Colorado Escapist: Backpacking Havasupai in search of desert paradise |

Colorado Escapist: Backpacking Havasupai in search of desert paradise

Shawna Henderson
Colorado Escapist
The tricky descent to the basin of Havasu Falls in the Havasupai region of Arizona. Found inside of Grand Canyon National Park, Havasupai is an oasis in the midst of the desert and home to a small yet modern town, Supai.
Special to the Daily |

Have you heard the expression, “I’ve died and gone to heaven?” What if heaven could be a place on earth? Do places worthy of the term “utopia” really exist?

If so, Havasupai might be utopia.

What I learned on our 36-mile backpacking journey into this canyon was that, yes, paradise does exist. However, it isn’t exactly a secret place you discover; instead, it is how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re part of something extraordinary.

People of the water

Nature’s artwork at Havasupai is an oasis away from the madness and hectic lifestyles we have adopted.

The first time I saw images of the magical turquoise of Havasu Falls was on a poster in a friend’s bathroom. I dreamt of being there, mesmerized by the enchanting waterfall surrounded by green flora and fiery, red rock. I stared at this poster while on the toilet, wondering if a place like that really did exist, or if it was just a superimposed image.

The universe works in mysterious ways, though, and sometimes what you dream will come true. Last week, in early June, I got an invite to visit Havasupai, a paradise surrounded by Grand Canyon National Park. (I discovered first-hand how humbling this area of our country can be on a 24-day, 277-mile kayaking trip on the Colorado River.)

As I thought and learned about the life of the Native Americans, I discovered this was one of the last places that the Havasu tribe could hide from white settlers. For eight centuries, the Havasu people remained untainted by influences from the outside world.

The word “havasu” means “blue-green water” and “pai” means people. At one time, the Native Americans claimed 1.6 million acres of land, but in 1882 the federal government declared their land public to be managed by the National Park Service. Not until 1975 did the Havasu tribe use the justice system to succeed in regaining 185,000 acres — nearly a century after all of it had been taken away.

Even today, I recognize the struggle Native Americans have faced to keep the traditions of their ancestry alive. Through tourism, they have found a sustainable business to help them thrive.

Trail to Supai

Our journey begins at the top of the canyon in the middle of nowhere. Unlike the majority of backpackers, who left before the midday sun, we began our hike in the heat of the day.

The first mile or two of the trail drops 2,000 vertical feet straight down. The remaining 10 miles follow a long, dry bed of rocks surrounded by canyon walls. A team of horses is available to carry gear for lazy tourists who need creature comforts, and there’s even a helicopter for people who find the hike too strenuous.

The town of Supai, found along the trail, is a fully functioning community with a modern school, small church, medical clinic, grocery store and “street” (more like a dirt path) lined with houses. It reminded me of a backstreet in Mexico, where dogs wander freely and kids play in local streams.

Real-life picture book

Every location has a mix of energy and Havasupai is no exception. Since it is in a side canyon that branches off from the magnificent Grand Canyon, the place makes you feel as if you’ve entered a different dimension.

When we arrived, all of my fears, worries, concerns and problems disappeared, leaving me in a state of nirvana. When we returned to the outside world, I appreciated those simple pleasures in life — pleasures of destinations left untouched by the greed and money-driven insanity of the outside world.

All day the heat of the Arizona sun baked the surrounding rocks and I soon began to sweat in the sun. After a long, hot, dusty hike, the ultimate sensation of jumping into the first waterfall blew my mind.

Paradise can be found in a sequence of moments. It lives in all of us, and nature’s artwork at Havasupai is an oasis away from the madness and hectic lifestyles we have adopted. It’s a place filled with peace, joy and love, lacking any modern worries. As I opened my mind and heart to transcend into a higher level of awareness, I found my own slice of heaven, my personal paradise.

At night, with the mist of Havasu Falls glittering under the light of the moon, I felt alive. I knew coming to Havasupai would be amazing, but I really did not realize how incredibly magical it was going to be.

Havasupai is far from just another canyon in Arizona. It inspires a way of life I feel we should all adopt here, above the ground: to create bliss with everyday experiences and seek out those moments that blow your mind.

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