Where is Havasupai Falls?
Traveler in the American Southwest often think Havasu Falls are in Grand Canyon National Park. They are not. But don’t worry, The Goat will get you there! Technically speaking, Havasu Falls is, in fact, part of Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon is a massive network or smaller canyons that combine to drain water into the Colorado River. Havasu Falls are located in Havasu Canyon, a tributary of greater Grand Canyon. So, the answer is actually yes and no. Yes the falls are in greater Grand Canyon, but no, they are not in the National Park. Let’s break this down!
Who are the Havasupai People?
Havasupai translated into English means “People of the Blue-Green Waters”. An apt moniker indeed. It is in concert with the sparkling turquoise waters that dance and plunge over the several falls in and around Havasu Canyon. Anthropological evidence suggests that the Havasu ‘Baaja people arrived in Grand Canyon roughly 800 years ago. They forged many of the footpaths in the Grand Canyon that today have become popular hiking trails.
Indian Gardens, found along the Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon, was an important natural spring for the tribe, yielding precious fresh drinking water and drawing animals for hunting. As the Havasupai people grew in numbers, they constructed a village at the base of Havasu Canyon where they adopted agriculture and traded with other local tribes.
The Havasu people existed in this manner for hundreds of years until the arrival of Europeans in the 1800’s. The land was claimed by the Spanish, then Mexican Governments, until it was given to the United States of America via the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. President Rutherford B. Hayes set about establishing reservations for the numerous Native American tribes that dotted the country, the Havasupai among them. Their land was parceled as a 500-acre plot at the base of Havasu Creek on the South Rim of Grand Canyon. This is a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of acres that they and their ancestors had roamed over the centuries.
Who were the first European explorers to Havasupai Falls?
Various Spanish explorers came through the area in the 1500’s during their search for the Seven Cities of Gold. However, European exploration of Grand Canyon as a whole was very limited until the late 1800’s.
William Wallace Bass, an important figure in the history of Grand Canyon, settled in the area in 1880. He befriended the tribe who showed him important food and water sources. In return, he promoted tourism in the area by creating the Havasu Canyon Trail and leading groups of tourists into the canyon to marvel at its sheer beauty and revitalizing mineral-rich waters.
Despite his efforts, the tribe was stripped of their land shortly thereafter. After appropriating the land for public use, the US Government leased various mining and homesteading claims, reducing the Havasupai to near ruin.
So who owns the Land?
Havasu Canyon and its surrounding area are the homeland of the Havasupai Native American Tribe. This tribe and their ancestors have called this region home for generations, long before the first European settlers came into the area, and even longer before Grand Canyon became a National Park in 1919.
Prior to 1882, the Havasupai people claimed land roughly the size of Delaware, about 1.6 million acres. President Chester A. Arthur appropriated the land as property of the United States Government in that year. The Havasupai were relegated to a 518-acre parcel of land in Cataract (Havasu) Canyon. Their numbers dwindled to under 200 through several misfortunes including famine and disease.
After the establishment of a National Monument in 1906, the Havasupai were told that they must leave the Grand Canyon completely. For decades the tribal leaders that remained fought vigorously to restore the tribe’s heritage lands. In 1968 they won a landmark court decision, one that ruled that the land had been improperly taken from them by the US Government.
However, it was not until 1974 that the bill originating from the court case, S. 1296, was finally ratified into law. This formally returned 185,000 acres to the Havasupai tribe, re-establishing their homeland and cultural heritage. Today, the Havasupai Tribe has grown to over 800 members living within the returned lands. They manage the land, farming, ranching, and promoting tourism to their famous blue-green waterfalls.
The Ultimate Outcome
The enlarging of the Havasupai Reservation to 185,000 acres included an additional 95,000 where the tribe is allowed to practice their ancestral rituals. After the enlargement, tribal members decided it best to focus on tourism as the main economic engine. They erected a visitor’s center, general store, cafe, and lodge. The Village of Supai is today a bustling tourist destination, wherein tourists pour by the tens of thousands each year to enjoy the beautiful lands of the Havasupai.
The Havasupai tribe has radically changed their regulations. Primarily, a moratorium has been placed on all commercial hiking permits. Commercial guiding companies will not be allowed to apply for permits until this moratorium is lifted. Also, all permit reservations must be made online at HavasupaiReservations.com.
For questions about this process and all inquiries regarding travel to Havasu Falls, please contact us any time!
The Goat’s Final Word
Havasu Falls is an extraordinarily beautiful and special place. Thousands of people make the 10-mile trek to the group of turquoise waterfalls each year in awe. However, many are still unsure regarding the status of Havasu Falls and its relation to Grand Canyon and the National Park. To recap, Havasu Falls is not in Grand Canyon National Park. The land is owned and managed by the Havasupai Tribe, and has been fully since 1975.
Havasu Canyon itself, however, is in Grand Canyon. It is part of the intricate network of canyons that form Grand Canyon. The waters of Havasu Creek outlet into the Colorado River, which is the main waterway though Grand Canyon. The journey to this point in time has been an arduous and sometimes tragic one for the tribe, but the ultimate outcome has been very positive.
Havasu Falls and the four other impressive falls that dot the canyon (Mooney being the most famous) have become perhaps the most popular destination in the West. This fact has resulted in some sense of financial stability and autonomy for the Havasupai People. They inhabit an absolutely stunning landscape in which they are able to live freely to practice their customs and way of life, which is far more than can be said for past generations.
The Times are a-changin….
The popularity of the destination has been very positive for the tribe, but it has resulted in some unintended negative consequences. Pack animals have born the brunt of many unfortunate fates, while helicopters proliferate and trash accumulates. In 2019 the tribe has tried to gain more control over the tourism industry here by placing a moratorium on commercial hiking tours.
The changes to the guided hiking permits is a sticky issue. The popularity of Havasu Falls has created some difficult issues for the tribe, and not every company operates responsibly. In addition, guiding companies had begun to monopolize the already-limited number of permits, thereby making a trip to Havasupai nearly a strictly commercial enterprise. The pack animal abuses combined with monopolization of permits has forced the tribe to make some some tough decisions.
At the same time, helicopters are still permitted in Havasu which continues to add people, pollution, and an overall degradation of the environment and so-called wilderness experience. Perhaps the tribe feels that they can more easily regulate helicopter travel. Recently singer Beyonce filmed a music video here, coming in of course by helicopter. Permit holders were told to clear out to give space to the filming operation. This caused an unnecessary controversy, and raises questions.
Go to Havasu Falls. Forget about the controversies and the decision and just go. It is gorgeous. It is awe-inspiring. Simply, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Don’t worry about the nonsense. Toss away your cares and just go. Get your permit, and see this place. Hike unto the outstanding canyon. Swim and dive in the turquoise waters. Catch some shade under a towering cottonwood. Hang a hammock and chill. Get there by foot, or get there by helicopter (?!). It does not really matter how you choose to go. Just go. That’s the final word.
Read our Blog The Call of The Goat!
For epic adventures through geologic time contact Blue Marble Adventure GeoTourism. We offer guided hiking tours to Grand Canyon, Utah Canyon Country, and Arizona Red Rocks Country.
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