Shannon Castellano and Travis Methvin should have spent this weekend seeing world-famous waterfalls at the Havasupai Tribe Reservation in northern Arizona.
Instead, the two friends from San Diego spent Friday night at a helipad with 40 other hikers. But sleep was difficult because tribal members warned that a rescue helicopter could potentially land at any time during the night.
“Yeah, so we didn’t really sleep,” Castellano said Saturday as he drove to a hotel in Sedona. “I was really just keeping an eye and an ear open… You just don’t expect something like this to happen. So, I guess I’m still in shock that I’m not there right now.”
Tourists hoping to reach the stunning falls in the reserve had to endure harrowing flood evacuations instead.
Havasupai Tribe Tourism’s official Facebook page reported on Friday that a bridge leading to the campsite was washed away by flooding. An unknown number of campers were evacuated to Supai village, some rescued by helicopter.
The campsite is in a lower area than Supai village. Some hikers had to camp in the village. Others, unable to reach the village due to flooding, had to camp overnight on a trail.
However, according to the tribe’s Facebook post, the floodwaters were receding Saturday morning.
Visitors with the appropriate permits are allowed to hike to the village and campsite. They are met by tribal leaders who help them navigate the waters of the creek on a back trail to get to the campsite.
Tourists are not allowed to take photos. The way back passes places considered sacred by the tribe.
Meanwhile, the tribe said in its statement that it had “all hands on deck” to build a temporary bridge to the campsite.
Abbie Fink, a spokeswoman for the tribe, pointed to the tribe’s Facebook page when asked for comment on Saturday.
Methvin and Castellano decided to depart by helicopter on Saturday rather than navigate muddy trails with a guide. Though they lost money on a prepaid three-night stay, Methvin says they can still try to salvage their trip. Having received permits just last month, he is particularly saddened for hikers who have encountered reservations as of 2020.
“They waited three years to get there,” Methvin said. “At least we have the opportunity to do something else instead of having the whole weekend ruined. It sucks, but it makes lemonade for us.”
From Supai to Sedona, storms hit several areas of northern Arizona this week. The resulting snow, combined with snowmelt at higher elevations, has wreaked havoc on highways, access roads and even city streets.
The Havasupai campground flooding comes as the tribe reopened access to its reserve and various majestic blue-green waterfalls last month — for the first time since March 2020. The tribe decided to close to protect its members from the coronavirus. Officials then decided to extend the closure until last year’s tourism season.
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden approved a Havasupai Tribe-initiated disaster declaration that freed up funds for flood damage suffered in October. Floods at that time had destroyed several bridges and left downed trees on trails necessary for tourists and to transport goods to Supai village.
Permits to visit are in high demand. Before the pandemic, the tribe received an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 visitors a year to their reserve deep in a canyon west of Grand Canyon National Park. The area is only accessible on foot or by helicopter, or by horse or mule. Visitors can either camp or stay in a lodge.
Castellano already plans to reapply later this year in the event of cancellations. “We just want to see I in all its glory, not muddy falls,” she said.
This story was published from a wire agency feed with no changes to the text. Only the headline has been changed.
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