Grand Canyon Love Story chaptertwenty-seven

Miracle Falls and Other Surprises

Legends are not to be scorned. That Indian man and his maiden who were turned to stone for attempting to leave Supai were not the only ones who have tried to escape this village — to their sorrow. The men — especially — leave frequently and often crash into disillusionment or tragedy in the outside world. The first Havasupai we had ever met — that young man whom we had passed as he was running up the trail toward Hilltop — had fared badly in his trips to the outside world.

How did we know this? He told us. He was the first person, also, whom we met and had the chance to converse with as we started out from Supai, in the sparkling brightness of an early dawn, on our journey to the three magic waterfalls.

With an injured mourning dove in his hands, he and his little brother were on the trail just ahead of us.

“The bird is hurt. I found him. You know how to fix him?”

He had recognized us and knew that we would be friendly.

For the remainder of the day he and his ten-year-old brother became our companions and guides. We learned that his trips out from the village were to get alcohol, and that this was becoming his greatest problem. In future years we would aid him when he faced severe problems in the outside world. But now — for this golden day — all of us let the magic of this paradise fill our lives as it flowed around us.

It flowed — literally. Havasu Creek was the creator of much of this magic which filled the air. Its waters — impregnated with chemicals (calcium, calcium sulfate, magnesium chloride and carbonates) — are actually as turquoise blue as Navajo jewelry. Havasu means “blue-green water.” There have been enchanted visitors who insist that the waters are blue even after dark, or if cupped in the hand.

The creek itself was blue and when we came to Navajo Falls — the first of the three gems — the water retained all its sparkling color as it tumbled downward.

On journeys here in later years we found Navajo Falls almost concealed by trees and undergrowth — cottonwoods, willows, box elder, hackberry, creeping wild grapevines — but on this first visit it plunged straight downward in isolated grandeur. Our camera lenses drank in the scene, and we sought locations for other shots. “No. Don’t bother. Come with us.”

Our self-appointed guide headed down the canyon, leaving the falls behind. Why was this? we wondered.

Within minutes we had the explanation. The answer almost stunned us. He led us to Havasu Falls.

We peered down on Havasu, first from above. We nearly lost our footing as we negotiated a steep circuitous trail, heading toward the waterfall’s base. So engrossed were we in catching new views of it with each few steps that we paid no heed where we were stepping. Then we reached a vantage point where the whole spectacle spread — and rose — before us.

The views of tumbling turquoise water are but a part of the splendor. The chemicals and minerals not only give the falls their color, but they have created a background and a setting which is utterly unique. The cliffs above, underneath, and surrounding the shimmering ribbon of blue, are almost like tumbling falls themselves — except that they are formed of rock, and are frozen. They are veils of travertine, decorated with a million stalactite fingers of travertine rocks, like delicate hands silently applauding this spectacle surrounding them.  And more.

That mineral coating has embraced the foliage round about — or weeds, and tree limbs, and grasses which used to be foliage. Now it all has been turned to delicate creations of rock-crusted vegetation. You almost swear you can see these travertine-coated grasses still waving in the breeze.

But the best is still to come; the miracle expands. The turquoise waters and the travertine deposits have fashioned a series of terraced pools at the base of Havasu Falls. Over the curved rock fringes of these pools the blue water shimmers down into the next pools of the terraces, just below. And then the next. A kaleidoscope of descending beauty. Our hike down to Supai hadn’t tired us. But this view of Havasu Falls left us limp. We spent four hours absorbing it, feeling it, bathing in the pools, exploring even behind the plunging waters. We experienced the magic.

Mooney Falls, the third gem, may have been less magical — nothing could match Havasu — but it had other elements which made it an adventurer’s utopia.  It is the highest of the Havasupai cataracts, with a drop of some 200 feet, and is surrounded with sheaths of rough-edged honeycombed rock that guard it from intruders. More than a century ago miners came here, seeking treasure. One of them, James Mooney, threw a rope down the escarpment over which the waters tumbled, and started down. He never made it alive. Other miners began a weird system of tunnels, borings, precarious miniature ladders, niched rock indentations for footholds, and cables and pegs for handholds. They made it down. That method of descent — with some modifications — is still available. All of us tried it — successfully, although scarily. Then, with our Indian friends, we went back to Havasu Falls to spend the rest of the day. This first visit of ours to Havasu Falls was as nearly idyllic as anything we could have imagined. On a trip here two years later we began to encounter subtle changes. And on our third and fourth visits, in still later years, the place was not only over-crowded, it was becoming a “hangout” for outside characters who were marring — even destroying — the beauty. On our fourth Supai visit, the village itself had even grown to the point that it was strangely different. New buildings were in process of contruction. The isolated simplicity of earlier days was disappearing.

As we reluctantly took our departure from Havasu Falls and its pools, we found that there were still three other surprises awaiting us — like frosting on the cake, or like travertine on the rocks. The first came while enroute back to the village. Our Indian friends led us, through a tangle of brush and undergrowth, to their own secret waterhole — a great deep pool which one was supposed to enter by swinging out on a rope from a high cliff —then letting go and dropping in. Our friends showed us how. Each of our granddaughters tried it — with breathtaking success. Then Francis attempted the plunge — with breathtaking suspense. He came out, unharmed.

Surprise Number Two, back in the village, resulted from the fact that a woman had broken her leg hiking down from Hilltop; it provided a dramatic lesson in how such accidents are handled. She was brought in by horse, a helicopter was summoned from Grand Canyon Village, and she was helped in. We, and many others, trained our cameras to catch the takeoff, from an open field close to the lodge and store.

No way! The blades of that chopper, as they started spinning, fanned up a fury of dust and dirt and sand that spread like a hurricane, to envelop every person and structure in sight. By the time the air cleared and visibility returned, the helicopter was off and away. In our hair, on our clothes, in our shoes, we carried reminders of that takeoff.

Our final surprise — our farewell gift of grace from this magical land of the Havasupais — came after we had climbed back up to Hilltop and were negotiating the road back to Peach Springs, through the first stretch of open country which had been alive with jackrabbits on our inbound journey.

To the left of the road we suddenly came upon the largest herd of antelope we had ever seen. Frightened by the approach of our car, they sprang into action. Closely paralleling the road, but a bit to the left, they ran in great bounding leaps ahead of our vehicle. We were neck and neck at the start, but they began gaining, try as we did to increase our speed over the rocky road.  It was easy to count them now, for they were strung out single file. Thirty-four prong-horned, white-tamped flashes of beauty, bounding with elegant gracefulness, before and beside us. It was, in reality, a farewell gift of grace.