Havasu Canyon - Wedding Celebration

Grand Canyon, Arizona

June 3 - 5, 2006

Dave Svilar, Jill, Mason & Brenna's wedding party


It seems as though Outside Magazine (or maybe it's Men's Health) comes out with an issue every year naming the "100 Things You Need To Do Before You Die."  It's always really easy and affordable stuff like "swim the English Channel, ride camels in Morocco, or run a marathon at the North Pole."  Mason, a friend from teaching school in Colorado has his own lifetime checklist.  I doubt it's as ridiculous as something a magazine editor would contrive, but I do know one from the list: "Get married in my Chacos."  After our weekeend, which seemed to be less about weddings and more about being outside, he can check one off.

For the second time in my inglorious career I retired.  Even though I was less than five years from becoming Colorado's top science teacher Rocky Mountain High couldn't come up with a decent position.  I thanked them for the opportunity, waved to the kids, clobbered a few golf balls, and packed my bags for the year's last trip to the desert.  By Friday morning retirement (unemployment) was in full swing as Jill and I made the 16 hour drive - of which only 10 minutes can be rememberd - to the Hualapai Hilltop Trailhead arriving at 2:30 am.  The trailhead itself looked more like a refugee camp.  Well-fed, Texan Boy Scouts littered the parking lot trying to sleep for their big hike the next day unaware of their curious choice of a campsite.  Not wanting to leave Bridgestone marks across the legs of Troop 38 I carefully navigated the Toyota into position where we slept for a couple of hours.

We met approximately half the wedding party at dawn and began the descent into the canyon towards the Supai Village.  The reservation is located on the South Rim-side of the Grand Canyon and butts up to the National Park on its eastern border.  The village itself cannot be reached by car-loving America, only by foot, mule or helicopter.  The wedding party pulled into the village several hours and 8 miles later meeting up with the rest of the group (total ~ 30 people) who had either left earlier in the morning or flown.  For anyone who has ventured into a developing country I'm sure the Supai village would shake off old brain cobwebs from past travels.  Little shanty houses coated in filth, residents stricken with general malaise, and packs of mutts would be just a few of the things one would notice upon arrival.

While this village may look trashy and the people lazy you have to admire the fact that they had been living here over three times as long as our own country has been established!  The Havasupai people had actually been seasonably nomadic and were spread out over much of the area south of the Grand Canyon.  Our country cannot handle this sort of inefficiency and therefore confined them to an area 1/10th the original size which now makes up what is present-day Havasupai Reservation.  This restricted them to farming near the Supai Village.  Eventually something even uglier than the US Government arrived: the tourist.  Most of the village's economy (if that's what you call it) is based on white visitors.  It seems to me that all white visitors to developing countries feel compelled to build schools and churches which were now present in this village.  This is just a hunch, but my guess is that since the Supai have been here for 700 years already they have probably learned how to manage without calculators and bibles.

We didn't come for the Indians.  No, what draws us here is a desert oasis beyond imagination.  The Colorado Plateau is the world's most stunning desert, so it would stand to reason that it would have an oasis to match.  Ordinary desert springwater transformed to the realm of otherworldly by suspended deposits of calcium carbonate turn the water a brilliant blue-green.  The delicious colors are further enhanced by the reddish canyon walls and deep green foilage.  Havasu Creek takes an 80 foot plunge over Havasu Falls and quietly flows for another mile through what has become a large walk-in campground before plunging over the even more impressive 200 foot Mooney Falls.  After a few minutes of gaping we decided on a campsite shared with five other couples, including Brenna and Mason.  To offset the heat Jill and I made a journey upstream from the campground towards Havasu Falls.  Spray from the roaring falls and submersed body parts assured that overheating in the canyon would not take place.

Bride and groom were decidedly indecisive about anything regarding an actual plan for wedding ceremonies.  Most brides I've encountered in the time prior to a wedding have Jekyl and Hyde personalities.  At one instant acting like this is the happiest moment of their lives, but should anything threaten to go wrong, say one of the centerpieces on a reception table doesn't match, a bride can turn into an ugly creature.  An hour before her wedding Brenna nonchalantly strode down the pathway through the campground looking for a decent place to get married.  She casually said, "this is it", walked back to her tent, and was ready for her own wedding in less time than most women spend applying eyeliner.  It seemed that Mason's only gripe was that he'd actually have to put on a shirt for the ceremony.

With the exception of a few odd Jewish customs the wedding was quick and dirty.  No annoying priest or redundant prayers.  Instead of the Lord's Prayer we got some wisdom we can use from desert poet Edward Abbey (he'd been through four of these himself).   Especially touching were the handwritten vows.  Couldn't actually hear them myself, but from the teary look on Brenna's mother's face I'm sure they were good.  The setting was brilliant: perched on an open rocky ledge just above roaring Mooney Falls, the most beautiful falls I'd ever seen.  I find churches to be only slightly less creepy than funeral parlors, so I was especially relieved for the ceremony to be in such an outstanding spot.  At the conclusion of the ceremonies I expected to see a mule waiting back on the trail with kegs strapped to its sides, but my expectation never materialized.  For good reason too, because what my body needed was to go back to camp and hydrate for tomorrow's hike to the confluence (Havasu Creek, Colorado River) that would start, "at the crack of dawn." 

