Thursday, June 28, 2007

Havasu Falls 2007

[Administrative Stuff...]

On any of the pictures below, you can click on the picture to see a larger version. We took these pictures on two cameras...a Canon PowerShot A75 at 3.2 megapixels, and stills from a Canon DC210 video camera at about 1 megapixel. When you click on the pictures, you'll see the difference. I have a couple of videos which aren't seen here. While I offer no promises, if I can figure out how to get them onto YouTube, I'll add them later.

Daughter#1ofAzlib loaded these pictures onto her laptop and enhanced them using Microsoft Digital Image Pro 9. She said this made the colors "pop". I may get to this chore for our own use, but probably won't re-post them here. I think these pictures, bad as they may be, are still vibrant enough to let the viewer see just how wonderful this area of Arizona is.


For those who don't know, the Grand Canyon is, obviously, as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, a wonderful visual experience. You can do it "civilized" and take The Train to the Grand Canyon Village to stay in one of their lodges and be quite happy by doing nothing more than to peer over the edge. Or, you could do it more roughly and pack yourself down to the river, perhaps enjoy a raft trip, and come away with a different, and also enjoyable experience.

For a number of reasons, we chose to bypass the National Park altogether and go the Havasupai Indian Reservation and hike the 10.2 miles to Havasu Falls. For those who don't know, here is a map of the region. Primary among our reasoning was that Havasu Falls is very pretty. Most of the pictures one sees from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, frankly, aren't as nice as the ones from the Havasupai Indian Reservation (although, this is admittedly a matter of personal preference and degree). WifeofAzlib also hiked to Havasu Falls in her late teens, and a secondary aim was to have the family experience what she had long talked about. Also, the Indians run a helicopter service (more on this later).

Our Privacy...

I've thought long and hard about whether and how to post pictures of our faces. As I was drafting this post initially, I included unaltered pictures with the justification that the kids would eventually post them on FaceBook or MySpace or somewhere else. I'm sure that we are included in the backgrounds of other people's photos. So, understanding that our pictures are out there on the internet somewhere, why shouldn't I just put up the unaltered photos?

My answer is: I am still a very private person. Beyond my nature, I have good reason to maintain my anonymity. So, where our faces are visible, I obscured them with one of the tools on the Microsoft Digital Image Pro mentioned above. Some of the obscurations leave odd effects...hollow faces, and the like. It pained me to do all this, because I treasure my family, and in some of the photos, their expressions made the picture (for me, at least). But if you happen to know me personally, and are interested in these photos, I'll be happy to email or otherwise get copies to you. You'll know how to get in touch.

In the same vein, I address the family in their relation to my nom-de-internet. It's a bit cumbersome, but on the internet I call myself "Azlibertarian", which makes my wife "WifeofAzlib", my son "SonofAzlib", my oldest daughter "Dau#1ofAzlib", and my youngest daughter "Dau#2ofAzlib". I hope these labels don't distract the reader unnecessarily.

Preparations and Equipment...

As I mentioned here, we put out some effort and expense at making this trip as easy as possible. A portion of our preparation consisted of a membership at the gym which I mentioned here [Interestingly, the image which I inserted into this post (and which is now restricted) is one that brings a fair number of visitors to my humble blog.]. A hike of 10.2 miles in the Arizona desert in June is tough for the most experienced of backpackers, and we certainly count as novices. I hadn't been backpacking since my early 20's (as I recall). SonofAzlib and I have old-school metal-frame backpacks and other equipment from his Boy Scout days, but empty, the packs are quite a bit heavier than newer packs. Of course, the girls needed everything. So, we started from square one. Everyone got new backpacks (this one for SonofAzlib and I, last year's [and somewhat inferior] version of this one for WifeofAzlib and Dau#2ofAzlib, and this one for Dau#1ofAzlib), sleeping bags (45° bags from REI), sleeping pads for the girls (and a Big Agnes for WifeofAzlib's bad hips and knees), and this three-man tent. We felt that SonofAzlib's 2-man backpacking tent (similar to this) would round out our tent needs. Other odds-n-ends included MSR hydration bladders, nalogene bottles , water purification (don't want to catch any bugs out there!), and trekking poles for the girls (bundled with the guy's packs and clearly the best money spent on the trip!). We used SonofAzlib's stove and part of my set of pots for cooking. Sporks were new for each of us.

