Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Night Hike Gang

Here's the dilemma when trying to hike out of Supai (which we were committed to doing). After hiking seven miles up through Havasu Canyon, you are faced with the last mile--a 1,000 foot ascent up the switchbacks to the rim. Our one non-negotiable was that we could not (under any circumstances) risk getting to the switchbacks when the sun was beating down on them. This is a recipe for dehydration, heat exhaustion, and other real dangers.

Our solution? Leave the village at 3 am and hike in the dark a good bit of the way. This was both fun and scary. Our headlamps were great and it was definitely nice to feel the cool night desert breeze. The unsettling part? Lots of night noises (which usually turned out to be Supai dogs and horses making some kind of ruckus). Then there were the bats that we could see in our headlamps, swooping down in among us (good prep for Carlsbad?). And, of course, the ever present risk of going the wrong way (which we did only once and only for about 50 yards).

In reality, the hike is straightforward enough that the dangers are pretty minimal. This is especially true given the huge upside that awaited us when we reached the switchbacks well before they were bathed in direct sunlight. We took our time making the final ascent and reached the rim by 8 am, ready for our next adventure...and lots of recuperation!


It's Hard to Go Back

Trevor and Tatiana's family story is not a simple one as we found out one evening sitting at Rudy's ice cream hang out. When Trevor and Tatiana's parents stopped by to get the kids some treats they recognized us from church and sat down for a chat.

Trevor and Tatiana's mom explained to us how difficult it has been to return to the village after leaving for a few months to pursue their goals. Other members of the tribe are not as accepting of them and the kids are treated as outcasts by their "friends" (especially the middle school age kids). This was obviously upsetting to her but she is determined to have her kids in school (the Havasupai School is in turmoil since all the teachers have left), for her husband to continue with his studies at the bible college, and to better herself by working at a school as a behavioral counselor while taking evening classes in school administration. Her goal is to some day become principal of the Havasupai School.

There are so many issues here it is difficult to explore them all. For example, the issue of leaving the canyon and adjusting to life on the rim. Mom told us about her five-year old son's first day of school last September. He's so used to walking in the Supai village that when he was dismissed from his new school he walked home by himself. Of course, he wasn't supposed to and his teacher called Mom to inform her (obviously shaken) that she had no idea where he was. Mom told her that he was right there with her. Teacher (with great relief) told her he couldn't do that anymore! You can see that what's normal and accepted in the village is definitely not on the rim. We were told by a different villager that most people who leave cannot adjust and eventually return.

In all, the Supai are caught between a rock and a hard place. Leaving is difficult. Staying is difficult. Returning is difficult. We wonder what will happen to this group over time. Will they be able to rise above the issues that they and their children face and be able to preserve their heritage or will this tribe who makes their home in the most beautiful, remote village in the United States wither? Only time will tell.


Play is a Form of Healing

One evening while we were in Supai, there was a Ceremonial Sound Healing at the village meeting place. A couple of observations about the experience...

There were nearly as many visitors as villagers at the ceremony.

The healers themselves were not natives.

The lead healer at one point said that "play is a form of healing." Here's the proof of this. While there is a natural distance between adult visitors and villagers, no such gap exists among children. All it took was a tetherball setup and Julie and Z were having great fun with some village kids. If only it were that easy for the rest of us...


Mission: Mooney

The third of the beautiful waterfalls takes a bit more effort to reach. It is three miles away from the village on a dirt trail to get to the top of the falls. You can see the beauty from this point but to experience them the way we like to (in other words to swim in their pools) is a bit more of an extreme undertaking.

You see, to touch the blue-green water of Mooney Falls you need to scale a cliff. A series of rock formations provide natural steps and caves to get you part of the way down but the last 100 feet is a very challenging, very steep vertical rock face. It would be impossible to get down without the series of chains and supports that have been embedded into the cliff.

At the beginning of the day I really thought I'd be viewing Mooney only from above but it is difficult to not get caught up in the excitement of the moment. It was one of those seminal moments for me--I had to overcome fears of heights, fears of my own strength, and a fear of not only being able to get down the falls but also to be able to get back to the rim. There is no other way out...really.

When I reached the bottom I thought I couldn't be happier. I had overcome a lot of internal doubts, but when I reached the rim again (after a few hours of playing in the falls) I knew I had really accomplished something special. I didn't think I could do it but I did it. Who knows what's next now? Actually, I think I'll bask in this afterglow for a long, long time.


