to Gary and the Good Will store.

Morning coffee and Gary’s pot. 

Our plan for today was to hike to 4 water falls that are within the Havasupai Canyon. Two of them were easily accessible, the other two were an adrenaline rush for me. The furthest fall from the village is Beaver Falls, which is 5 miles away.

 Pictures are worth a thousand words, so here is a sampling.

This was the first water fall we passed, Navaho Falls, but this is not the main fall. We were eager to get to Mooney Falls which can very crowded, so we by passed Navaho Falls, and saw more of it on the return hike.

Havasu Falls plunges 100 feet from the creek into a natural amphitheater.  

Our next stop was at Mooney Falls, where things got a bit dicey. It is about a mile from Havasu Falls and at 200 feet it is higher than Niagara Falls. It is named after a cowboy who fell to his death trying to reach the bottom on a rope, which turned out to be too short. (Hate it when that happens!) 

To reach the bottom of that fall, you must go through two narrow tunnels, a very narrow trail on the side of a sheer cliff, and then “wet and slippery rocks, makeshift ladders, iron hooks and slippery iron chains for those who dare,” as one  trail guide describes it. 

When we got to the end of the second tunnel, Ellen, who has a fear of heights, decided she needed to turn around. Sharell turned around too, wanting to make sure Ellen could get back safely to the trail (thank you, Sharell), while Amy , Nancy and I went on. I might have turned around too when I saw the straight vertical plunge into the unknown with just a slippery chain to hang on to, but I was wedged between a moving mass of humanity and had no choice. When I reached the bottom I had such an adrenaline rush, my legs were shaky. I was very grateful to be on Terra Firma again. I tried not to think about the climb out at the end of the day when I would be tired.

The climb down to Mooney Falls. An adrenaline rush for sure!

Amy and I with Mooney Falls behind us.

After a few minutes of rest, we crossed the creek and continued to Beaver Falls, another 3 miles down the canyon. The trail was a gentle trail through “the valley of the vines” as Amy called it. Close to the creek there were huge cottonwood and other deciduous trees, the green of the trees and the vines contrasting with the rich deep red color of the canyon walls. Overhead ravens circled, calling to each other. Their presence always touches my soul.

When we got to the top of Beaver Falls I decided to stay on the top of the cliff and Amy and Nancy climbed down to the floor of the falls where lots of people were playing in the water.

On the return, we took a different trail to Mooney Falls, partly walking in the creek and stopping at a fern covered “natural rain shower” rock overhang.

Letting some cool water drip on me at the natural rain shower.

Amy and Nancy playing in the water fall

We were back to the village by 3:30 and shared an Indian Fry bread with honey…so yummy and so bad for you,  but we figured we earned it. Then we caught up with Ellen and Sharell, who also had a great day. 

Tomorrow we start hiking out at 6am while it’s still cool. For  $88 we can have our big packs carried out by mule, and we will just be carrying a small pack with food and water. Much more civilized than schlepping a big pack for 9 miles up hill.

Oct. 11: And then there were Five!

Last night as we were out for a walk, Jacque rolled her foot off a curb. She managed to walk back to the hotel, and immediately iced it, hoping to recover enough to come with us today. This morning she reluctantly made the decision to stay behind. She has Nancy’s car and can do some exploring by car, perhaps even Connect with her brother in Flagstaff. We were all pretty disappointed but sometimes discretion is indeed the better part of Valor. So now we are five!

From left to right, oldest to youngest: Bobbie,  Nancy, Sharell, Ellen and Amy

The drive to the Trailhead is on a plateau that alternates between low scrub brush and Pinion pines, with a few oaks interspersed. It is reservation land, either Hualapai or Havasupai.  When we got to the Trailhead, it was completely full, but we managed to find some shoulder parking under a high rock wall. Our hope is that no rocks will fall on the car during our absence!

By 9:30 we were on the trail. The initial 1.5 miles is quite steep and rocky, but nothing like the South Kaibab trail in the Grand Canyon. The Vista before us was a broad canyon floor with tall limestone cliffs on the other side.

Gradually the canyon narrowed and the trail followed a dry gravel creek bed. The rock formations became more dramatic and changed from light limestone  to red sandstone. The trail became very fine red dust which clung to our legs and clothes. We shared the trail with many mule teams loaded down with supplies, mail and tourist backpacks. Some teams were accompanied by scruffy dogs, happily running along side the mules in the hot sun.

A hidden magical rock jumble along the trail

As we got closer to the village and a source of water we noticed beautiful cottonwood trees rustling in the gentle canyon breeze.

