In the Grand Canyon’s southwest corner, blue-green waters gush over ruddy rocks into sparkling pools. Havasu Falls is on many people’s must-see lists. But reaching the falls involves traversing a remote Native American reservation. And starting this year, the tribe is nixing professional guides.
Located entirely inside Grand Canyon National Park, the Havasupai Indian Reservation is one of America’s most isolated tribal lands. There are no cars here. Travelers must walk, ride a mule, or fly in by helicopter. The name—havasu for “blue-green water” and pai for “people”—reflects the land’s most distinguishing feature: Havasu Falls.
Droughts, floods (including the Genesis one!), and erosion have changed how water cascades over the 100-foot cliff at Havasu Falls. Today, water pours mostly out of a single channel in the rock. Before 1910, the waterfall was called Bridal Veil Falls because water flowed in a wider path—like an infinity pool or a manmade fountain ledge.
The Havasupai Indian Reservation began as a 518-acre area in 1882. A series of bills, rulings and acts—including help from two U.S. presidents—helped create the current reservation.
Today, about 600 members of the Havasupai Tribe live on over 185,000 acres inside Grand Canyon National Park. Each year, 40,000 people travel to the reservation—mostly to visit Havasu, Mooney, and Beaver falls—all on Havasupai lands.
A typical falls hike winds through eight miles of desert to the Havasupai capital of Supai, Arizona. Another two miles down a dusty trail is a camping area. Visitors to Havasu Falls must stay overnight in the tribe-owned campground or lodge. From there, Havasu Falls is two miles away.
For years, tour companies bought permits from the Havasupai. The permits allowed them to guide tourists to and through the reservation. They carried tents, food, and supplies for tourists to make the journey easier.
Now the tribe wants to manage all tourist traffic. Their intention, says Havasupai spokeswoman Abbie Fink, is “returning the enterprise to the control of the tribe.” That means would-be sightseers must venture to the falls, pools, and caves themselves.
Adam Henry, co-owner of Discovery Treks, usually books 100-200 people on the Havasu Falls trip each year. With the new tribal rules, they’ll be offering trips to other Grand Canyon spots. But Henry says that’s not always welcome news.
“The blue-green water is what people want to see,” Henry says. “It’s certainly a significant bummer for people who aren’t going to be able to get out there on their own.” God’s creation without big tour companies? Could be the perfect vacation.