By the crack of noon our group, which collectively possessed all the ambition of an elderly goat slowly made its way down to the base of Mooney Falls.  Taking a well-earned break after 15 minutes of arduous hiking we played on the rope swing for over an hour.  Lunch was taken for another 20 minutes.  At this point it crossed my mind that if we had left on time, and had actually been hiking we may have been close to returning by now.  We finally did start the hike on a trail that immediately crossed the creek three times.  Nobody complained about getting wet as this was the only antidote for the desert heat.  We broke out into a wide canyon filled with lush undergrowth that owed its green existence to the generosity of the creek.  After walking down the side of a steep embankment the creek took a hard turn to the right and we took a long break in the shade.

Do we continue to the confluence and risk returning in the dark?  Seems like an easy question, but typical of our group it was discussed for 30 minutes.  Half went to the confluence including Jill and myself even though we counted two headlamps for 11 people.

Kelsey, the strange short-shorted little man who writes my favorite Colorado Plateau guidebook doesn't rave about this hike.  He should.  The beauty and fun (river crossings) never let up.  Personally I found that I could just never get sick of that blue-green water mixed with steep red canyon walls and dense green bushes.  Someday I'll rank my favorite desert hikes and this will surely appear in the top 10 or 20.  I figured that if I was to be arbitrarily dropped at any point along the Havasu Creek and confined to a camera and 100 yards of creek I could amuse myself for hours.  (author's note: this trip marks my "switch" from film to digital.  It's likely that some photos were missed as I read the d200's manual as I shot.)

I arrived at the confluence before the rest of the herd feeling the urgency of the fading light.  There is some feeling I won't try and describe about reaching the bottom of the Grand Canyon and seeing the Colorado River.  I sat, ate, and enjoyed this feeling until duty called.  No, not that kind of duty, I wanted to get back to camp before dark.  I figured I'd be helpful and bring headlamps back to the rest of the group.  I passed everyone else on my way back as they were still heading for the confluence and started marching up the trail at a maximum clip.

That was until I heard an unmistakable rattle.  A snake (which I never would have seen without the warning rattle) lazily slithered off to the side of the trail.  I chased it off the bank thinking I didn't want it biting my girlfriend who'd be passing this way shortly.  My mind conjured up my old enemy: phantom fear.  Paranoia set in.  The trail was very narrow and at times overgrown making seeing my feet difficult to impossible.  Regardless of my lack of knowledge regarding snake behavior I determined that this was their drinking time and that the trail was surely littered with snakes making their way to the creek.  Without a doubt I would step on or near enough to a rattler to have my ankles zapped.  It didn't help my state of mind when I heard another warning rattle three minutes later.  Another snake.

I didn't see another snake, but that didn't keep me from worrying about it for the next hour.  Not far from camp I caught up with Aaron and Emily who had opted out of the confluence finish (they had been there before) for a romantic afternoon of skinny dipping and whatever else.  We returned to camp before dark, and after scavenging other campers and their packs found myself leftover food and 10 headlamps.  To the delight of my stomach the food was deposited in my mouth.  If headlamps were edible I would have downed those as well.  I was that hungry.  I left the packing to Jill, which resulted in higher quality but less quantity than my packing usually allows for.

In a rare display of selflessness I gathered the headlamps in my pack and returned to the trail, down to Mooney, waded the creek several times, and finally crossed paths with the returning group.  After distributing headlamps I followed the group back to camp enjoying the pure darkness penetrated only by darting headlamp beams and stars glimmering down through the canyon walls.

On Monday morning we lost a significant chunk of the group who opted for the helicopter ride instead of the dusty, ten mile, 100 degree hike.  The rest of the group, who would endure the hike in the late evening, enjoyed another fine day of desert paradise playing in the creek and waterfalls.  I'm not a real goal oriented person, but if I was to make a list of lifetime objectives I might have to include a return trip to Havasu Canyon. 

Dave leaving the trailhead early to avoid the heat.
First view of Havasu Falls from the trail.
Mason scribbles his vows minutes before the wedding.
"Until death do us part."  Or something like that.  I couldn't hear because about ten feet behind and 200 feet down was roaring Mooney Falls.  Mason and Brenna's wedding ceremony.
Married in their Chacos!
It's hard to resist your camera in a place like this.  Mason photographs Mooney Falls.
Cables and steps cut into the limestone prevent the trip to Mooney Falls from being a death scramble.
Jill wades across the creek in front of Mooney Falls.
Easily diverted from our hike, the group, including Jill in this picture, take a ride on the rope swing near Mooney.
A bit of the wedding party.  Taking a well-earned break after rope swinging.
Our small army of hikers advances towards the confluence with the Colorado River.
It was HOT.  A cool river and a bald head were necessary to combat the oppressive conditions.
The hike followed the turquoise green waters of Havasu Creek.
Jill navigates a short step with the aid of a fixed rope.
Confluence.  A fitting finale to Havasu Creek.
Another use for duct tape - fixing Chaco scabs on Jill's feet.
Relaxing by the creek on the final day.
Jill plays in the creek while her Chacos patiently await her return.
Jill's backpacking brownies melt in your mouth, not in your pack.
More views of Havasu Falls.  A veritable oasis.

 -written June 2006   

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