Cottonwood tree on the trail

As we entered the village we were greeted by the impressive twin towers that stand guard over the village. These are sacred towers for the Havasupai;  they are home to powerful protective spirits that have been a source of comfort and strength for 800 years.

The village consists of small homes, most of which have gardens and horse corrals. The horses look quite thin; dogs roam freely throughout the village and eagerly greet the arriving hikers with the hope of scoring some tasty tidbit. There is a general store, a post office which is the only post office in the country that still gets its mail by pony express, and a “cafe” which anywhere else would be considered “a greasy spoon,” but here it offers a welcomed break from trail food! The hamburger I had there for dinner tonight was yummy!

Amy enjoying the view from the trail

Oct. 10, 2016: Gold River to Peach Springs, AZ

Today was mostly a travel Day. Sharell, Ellen ,Jaque and I flew to Las Vegas, where we met up with Amy, who had flown in from Oakland. After renting a mini van we were on the road to Peach Springs,  AZ, about a 3.5 hour drive, with a slight detour in Henderson,  NV at REI to get some socks for Amy and a few other impulse items for the rest of us! Who is strong enough to resist buying something at REI when the opportunity arises…certainly not me! As luck would have it, Whole Foods was right across the street from REI so we had lunch there and bought a few food items for the trail.

Along Rt. 66 in AZ

Part of our route was on the historic Rt. 66, the great American highway that ran for a distance of over 2400 miles from Illinois to Santa Monica, California, with the first segment opened in 1926 and “decommissioned ” in 1985. In Arizona the towns that grew up along the road were devastated economically when Interstate 40 opened. However there are some remnants left of those glory days, and we stopped at one of them.

A collection of old cars at the Rt. 66 market

Favorite stopping place along Rt. 66

Endless freight trains running along Rt. 66

Sunset over main street in Peach Springs

Peach Springs is on the Indian Reservation of the Hualapai people. The Lodge where we are staying is operated by the Hualapai tribe. The rooms are very nice and we enjoyed a good meal at very reasonable prices in the Diamond Creek Cafe, the restaurant connected to the lodge (and the only eatery in town).  I had the Hualapai stew with 2 big pieces of Indian Fried bread…hearty and delicious. 

Nancy arrived from the Grand Canyon right at dinner. She is hiking the Arizona trail and took a little detour to join us for our hike down to Havasupia.

Hike to Havasupai Falls, Supai, AZ, Oct. 10-13, 2016

Background Information for this hike:

In 2005, 10 intrepid women hikers traveled to Arizona to hike the Grand Canyon from the South Rim, down to Phantom Ranch and back up to the South Rim in one day.  For most, it was their first experience hiking that trail, 17.5 miles and an elevation change of over 3000 feet in each direction.  It was a challenging hike, but we all made it, even me, who was dealing with a serious case of plantar fasciitis, which didn’t go away until I broke my foot sometime later and was in a fracture boot for three months!  Nevertheless, it was an awesome experience.

Since that hike, my friend Sharell and I have been discussing another hike in the Grand Canyon area that we both have had on our bucket list for a while, and that is hiking to Havasupai Falls, a series of 4 beautiful water falls in an adjacent canyon (Havasu Canyon) to the Grand Canyon.  The Canyon is home to the Havasupai Indian tribe that has made their home in the canyon for over 800 years.  Supai is the village in the canyon that now has about 500 permanent residence, and is one of the most remote “towns” in the continental USA, according to the their tribal website.

The Havasupai, before the westward expansion of the white man, lived in the canyon during the summer months and grew squash, pumpkins, beans, corn and later sunflowers. After the harvest, they would move their village to the top of the canyon, on the high Coconino Plateau to hunt game and gather herbs and plants for medicine use and food. The area that they ranged over was about the size of the state of Delaware.

By 1870 silver and lead were discovered on their land and brought the prospectors and speculators, along with small pox, measles and influenza.  As is so often the case, when the white man arrived, the numbers of the indigenous people are decimated.  By 1906, only 166 members of the tribe were left.

Another bitter blow to the Havasupai’s way of life came in 1882, when the federal government declared the plateau public lands, allowing unlimited access to settlers, and confining the protected reservation to just 518 acres on the floor of the canyon.  They no longer could move freely between the canyon and plateau. The goal of the government became to assimilate them into the white man’s culture.

In 1975 President Ford signed a bill returning 185,000 on the plateau to the Havasupai people.

