Ring's reflections: Havasupai trip finally fulfills lifetime dream

Photo workshop at Grand Canyon bottom builds skills, challenges nerve and fitness
2013-07-11T00:00:00Z Ring's reflections: Havasupai trip finally fulfills lifetime dreamOpinion by Bob Ring Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Editor's note: Bob Ring's "better half," Pat Wood, fills in this week with a column about her recent "trip of a lifetime."

Havasupai has been on my "want to see" list for 30 years.

Havasupai means "people of the blue-green waters" and is the name of the Northern Arizona American Indian tribe and its reservation. The Havasupai have been in and around the Grand Canyon for 800 years, primarily farming. Now their main industry is tourism.

Hualapai Hilltop, gateway to Havasupai, is only 35 "crow-fly" miles west of the Grand Canyon Visitors Center on the South Rim, but 191 road miles, with access via Seligman.

Visitors to famous Havasu Falls - on Havasu Creek, a tributary to the Colorado River - and other Havasu Canyon water wonderlands must trek down eight miles on foot or horseback, or arrange for a helicopter flight.

I read about a five-day Arizona Highways photo workshop to Havasupai, with van transportation from Phoenix to the entry point for Havasu Canyon, helicopter flights into and out of the canyon, five days of camping in the canyon, and a requirement that you needed to be in good physical condition to handle the more challenging hiking and climbing.

Fun, eclectic group

Recognizing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I signed up for Havasupai as my 65th birthday present to myself. I had a long screening discussion with one of the workshop photographers, and she pronounced me physically fit for the trip. Yes, I would be tent camping for five days, but here was a chance to both improve my photography skills and satisfy one of my longtime dreams!

Bob declined, saying his camping days were long over.

The trip, in early May, was hosted by two of Arizona Highways' re-nowned photographers; everything else was provided by three Arizona Outback Adventures guides who proved to be passionate about the state and the outdoors.

The 11 participants included a couple of doctors, a lawyer, a few retirees and even a professional photographer. About half were from Arizona (including my good friends Marcia and Ted Fleming from Tucson) and others from back East. It was one of those groups that meshed right from the beginning, enjoyed and looked after one another.

The adventure begins …

We left Phoenix early for the 5 1/2-hour drive to Hualapai Hilltop. While our gear went on pack horses, we traveled by helicopter, a few at a time, until we all met up down in Supai village in Havasu Canyon.

Arizona Outback Adventures sets up a base campsite at the beginning of the season and maintains it from early March to early November. There are about a dozen tents that sleep two, and all equipment is provided, from sleeping bags and sheets to camp chairs, canopied table areas and an amazing kitchen setup with three stoves.

There's even a dishwashing station, complete with buckets, and another bucket with a foot-operated water pump with an elevated faucet, used for hand and face washing and teeth brushing. There's also a shower with a five-gallon solar water bag for anyone who wants more than creek bathing. Large coolers are hauled in, each with special "ice" packs from Australia that keep food frozen for several days.

The meals were amazing, including a Chinese dinner with beef and shrimp over rice, complete with appetizer and dessert. A full breakfast of blueberry pancakes with apples and sausage awaited us after our first morning shoot. And there were always snacks and a push to stay hydrated with water and Gatorade.

So much for thinking that 10-15 miles of hiking and camp food would generate a bit of weight loss …

A steep, tricky hike

One of the biggest challenges was the hike down to Mooney Falls, a towering, breathtaking waterfall about 200 feet tall. There's a really nice view of the falls from the top, looking down on the enticing pool into which the waterfall drops. The fun and scary part of this waterfall, though, is getting to its base.

From the top of the falls, the trail continues down to two narrow tunnels built into the cliff that you have to squeeze through. When you emerge from the tunnels, you are looking straight down the cliff to the pool at the base of the falls. It's a steep descent, but really not too difficult, unless, like me, you're scared of heights. There are sturdy chains to hang onto as you work your way down, and many footholds. The last segment of the descent is climbing down two very wide wooden ladders.

I didn't know if I could manage this, particularly with a backpack. With AOA guides leading, in the middle and at the end, we all descended. Sometimes I could not see the next foothold, but the person below me, coached, "It's on your right so shift your weight to the left. … " One of the Arizona Highways photographers commented that they usually leave three or four people at the top, but our group all made it!

A dream realized

We had five days in Havasupai, frequently photographing while standing in Havasu Creek and getting instructions and critiques from the Arizona Highways pros.

On the last morning we said goodbye to our campsite home and met in Supai for the helicopter ride back to the rim. People are taken in turn, but the locals have precedence and they kept showing up just as we thought we would be next. We finally had everyone out and were back in Phoenix in the early evening.

Back home, I cleaned gear, downloaded about 300 photos and relished all the conveniences we take for granted. My body felt the effects of bruises, sore muscles and swollen feet.

I plan to make a photo book, but haven't decided whether it will be print or digital.

Most importantly, I finally made it to Havasupai!

On StarNet: Read Bob Ring's recent columns at azstarnet.com/bobring

E-mail Bob Ring at ringbob1@aol.com

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