We also had some clothing and footwear needs. We each got new boots, and Teva-type shoes (although Dau#1 had her Tevas from a previous trip). We also got lightweight pants that zipped off into shorts. As it turns out, only SonofAzlib wore his pants at all, and then only for about 45 minutes on our first day. I got a new hat (and cheap!) to protect against the Arizona sun and the others made do with hats they already had.

Equipment successes: Clearly the trekking poles. I never would have believed that these would make much of a difference, but they did. "Biners" were very useful, and we'll pick up more for our next trip.

Equipment disappointments: Carrying two extra water bottles on the two packs for Wife- and Dau#2- of Azlib was difficult. We had to rig up biners and a sling affair, and they never did work out well. (It looks as though this year's model of this pack solves this problem.) While the video camera is small and lightweight (and it's cool that it uses DVD as the media), the still resolution was not what I had hoped it to be. Wife- and Dau#1- ended up with blisters and other foot problems, although the three remaining of us had little footcare problems. I believe the root of WifeofAzlib's blister problem was that she could not get her socks to stay stable on her feet. Coolsnakes. Whatever it is inside these things that makes them work, we didn't have enough of it. For the most part, they were just wet neckwear. We've had these in the past, and our old ones worked much better. These: Not so much. (Maybe next time, we'll make our own.)

[A brief digression on WifeofAzlib and her feet...]
I cannot tell you how proud I am of my wife. As you can tell from the photos, both of us have our middle-aged weight. Neither of us is happy about this, and we both tried (she harder than I) to drop some pounds before the hike, but we are still who we are. Couple this with a bad set of hips (only somewhat facetiously, we joke about hip-replacement as her 50th birthday gift), and this hike was going to be tough for her. However, two weeks before the hike, as she was walking to the gym in her hiking boots, she felt something painfully pop in her right foot. She ended up with a torn Plantar Fascia. She went through some physical therapy, and considered a cortisone shot to get her foot better before the trip. All to no avail...there really wasn't enough time for her foot to heal. We discussed the idea of postponing the trip until next spring, but I was afraid that other events (like the impending graduation of our older two) would overtake this trip, and we'd never end up going. I encouraged her to helicopter in (again, more on this later), but she felt she could make the hike...and she did. It took her a bit more time than I'm sure she wanted, but she made the entire 10.2 miles in, and the 2.2 miles back to the village all while carrying the entire weight she had in her pack. Having her with us made the trip special for each of us.

I am so proud of her.

Equipment to consider for next time: Headlamps. We saw more than one group start or end their hike in the dark. Having a decent headlamp (and lamps capable of red lighting) would be great. Non-stick cookwear. We made a nice dessert of Hot Apple Cobbler, but it turned out to be a chore to get the pan cleaned. It appears that many other dehydrated meals which need to be cooked (as opposed to reconstituted in the bag) would benefit from non-stick cookware. GPS. I don't know how to use one, but if we get out again, and especially if we get off the well-traveled trails like the one to Havasu Falls, I imagine that having and knowing how to use a GPS would make everyone feel better about not getting lost.


As you'll see from some of the photos, with some exceptions (PopTarts and Instant Oatmeal) we primarily used dehydrated food for our meals. They're lightweight, easy to prepare and meet the needs of being outdoors 24/7. Being outside exerting yourself for most of the day means that salt and potassium replacement is important, and these foods are generally high in salt. So much so that one meal which sounded appetizing really wasn't all that good. While hiking, we drank water and Gatorade, and ate Fruit Leathers. The hit for trail eating were the Shot Blocs. They were generally edible (although nobody cared for the Cola flavor--a big surprise), and we each felt so much better after chewing one down. In camp, we tried GU2O (although not in the 2# canister!), which while it's probably a better product than Gatorade, none of us cared much for. As I mentioned above, the apple cobbler was good, but difficult to clean up...not so much a fault of the dessert (the directions say to use a non-stick pan), but of my cookware. None of us really cared for the S'Mores (believe it or not!)--we felt it amounted to chocolate pudding with mini-marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs. I really liked the Granola with Blueberrys, but I gulped this down on our last morning as we were hustling to get packed up (so as to hike out in the early-morning cool).

In general, our meal planning was too ambitious. As a party of five, and since most entrees serve two, we planned on having available food for six at most meals. In reality, the five of us could barely get down four servings. I imagine it would be better to have too much food rather than too little, but we'll have to keep in mind our experience here on our next trip.