To move the Havasupai toward assimilation , they sent teachers and Bureau of Indian Affairs representatives to live with the villagers.  Several years ago, I read a wonderful memoir (which I just reread in preparation for our hike) entitled “The People of the Blue Water” by Flora Gregg Iliff.  Iliff was a young teacher sent to teach school at Havasupai in 1900.  Her observations are both enlightened and ethnocentric.  She admires their strength, their stoic acceptance of the life

 they now must lead, their skill for agriculture, and yet also always sees their culture and spirituality through a white Christian lens, and tries hard to dissuade them from their “superstitious practices” with some success with the children; not so much with the elders of the community.

Today the Havasupai people survive through tourism.  About 20,000 visitors a year make that arduous trip to the falls.  To get there, we will fly to Las Vegas, drive about 3.5 hours to Peach Springs, the last town before the reservation.  Spend the night, then drive 68 miles to the Hualapai Trailhead (named for the other tribe that lived on the plateau but later was moved to another reservation in a different part of Arizona).  Then we hike down a steep trail for 8 miles to get to the floor of the canyon, and then another mile to reach the village. The falls are from 1.8 miles to 5 miles from the village.  It is possible to arrange for a mule ride or helicopter, but where’s the challenge in that????

Our group consists of 6 of the original hikers from 2005–Sharell, Amy, Ellen, Nancy, Jacque and me.  Sharell is our hero, because she was tenacious in trying to reach the Havasupai lodge to book rooms for us.  They are hard to reach, but eventually she was able to book 3 rooms.  The only other option is to backpack, which we weren’t too excited about doing. The reviews on Trip Advisor warn of power outages and sometimes shortages of food at the store or café, so we are schlepping extra food just in case there is not food available.  Everything has to be muled or helicoptered in, so it is not surprising that sometimes there is a shortage of certain items.

Sharell and I did our last training hike this week, and felt strong, so I feel ready.


 Sharell on the Cold Canyon trail 

View of Lake Berryessa from the trail. Berryessa is a reservoir, which has been quite low for several years.

This part of the trail used to be shaded by a canopy of tall bushes and trees, which were destroyed during a very bad fire last year that closed the trail for many months





Sept. 16, 2016 Counting Down to Home!

Another night of no call from the front desk to let me know the Northern lights are visible. Bummer, so we will need to come back. A volunteer at the Pioneer Park which we visited this morning told me to come back in March–still great viewing of the lights, the days are getting longer and warmer (ha, ha, I doubt it!), still snow on the ground and the tourists haven’t arrived yet! If I am cold now, I can only image how cold I would be in March.

Correction to yesterday’s blog: Gary pointed out to me that the Russian pilots in Alaska were not doing bombing runs from Alaska; they were ferrying the planes from Alaska to Siberia under the Lend-Lease program.

Since we had a car for our last 2 days in Fairbanks , we passed on the expensive continental breakfast at the hotel and drove to the Cookie Jar cafe, a very popular place with locals, which had been featured in Drive-in, Diners and Dives. Good food and of course, lumberjack portions. I made a valiant effort and managed to barely eat half! I seriously have to cut back on calories when we get home; starting to feel like the marshmallow monster in the original “Ghostbusters”…very puffy!

We did one more educational thing this morning. We stopped at Pioneer Park, a large community park, focused on the history of the area, the early days of Fairbanks, the gold rush and the evolution of modern conveniences such as electricity, telephone, river boat travel, etc.  Cabins from the early 1900s have been moved to the park and now house gift stores or art galleries. 

One of the cabins at Pioneer Park 

One of the paddle boats that once plied the Chena River around Fairbanks

The original Presbyterian church in Fairbanks which was relocated to Pioneer Park. 

With a sculpture of my favorite bird, the Raven

In the afternoon we hung out at a coffee house for a while, and then went to a movie. We just couldn’t get excited about doing anything else at this point. Then to a local pizza place for dinner and back to our hotel to charge our phones and eat one of their yummy chocolate chip cookies at the invitation of the front desk staff. I think they felt sorry for us!


It is now Saturday morning  in Seattle and we are waiting for our flight to Sacramento. Sleep eluded me on the flight between Fairbanks and here, so am eager to get home and take a nap in my own bed–hurrah!

To sum up our trip:

  • Alaska is huge, about one fifth the size of the entire lower 48 states, with a population of approximately  710,000.
  • The Alaska range and Denali (Mt. Whitney) are glorious
  • The people were incredibly friendly everywhere we went
  • Hiking on the Tundra was one of our favorite things we did
  • Food is quite pricey, but there is no sales tax
  • You have to be of hardy stock to live in Alaska with the severe winters and 18 hours of darkness in the winter in Fairbanks.While I was bundled up with a down jacket, gloves and a scarf, the locals were in shorts and flip flops!

We definitely want to come back after this fun sampler, but next time we will rent a car, and will come in June when the Tundra is in bloom and the animal babies have been born.