The Legend of Havasu Canyon
Where the waters of Havasu Creek originate is not known for certain. But, even before continuing the mile-and-a-half downstream to Supai Village, we took steps to solve for ourselves, at least partially, the mystery of its origins. Heading upstream, we soon came to a beautiful pool, under the shade of a cottonwood tree. We followed on back, but there was only brackish water, standing in stagnant puddles. Beyond that, a completely dry wash. That glorious tree-shaded pool — fed, some speculate, by an underground flow from as far away as the San Francisco Peaks — that is the origin of the stream which provides life for the Indian village, and creates the waterfalls of Havasu Canyon.
A battered sign terminated this exploratory side trip: “To-pocoba Hilltop, 14 miles. Trail not recommended This used to be the principal gateway to and from Supai but is now seldom
used. An inexperienced hiker recently became lost in this area and was within a day or so of perishing when he was located. Turning back, we began following the stream toward the village.
Two Indian boys were shooting at a squirrel with a slingshot. “You hit him?” Francis asked. “No,” came the honest reply, accompanied by a broad smile.
Bird song began filling the air. The waters of the stream were likewise singing. Several times we crossed and recrossed on bridges formed of single logs. Each crossing required a balancing act. Some butterflies lazed their way back and forth without benefit of bridges.
The distant sound of barking dogs. As we passed between two boulders, the village began spreading before us, a green meadow sprinkled with fruit trees, small houses dotting the fields, and the two legendary towering rocks of Supai — of which we had read — rising over the left side of the canyon which enclosed this quiet splendor.
These rocks, so a legend goes, were once an Indian man and his spouse who, caught climbing out of the valley in search of some new paradise, were turned to stone by the gods. It was a warning, to others who might get the wanderlust, that no paradise as fine as this could be found beyond these canyon walls.
As we continued on and began absorbing the scene around us, that legend seemed less implausible than we had thought. Great cottonwoods lined the trail, which widened slightly to become the village’s main street. This was October. Each cottonwood leaf was like a golden flame; each great tree became a candelabra of a million leaf-shaped lighted candles. As a breeze stirred the leaves, the golden flames flickered. Our pathway into the village was ablaze with splendor. What Supai might be like at other seasons we would not know until later visits. But if that Indian man and maiden had attempted to leave all of this in the autumn, then they deserved to be turned into rocks.
There is a postscript to the legend. If either of the figuresturned-to-stone ever falls, then this paradise will come to an end. As we continued along this avenue of golden glory we were certain in our own minds that — if the rocks ever did fall — it would not be in autumn.
Not only was the main street lined with the gold of cottonwoods, there was color in the “street” itself. We were padding along on a wide trail of deep reddish-pink sand. Only hikers, dogs, Indian horses and mules, and villagers use this avenue of pulverized red rock. We were being provided, literally, with a red carpet approach.
There were more small houses, with saddles on the porch railings Clothes, drying on outdoor lines, waved us welcome. Horses grazed in the fields. One rolled contentedly in the dust. A dog trotted out to sniff our packs, then escorted us in. Three other dogs, looking almost half wild, took our escort’s attention, and he deserted us, just as we reached the village center, which consisted of an old lodge and a combined store and post office on one side of the wide dirt trail, and a cafe set far back on the opposite side. Beyond that we could see a small church, and a school. This was Supai.
Within minutes we were comfortably quartered in the aged lodge, where we occupied one of its three large bedrooms and enjoyed common kitchen privileges. The next-door grocery store had a few staples, principally canned goods. But also eggs and cartons of milk, all packed down on mule or horse, after having been hauled over rugged roads to Hilltop by truck. Quite understandably, the milk which we purchased was occasionally sour, but none of the eggs were ever broken. Previous guests at the lodge — not wanting to tote it out — had left their unused supplies of cereals, coffee and cocoa and tea, peanut butter and jelly. Upon our final departure, we also left what we did not use.
Throughout our Supai stay, our greatest joy in patronizing the tiny store was in visiting with the Indian women and children who were there or congregated outside, or studying the faces of the Indian men, six or eight of whom were nearly always sitting on a bench beside this combined post office and market. As we became better acquainted with them they related to us many facts and stories of interest.
“His name’s Wescogame.” That was our formal introduction to one aged man of the group, whose face had all the deep-carved character of the centuries-old rocks which formed the canyon walls surrounding us. One of these rocks was named, on Grand Canyon maps, Wescogame Point. This gentle Havasupai was an important man among his people.
On that first visit of ours to Supai there was a quick exploration of the rest of the village, and a “home-cooked” supper in the kitchen of our lodge. Dusk crept in quickly between these sheltering canyon walls. Tiptoeing in, also, on the heels of the dusk, came an almost complete stillness. The village was wrapped in a blanket of soft, quiet darkness. Supai had no TVs then, and no radios that we could hear.
For Helen, who was tired from our long 18-hour-day, and the hard hike down, the entire night was bathed in that silence; she was never wakened by the Armageddon which took place outside our door. A pack of dogs suddenly began going wild off toward the upper end of the village; their barking roused other dogs in the opposite direction. Howls mixed with the barking, and the noise increased, drew closer, until — so it seemed at least — all the dogs of the village were gathered just beyond our door. A canine chorus. It was an unusual occurrence, which we never heard repeated in Supai. Almost as suddenly as it had started, the melee subsided. There was peace and solitude once more.