Thursday, December 6, 2012

An Escape to Supai, Arizona

My husband and I have been together thirteen years (yikes!) and married for seven. We've only had one real vacation together in all those years where it was just the two of us. All the other vacations we've taken have been separate of each other or together with friends. Until recently, our work schedules just never meshed well. When I had vacation time from teaching, my husband was in the throes of the peak greenhouse season. When he had downtime in the winter, I was in the midst of teaching biology to a bunch of pubescent teenagers. Once I left my teaching career to assist him with our small business fulltime, we finally were able to schedule in a real vacation....just the two of us.

I must admit I was a little nervous. We spend a lot of time together at work and at home, but we'd always had buffers when it came to extended trips together. What if we got bored with each other's company? It wasn't a serious concern, but it was something to ponder during lulls in conversation.  How would we get along together for a week without any traveling buffers around?

When it came to deciding where to go, I really wanted to take my husband to Supai, AZ, which I had visited in 2007 with a friend. It's an amazing place, as you can see from the photos below. My husband wanted to see the Grand Canyon, so I booked plane tickets to Las Vegas, which would be our jumping off point for the rest of the vacation.

We arrived in Vegas and spent the first several nights absorbing the overt stimuli of the Strip. I much prefer nature to nightlife, so it wasn't the best part of the trip for me, but the hubby got to gorge himself at a couple major buffets and check out a couple shows, and our visit to Hoover Dam was impressive. We left for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on our third day and spent the afternoon walking the overlook trails.  I had been to the Grand Canyon before, but it was just as magnificent the second time around.  We tried to take in as many views as we could, but it really is too vast to comprehend.  It's difficult to grasp how deep and wide the canyon is unless you actually hike to the bottom.  Luckily, we had plans to head west of the Grand Canyon National Park to the Hualapai Indian Reservation to take on that challenge

After staying a night in Tusayan, we loaded up our gear and set out for the Hualapai Highway, also called Indian 18. This is a dead-end road that brings you to a stark trailhead, which leads to the village of Supai. Supai is located in the bottom of a canyon, surrounded by red rocks and blue skies. It's populated by only a few hundred year-round residents, and it's only accessible by hiking, mule train, or helicopter. All of the village's supplies are brought down via helicopter or mule, and all the waste generated there is brought out in the same way. Havasu Creek runs through the canyon and results in beautiful, turquoise waterfalls a few miles downstream from Supai. The water gets its color from the loads of mineral deposits it accumulates from the surrounding rocks. Against the red rocks of the canyon, the water takes on an unreal color. I had taken the journey to these falls before, and I don't normally choose to visit the same place twice when there's so much to see around this country, but I thought the falls were spectacular enough to visit again. There's something about flowing water that pulls me near.  Maybe it’s a result of growing up just a stone’s throw from two great rivers—the St. Croix and the Mississippi.  Regardless, it was the moving water that was calling me back to Supai.

These waterfalls aren't nearly the biggest in the world nor the most beautiful, but there's something about the color of the water against the surrounding landscape, as well as their unique setting, that makes them so brilliant. Some experiences can lose their luster when repeated; the novelty wares off.  I was really hoping my return trip to the waterfalls of Supai would be equally as gratifying as my initial visit.

We set off from the trailhead around lunchtime and completed the eight mile hike down to Supai in three hours. The weather was perfect and the scenery was expansive. Once we arrived in Supai, we checked into the lodge and relaxed a bit in our spartan room before heading to the cafe for a filling dinner of burritos.
Hualapai Hilltop


The next morning we loaded up water, lunches, and cameras for our six mile roundtrip hike to three different sets of waterfalls.  We came into view of Navajo Falls just a mile outside of Supai. They had changed drastically since 2007 due to extreme flooding that hit the canyon in 2008 and 2009.  The Navajo Falls I saw five years ago no longer existed, and the Navajo Falls of 2012 were completely new to me. I think the floods actually made them more beautiful, and these falls definitely spoke to the power of water.  I tried to imagine a wall of water rolling through the canyon with enough force to literally move mountains and change the landscape in such a drastic way.  Evidence of the severe flooding was apparent not only in the changed water routes but also in the large amounts of debris strewn throughout the canyon.

Navajo Falls

We continued our hike and made it to Havasu Falls a mile downstream. These falls had also changed since my last visit. The rerouted water upstream has resulted in water flowing over just a third of the rock face it had covered before the flooding events. Even though Havasu Falls in now much narrower, it is still a beautiful waterfall with inviting side channels and pools.

Havasu Falls

After a lunch break and some gin rummy at the base of Havasu Falls, we hiked one more mile to reach Mooney Falls. These are the tallest of the falls we visited, and it was a precarious climb to reach them--one that required crawling through tunnels chiseled through the rock face and climbing down steps etched into the sheer cliff.
Mooney Falls

Later that night after hiking back to Supai, we fell asleep to the muffled sounds of three dozing yet alert village dogs lying outside our lodge door.  (Impressively, these same dogs were dozing in the shade at the top of the trailhead the next morning.)

We began the eight mile hike back to Hualapai Hilltop early the next day.  We fell into a good pace and were at the 6.5 mile marker before we knew it. The last 1.5 miles were the most daunting since they’re composed almost entirely of steep switch backs cut into the canyon wall. We took it step-by-step, rested when we needed to and reached the top without too much trouble. Surprisingly, we made the eight mile hike out of the canyon in the same amount of time it took us to go down. Our speedy exit was likely a result of my competitive nature coming out. When I have a destination to reach, whether it's by walking, hiking, biking, or skiing, I fall into a racing mentality. I end up in either an imaginary race with myself, or if there are people in front of me, in a race to beat them. Regardless of the pace I set, my husband was right on my heels the entire way and took the lead for the last, most difficult mile.
The final ascent to Hualapai Hilltop.  Notice the mule train, which provides a good scale for the size of the climb.
After celebrating our successful ascent, we hopped in the rental car and headed down the Hualapai Highway towards Las Vegas for our flight home the following day.

All in all, it was a great trip. My husband and I spend a lot of time together at work and at home, but it was nice to spend time together outside of our daily grind. It was nice to be on a solo adventure-- just the two of us--and my halfhearted fear of having no buffers along was totally unwarranted. Even after being together for thirteen years, I think our little vacation actually made our relationship stronger. We're sometimes a bit too competitive with one another; we frequently argue over which of us has worked harder on a given day even though we both regularly put in over seventy hours of work each week. During this vacation, however, I felt like we were a well-oiled team, especially while heading in and out of Supai. We accomplished the adventure together, and I think we both needed to temporarily escape from our day-to-day lives to gain an improved perspective on things.

I'm very glad I made it back to Supai. Not many people can say they've been there, let alone been there twice in their lives. In a way, I can't help thinking that it was a last hurrah for my husband and me. We've come to the consensus that we'd like children in our near future, so this might have been the last chance for the two of us to take a trip like this as a couple--at least for the next decade or two.  I realize that having children means postponing some adventures, and I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’m okay with that.  I may never get back to Supai again, but I'm glad my husband and I made it there together.