HELLO, DOWN THERE
Of the 5 million people who visit the Grand Canyon every year, just 22,000 raft down the Colorado and sleep beside it. Far fewer get to spend a night in Supai, the only permanent human settlement inside the canyon. This village of 500 Havasupai Indians is the center of the 185,000-acre Havasupai Indian Reservation, accessible only by foot, mule, horse, or helicopter.
We chose the 25-minute chopper ride, much of it over serenely empty forests, then down into the mid-level, 300-million-year-old red sandstone rocks called the Supai Formation, and finally a steep descent, and a sighting of houses, crops, horses, a school.
For centuries, the Havasupai farmed the fertile ground halfway down the canyon and grazed their horses and hunted on the plateau above—until 1920, when the National Park Service confined them to Supai. In 1975, 185,000 acres were returned to the Havasupai, and in recent years their traditions have been revived, thanks to people like Dianna Sue Uqualla, a guide and lecturer whose mission is to preserve Havasupai culture. Through Havasupai Tourist Enterprize we arranged to spend some time with Dianna Sue. When our helicopter landed in a cloud of red dust, she was there to meet us.
Supai has no paved streets or cars, so children have the run of the town. Jake was enthralled. He told us the Havasupai Lodge, whose rooms are comfy but don't have TV's, was the best hotel he'd ever stayed in—except for the MGM Grand. A guide named Claudius brought four horses to the lodge so we could ride down to Havasu Falls, two miles below the village. Dianna Sue followed in her all-terrain vehicle, with a picnic basket.
Havasupai means "People of the Blue-Green Waters"; the milky-white Havasu Creek turns a mix of emerald and royal blue as it deepens into wading and swimming pools, getting whiter again where it spills over falls. Jake loved everything about that day and night—playing in the sand and water; riding back to the village in Dianna Sue's ATV; eating the Indian taco dinner cooked for us by Dianna Sue's cousin Carla; finding a group of kids he could run around with; dashing to see the new puppies at the doctor's house; stopping by another house where a woman sold ice cream cones from her back window; listening to the hush after the last village dogs had gone to sleep.
The helicopter ride back to the South Rim was a 40-minute sightseeing flight: we crossed Havasu Canyon at an angle, then headed due south across the full width of the canyon. The pilot tried to play Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra, but the tape jammed. We didn't need it.