Tourists hope to see flood-forced Arizona Falls
Shannon Castellano and Travis Methvin should have spent this weekend seeing world-famous waterfalls on the Havasupai Tribe Reservation in the southwestern US state of Arizona.
Instead, the two friends from San Diego spent Friday night with 40 other hikers camped out at a helipad. But sleep was elusive as tribesmen warned an emergency services helicopter could potentially land at any time of the night.
“Yeah, so we haven’t really slept,” Castellano said Saturday as he drove to a hotel in Sedona. “I just kept one eye open and one ear open… You don’t expect that to happen. So I think I’m still in shock that I’m not even here right now.”
Tourists hoping to reach the reserve’s jaw-dropping waterfalls have instead suffered harrowing flood evacuations.
The official Havasupai Tribe Tourism Facebook page reported on Friday that flooding washed away a bridge leading to the campground. An unknown number of campers were evacuated to the village of Supai, some were rescued by helicopter.
The campsite is in a lower area than the village of Supai. Some hikers had to camp in the village. Others who were unable to make it to the village due to high water were forced to camp overnight on a trail.
But floodwaters were beginning to recede as early as Saturday morning, according to the tribe’s Facebook post.
Visitors with the proper permits will be allowed to walk to the village and campground. They will meet tribal guides, who will help them navigate the creek waters on a side trail to get to the campsite.
Tourists will not be allowed to take photos. The return trail passes sites considered sacred by the tribe.
Meanwhile, the tribe said in its statement that it had “everyone on deck” to build a temporary bridge to the campground.
Abbie Fink, spokesperson for the tribe, referred to the tribe’s Facebook page when contacted for comment on Saturday.
Methvin and Castellano decided to go by helicopter on Saturday rather than hiking muddy trails with a guide. Despite losing money on a three-day prepaid stay, Methvin says they can still try to salvage their trip. Having only received permits last month, he feels particularly sad for hikers they have encountered with bookings from 2020.
“They waited three years to get there,” Methvin said. “At least we have the possibility to do something else instead of ruining this whole weekend.”
From Supai to Sedona, several areas of northern Arizona were hit by storms this week. The resulting snow, combined with snowmelt at higher elevations, wreaked havoc on highways, access roads and even city streets.
The Havasupai Campground flooding comes as the tribe reopened access last month to its reservation and various majestic blue-green waterfalls – for the first time since March 2020. The tribe chose to close to protect its coronavirus members. The authorities then decided to extend the closure until the tourist season of last year.
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration initiated by the Havasupai tribe, freeing up funds for flood damages suffered in October. The floods at that time had destroyed several bridges and left downed trees on the paths needed for tourists and transporting goods in the village of Supai.
Visitor permits are highly coveted. Before the pandemic, the tribe received about 30,000 to 40,000 visitors a year to their reservation at the bottom of a gorge west of Grand Canyon National Park. The area is only accessible on foot or by helicopter, or on horseback or mule. Visitors can camp or stay at a lodge.
Castellano already plans to try and get a license again later this year if there are any cancellations. “We just want to see it in all its glory, not muddy falls,” she said.