Mooney Falls

The last waterfall--Mooney Falls--is about three miles farther down into the canyon from the village. It is also the most dramatic, in the sense that it is a straight 200-foot drop from top to bottom. Getting there is truly the hardest part, as Desi can attest to...


Buying Product in Supai

One of the funny things about Supai is how incredibly expensive everything is. Normally, we associate expensive with places like Beverly Hills, not small towns where there are no paved roads, street lights, or other modern amenities. The reason for this dichotomy? Supai's remote location.

There are four places in Supai where you can buy food, drink, and other basic necessities. The cafe (lots of fried food), the general store (which will have Gatorade one day but not the next), and the Sinyella store (which is run by a family out of their house). The fourth place, which we just discovered this year, is run by a nice guy named Rudy (also out of his house, which is pictured).

Rudy and all the others get their supplies in this way. They take a helicopter up to the rim, where they have a car parked. They then drive several hours to Flagstaff, Kingman, Las Vegas, or some other city in this part of the country. At their destination they stock up on whatever it is they are going to sell (ice cream is a big attraction at Rudy's). They then drive back to the hilltop and pay the helicopter pilot to sling their goods down into the village ($125 a sling). Voila...your $1.50 can of Dr. Pepper has arrived...


Old Celebrities

When you return to a place that has only 500 residents you look forward to seeing some faces again. For example, there's the "Diet Coke guy" (a guy in his early twenties who never takes his headphones off and sings random songs), Belinda (the woman who checks you into the lodge and who we try to make smile at least once before we leave), Stephanie (a woman who sits for hours at the cafe drinking soda and fanning herself), or Rex Tilousi (former chief of the tribal council and definitely the most philosophic of the people we've met in Supai).

While we did not see Rex and Stephanie was not in her normal hang out (in fact, we thought we saw her several times but we're unsure if it was her or not because a few women look just like her) you know who I really wanted to see...the kids, especially Trevor and Tatiana.

The story of our reunion is an amazing one. Turns out they moved out of the canyon with their parents and five siblings last August and now live in Flagstaff, Arizona so their dad can study at a bible college there. Coincidentally, Joel (the dad) was the guest speaker at the church service we attended on Sunday. Trevor, Tatiana, and a few of their brothers and sisters emerged from a back room of the church where they were attending Sunday school and I could hardly contain myself because I was so happy to see them. I still wanted to take them home with me, but was glad to hear about their family's pursuits.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Picture Perfect

While the boys jump off cliffs into the blue-green water, what do you think the girls do? We wade around in the water and take tons of pictures of ourselves. Mommy poses me in a position in the water and snaps the shot. We take as many as possible at each falls. Then, Mommy holds the camera out in front of herself and takes pictures of herself since my hands are all wet. We also have a picture of both of us at each falls, which Mommy takes by holding the camera out in front of us. This turns out to be just as fun as jumping off cliffs.


Cliff Jumping

As Desi put it, one of the great things about the falls in Supai is that you can do more than look at them (which, by the way, is a great thing to do, for hours on end). You can also interact with them--swim in the pools they have created, climb on them...your only limit is your imagination...and fear. For Z and I, one of the best parts of the Supai experience is finding cliffs to jump off of into the blue-green water. This particular cliff is probably our favorite of them all. Nice and high, with a deep pool to drop into.

Go Z-man, go!


PS: Julie, of course, also did some jumping, just not from the highest heights (good move Jules!). And even Desi got into the action (we have the picture to prove it!).

Havasu Falls

For our money, Havasu Falls may just be the prettiest place on the face of the Earth. It certainly has to be on the short list. A one hundred foot waterfall, blue-green pools, canyon all around...just perfect. And we're not the only ones who think this...

During one of our two days at Havasu Falls, we met a family from (of all places!) Washington, DC. Believe it or not, they are also on a five-week road trip, doing the same basic path as us but in reverse. So while we have been to places like Memphis already and they will be there later in their trip, they have been to places like New Orleans already and we will be there later in our trip. We just happened to cross paths deep down at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Anyways, the dad in the family has been wanting to come to Havasu Falls for about twenty years. As he related it to me, he was actually nervous that he had so hyped the place up in his mind for so long that he would be disappointed when he finally got there. I mean, how could it be as beautiful as he was imagining it? Well, he came around the last bend in the canyon, saw it with his own eyes, and was definitely not disappointed. Neither were we...