1 Packing before the trip

Travel Day:

Our plan for the trip was to hike in as early in the day as possible. To make this happen, we left home to get to the parking lot about dinnertime. Our plan was to eat our dinner out of the icechest and to sleep in the SUV and on cots with the aim of getting up before dawn to be on the trail in the early morning. We did all this, but were surprised at the number of folks who were both arriving and departing in the dark. That they were able to do this came from two things we hadn't anticipated: Most were using the headlamps mentioned above, and we had a (very) full moon. The parking lot stayed very busy all night.

2 Late afternoon

3 WifeofAzlib talking with the parking lot Security Guard (He clued us that the parking lot would be busy and noisy all night.)

4 Sunset

The Hike In:

I've put these photos in roughly chronological order. Some will merit a caption; most won't.

5 The Merry Hikers about to start out.

6 Note the switchbacks in the lower part of the photo.




10 A break to work on WifeofAzlib's socks










20 SonofAzlib and I carried empty water jugs clipped to our packs for use while in camp







26 Azlib emerges from a canyon





31 From foreground to background, it's Dau#1-, Dau#2-, Son-, and WifeofAzlib



The instructions that came with our reservation included a caution that the trails would be shared with horses and mules and that they would have the right-of-way. This first group (the first two photos here) surprised us, and yielded the best photos, if you ask me. I was much too slow in getting the video camera up and running and missed a video of this group entirely. Subsequent groups of horses were smaller and were being run at a slower pace.




Supai Village:

The same instructions mentioned that pictures while in the village were considered not particularly polite, and pictures of children were expressly off-limits. This wasn't surprising to me, as the village contains both the Supai homes as well as being part of the tourist industry which is their financial lifeline. In the village is a small lodge (which I'm guessing contains maybe 15-20 rooms) with real beds and real showers, a restaurant, and a small store. They also have a school, and two churches. All-in-all, the Supai village showed people who were poor, but better off than in other Indian communties I've seen in Arizona (on which it is not uncommon to see people still using outhouses and perhaps not having electricity). Most houses had small corrals for horses, which as you've already seen are a big part of their tourist industry. I saw no outhouses, and most homes had a window air conditioner. One of the great luxuries the Supai have is a helicopter service. If I recall correctly, it runs 4 days a week, and the Supai have both priority and free use of this service. They keep cars up in a parking lot near where we parked at the start of the trail. In the village, there are no cars...everyone has at least one horse, and there are a couple of Mules for use in emergencies.

It was quite a milestone to come around the bend and see that we'd made it to the village.

36 Supai Creek leading into the village

37 Two oblisks watching over the village. I am using this photo as my computer wallpaper.

38 Azlib and WifeofAzlib entering the village.

The Last 2.2 Miles...

On paper, the last 2.2 miles didn't look like they should be all that difficult. The terrain is fairly flat, and after a refreshing stop in the village, why should it take all that long? In experience, however, we found these last miles to be at least as taxing as the previous 8. The trail is very sandy, as the horses make frequent use of this trail. [Not all the horses and mules go all the way to the top. Many people will fly in and out and will hire an Indian to "horse" in their equipment and supplies for theses last two miles.] We stopped often, and asked everyone who passed us on their way up just how far we were from the campsite.

39 Crossing a bridge over Supai Creek.

Our First Look at Why we Walked All This Way...

40 Spectacular!

Camp Life...

We finally got into the campsite area about 1pm....which posed a problem. All the campsites with tables were taken. Try as we might, there simply were no campsite tables available. So, after a brief search for suitable non-tabled campsites, we settled on a site on the far side of the creek, distant from the spring water, with our tents set in two small gullies (and far to close to the trail), little shade, and a collection of small rocks for seating. Quite unsuitable. The one redeeming quality here was that we were near to the creek, which we all found to be quite refreshing.

About 7pm, WifeofAzlib came back from the restrooms with news that a Boy Scout group was preparing to leave and that we could move into their site (which was near to a table, but didn't expressly "have" one) as they moved out. The two great parts about this new site was that it was near to the spring water and restrooms, and that it had a large rock which could be used as a table. We discussed this for a couple of minutes and decided to make the move. Sleeping bags and tents were stuffed into our packs in record time, and we were out of there at 7:15.

We got our tents set up again as the darkness settled in around us, and went to bed with the Boy Scouts still not quite out.

