Little did I know in the mid 2000s that planning this adventure road trip would jump start a passion for crazy and unique road trips.
My middle school best friend Tracy and I lost touch for years, but reunited via a shared interest in outdoor recreation. We met up in Vegas to start a 10 day loop in the Southwest wilderness. I had spent numerous hours mapping out a route, finding cheap lodging, researching hiking trails and hoping it all came together smoothly. This was prior to Facebook social interest groups and outdoor apps that make planning in 2021 a breeze. I had a typed out plan and just a dream to explore.
Driving south from Sin City, we immediately hit up Red Rocks country for a few short hikes and bouldering/climbing on the massive boulders lining the cliff sides. A great start to warmup before we jumped right into the madness, as our first stop was a BIG test.
We drove into the desert expanse to get as close to Havasu country as possible (which was a cheap hotel & diner 45 mins from the infamous cliffside of the elusive Grand Canyon southern rim). The plan was to leave at 3:30am to arrive at the start of our adventure at twilight to escape the torturous May heat. A permit was easily achieved day of (not anymore) and I will never forget first sight of this natural wonder. Just WOW.
We started our descent down a winding 10 mi trail and it was awe inspiring around every bend. The canyon walls towered around us and it is hard to imagine how early settlers survived in the grueling conditions of extreme hot mixed with desert baroness. Fun fact – Havasu is the only remaining settlement in the US that still receives their postal mail via horseback. This was my first true multi-day backing adventure and I was hooked. Everything we needed for 2 days we had strapped to our backs.
Arriving to “base camp”, we actually lucked out in getting a reservation at the only lodge (as there was no way we could have been prepared to camp coming from the east coast & having no supplies). Our room was simple and rustic. We dropped our bags and a quick snack at the cantina, then needed to rush out to still have daylight on our quest another few miles to the main show – Havasu Falls! Everyone has seen the picture, as it is featured in every magazine, website and social media site. The pictures don’t do it justice. Between the vivid red rock cliffs, the baby blue waters glisten in the sunlight. It is truly magical like out of a storybook.
After a dip to actually enjoy the fruits of our labor, we heard you need to continue further to Mooney Falls. Anytime I see rock tunnels and chains necessary to descend, you know you are in for a gnarly climb. The aqua blue pools of water were mesmerizing and we walked until our toes turned into prunes. We hugged the river rocks and followed the canyon walls until darkness threatened, then headed back to our accommodations to crash from pure exhaustion.
The next day we had 3 options to find our way out of the canyon – hiking straight uphill for 8 hours, jump onto a donkey or luck into a flight on the one and only helicopter. Even though I’m scared to pieces of hovering in a small aircraft, it seemed like the best option despite the exorbitant cost. However, we weren’t able to grab a seat so we opted for a saddle. I don’t remember much of that painful ride, since I don’t wear pants hiking or in the scorching May heat in Arizona, but I can’t ever forget my horse getting spooked and flying off down an abandoned trail and skirting the cliff edges. I couldn’t get off fast enough.
After one last look over the magnificent, multi-colored cliffs, we took off down the dirt road to our next destination – Arches National Park and Moab – which is yet another story. 🚁 🥾🏜