Supai Dogs

In Supai there are many wild dogs, although some are owned. We named the dogs: Dude, Waggy, Shaggy, Midnight, Potbelly, Sugar Cube, Cinnamon, Top Dog, the three Whities, Chihuahua Head, and Saruman. Our favorites were Cinnamon, Dude, Potbelly, and Midnight. Midnight is a boy and Cinnamon, Dude, and Potbelly are girls. My favorite one of all is Dude. Dude had puppies before we got there but we still saw three of them. In the picture for this blog it is Dude and me. We had so much fun with the dogs. They always stayed under our table outside while we ate.


The Cascading Beauty of Navajo Falls

The reason anyone ventures down into Supai (other than sheer craziness!) is the three blue-green waterfalls that are located several miles beyond the village. The first of these is Navajo Falls, which cascades over a series of rock faces before finally creating a bunch of pools at the bottom. The pools are great for swimming (that's Desi and Julie back there...hi girls!) and the falls are great for jumping (more on this nonsense later...).


Havasupai Bible Church

The Christian community in Supai is pretty small, judging by the intimate group that gathered for Sunday worship. But what the group lacks in size, it makes up for in commitment. Witness the oldest member of the community, a woman who was literally pulled across the village to the service in a cart. Where there's a will, there's a way...


A Well-Oiled Machine

Well, everything went like clockwork on our way down into Supai. We got out early, early as scheduled, which meant that we were able to hike all the way down in the shade of Havasu Canyon, before the killer sun began beating down on us. We were even able to sneak in breakfast at the village cafe before heading off to Sunday church service. Of course, then we collapsed...


Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Weirdness of Grand Canyon Caverns

For us, Grand Canyon Caverns is a very strange place. It is our last stop before the long road and hike to the Havasupai Reservation. Our aim, as Z mentioned in a previous post, is to begin the hike down from the rim at 4:30 am, so as to avoid the 100-plus degree desert temperatures. This means leaving from Grand Canyon Caverns (the nearest motel to Hualapai Hilltop) at 3 am (dodging mule deer in the dark!). Which, of course, means getting up earlier than that. So we are always in this mindset that we need to be in bed by 7 pm. Which, in the middle of the summer, is just...weird.

On top of our personally-induced weirdness, there is also the strange vibe of the place itself. This is really Route 66 in a time warp. It is not some reconstructed tourist trap. Yes, the original dinosaurs are still stalking passing motorists (of which there aren't very many). And then there are more modern oddities. We wanted to make a few last phone calls before "going dark" (in our best Jack Bauer fashion). To get cell phone access, however, you need to drive about a mile or so up this side road, to a water tower. The water tower, you see, is the local high point and a place where you can receive a cell phone signal.

On the other extreme, there is free wifi access right on the premises. Go figure...


Hold the Pepperoni

Well, we stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona again. (Hi Joe!) But, oddly enough, what we were really looking forward to in this old Route 66 town was a repeat visit to Pepperoni's. Believe it or not, this little Italian place in the middle of the southwestern desert was one of our favorite meals of the whole trip last year. This year, however,...[cue up the sad music]...Pepperoni's was gone. The lesson we took away from this? (Other than we would have to drive farther for lunch!) Enjoy your experiences as you experience them, as there is no telling whether the opportunity will present itself again. Drivin' on...


Back in Time

Return to last year's scene...ranger station...I'm driving...I'm asked the question, "Do you have any rocks?" You know the rest.

Fast forward...this year...I refuse to drive, so I don't have to speak to the ranger. Doesn't matter anyway. I got my petrified wood at the gift shop and enjoyed a guilt-free ride through one of the most beautiful spans you'll ever see. The painted desert and petrified forest is an amazing journey through time. Formations of rock show layers of history. Petrified wood preserves a piece of the past.

While last year we drove only a few miles in, this year we decided to see the entire park. There is no doubt that it was worth the detour from I-40. Especially since I didn't have to worry about the vehicle inspection at the exit!


No Moccasins in New Mexico

Today I am sick. I have a fever. I threw up twelve times. And I picked the wrong day to be sick. It is two days before we hike into the Grand Canyon. We will travel to Peach Springs from Albuquerque. We will leave at 5 am. It is almost 5 pm now. Peach Springs is one hour thirty minutes from the Grand Canyon. We will start hiking into the Grand Canyon at 4:30 am the day after tomorrow. I hope I am better by then. In all of this confusion, we didn't go to Old Town Albuquerque to get moccasins, which Julie and I wanted. Luckily, we'll have a few more chances.