When I got up in the morning, I saw that the Scouts had vacated two tables, and that one would be great for our use. So, when more of us got up, we moved a table over and this completed our campsite.

[A Rant on Boy Scouts]
When I was a Scout, and when I was a Scout leader while SonofAzlib was in Scouting, the operative phrase was "Leave only footprints; Take only photographs." This group of Scouts was the dirtiest I have ever seen. They left five (!) pairs of shoes, a nasty pair of boxer shorts, lots of food, and wrappers all over the place. I would have never allowed a Scout Troop of mine to leave a campsite in the condition that this troop did.

43 A flat place to lay down



46 Ooohh. Look what's for lunch!


47 The creek was no more than 25 yards from our tents and table


49 Packs and boots hanging from a tree limb

Havasu Falls....

We hiked down to the Falls to spend some time there, and to get closer photos. The girls swam under the falls, but pictures were almost impossible, as the mist off the falls kept the camera from focusing. Most of these photos speak for themselves.





54 The Three Amigos!







60 This couple were married by a Supai Medicine Man (or whatever he's called) down at the Falls while we there. It looked like it was the sort of second marriage (kids from one or both were there too), that would be memorable for them. Later, they went swimming with everyone else.



63 Near the falls, the Supai women have a little mini-restaurant where they sell Indian frybread and tacos (along with cold sodas and candy). WifeofAzlib enjoyed one of their Diet Cokes.


Mooney Falls....

The kids went downstream to Mooney Falls. This set of falls is much narrower than Havasu, and the trail down to it is quite steep....they have laid a chain and some (less-than-safe) ladders to get yourself up and down. Not liking heights at all, I elected not to go.

65 You've been warned!



68 Dau#2 and behind her, Sonof- at the bottom. Note the two ladders. The chain is visible when you enlarge the photo.

[A Digression on Walt Disney...]

Years ago, we took a Pink Jeep tour in Sedona, AZ. While on this tour, the guide mentioned that Walt Disney had spent some time in the area, and that there are many connections between Disney and the rock formations in north-central Arizona. The Red Rocks of Sedona were rumored to be the inspiration for the setting for Fantasia. The Disney film company is called "Touchstone".

I mention all this because I cannot help but recall that much of the terrain in the Disneyland Frontierland looks like it could have been inspired from Havasu and Mooney Falls.

On Our Way Home...

We planned all along to not take many (if any) pictures on our way out. Also, WifeofAzlib and SonofAzlib had planned to take the helicopter out (she had done the trek as a teenager, and he just wasn't interested in the hike). The decision for the remaining three of us was up to me: Did I think I had it in me to hike out, or would we all fly out? What we did not know when we started was that the same helicopter service that takes people out, also flies packs out. For $20/pack, you could walk the trail unburdened by your pack. Obviously, this was money well spent.

So, we all hiked out the 2.2 miles to the village, and the two girls and I dropped our packs off, and continued on the trail. The top flaps to the guy's packs detached to make fanny packs. So, Dau#2 and I carried the fanny packs with water bladders and some small snack items, and we downloaded Dau#1's pack into the others and the three of us started up the trail.

We made very good time...the remaining 8 miles in a bit less than 4 hours. We weren't racing anything but the thermometer. We stopped as often as we felt necessary to rehydrate and catch our breath. The last mile (the steepest part of the hike) took us 50 minutes.

The five of us got to the village about 6am, and since the helicopter service didn't start until 9:30 or so, this meant that the three hikers got a considerable head start on Wifeof- and Sonof- and our packs. I was genuinely touched that Wifeof- was concerned that I might not be able to make the hike (expressed with a wink as: "I was certain that I'd see an Indian coming up the hill leading a horse with your carcass draped over it's back"). But on finishing the hike, the three of us concluded that we could have made it with our packs (although obviously not as fast as we did without them). As things turned out, the hikers made it out before the fliers.

The three of us watched every helicopter land to see when our remaining two might show up. We were all surprised when they walked into the parking lot. It turned out that getting our two fliers and our packs onto the same flight wasn't something that could be worked out. So they flew separately, and Wifeof- and SonofAzlib had to wait at the landing pad for our last packs.

All-in-all, it was a great family trip, and one I'd do again in a minute. If you've read down this far, you can see that we learned some things, but didn't do too much wrong that might have ruined the trip for any of us. I heartily recommend a trip to Havasu Falls!!

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