Hard-earned peace on Arizona canyon hike

By Giovanna Dell’orto ,AP

SUPAI, Arizona – Framed by pitch-black canyon walls rising monumentally on either side of the rushing, rain-swollen Havasu Creek, the night sky burst with snow-white stars and Milky Way swirls.

It was the last night of a grueling three-day Havasupai Trail round trip to the waterfalls in northern Arizona’s Havasu Canyon, an offshoot of the Grand Canyon.

The hike offers bliss by way of blisters, far from the crowds.

I’d promised myself that I would complete the hike ever since a dangerously under-planned attempt 13 years earlier ended barely 2 miles in. On horseback, a member of the Havasupai tribe, which administers the area, spotted my vermillion face and half-bottle of water on a torrid summer afternoon, and ordered me to go back.

On my second attempt, I left the planning to six tireless students from Northern Arizona University’s Outdoor Adventures. All I had to do was show up at the crack of dawn with my backpack on the pine-scented Flagstaff campus. (Many universities around the country offer trips to a variety of outdoors destinations, open to the public at a steal: My US$360 fee covered pricey permits, exceptionally caring guides, most gear, all food including luxuries like cookies baked on the spot and fresh avocados and sprouts, and the eight-hour round-trip drive to the trailhead.)

Even though the mesa-top Hualapai trailhead is less than 30 miles (48 kilometers) as the eagle flies from tourist-thronged Grand Canyon Village inside the national park, it is 191 miles (307 kilometers) away by car, most on deserted roads. Tribal members heading home and hikers, not day-trippers spilling out of buses, embark on this trail.