PHOENIX (AP) — Shannon Castellano and Travis Methvin should have spent this weekend seeing the world-famous waterfalls on the Havasupai Tribal Reservation in northern Arizona.
Instead, two friends from San Diego camped out on a heliport with 40 other hikers on Friday night. But sleep was elusive, as tribe members warned that emergency services helicopters could land at any time of the night.
“Yeah, so we didn’t get much sleep,” Castellano said as he drove to his hotel in Sedona on Saturday. “I just kept one eye open and one ear open… You don’t expect that to happen.
Tourists who had hoped to reach the reservation’s breathtaking waterfalls instead experienced a disastrous flood evacuation.
The Havasupai Tribal Tourism Board’s official Facebook page reported Friday that floodwaters washed away a bridge to a campground.
The campground is lower than Supai Village. Some hikers had to camp in villages. Others who were unable to reach the village due to high water were forced to camp overnight on the trail.
But according to a post on the tribe’s Facebook page, the floodwaters had begun to recede as of Saturday morning.
Visitors with proper permits are allowed to hike to villages and campgrounds. They will meet a tribal guide who will help them navigate the creek waters on the back trail to reach the campsite.
Tourists are not allowed to take pictures. The back trail passes places that are considered sacred by the tribes.
Meanwhile, the tribe said in a statement that they were “doing everything in their power” to build a temporary bridge to the campground.
Tribe spokesperson Abby Fink referred to the tribe’s Facebook page when asked for comment on Saturday.
Methvin and Castellano decided to leave by helicopter on Saturday rather than travel through the muddy roads with a guide. Despite losing money on his three-day stay prepaid, Methvin says he can try to save the trip. Having just gotten his permit last month, he is especially saddened by the hikers he met on his booking from 2020.
“They waited three years to get there,” Methvin said. “At least I have the ability to do something else instead of ruining the whole weekend. It sucks, but it’s making me lemonade.”
Several areas of northern Arizona were hit by storms this week, from Spy to Sedona. The resulting snow, combined with melting snow at higher elevations, wreaked havoc on highways, access roads and even city streets.
Flooding at Havasupai Campground occurred last month when the tribe reopened access to the reservation and various majestic turquoise waterfalls for the first time since March 2020. The tribe has chosen to close down to protect its members from the coronavirus. Authorities then decided to extend the closure until last year’s tourist season.
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden Approves Disaster Declaration Initiated by the Havasupai Tribe to release funds for flood damage suffered in October. Flooding at the time destroyed several bridges and left fallen trees on paths needed to transport tourists and supplies to Supai village.
A visit permit is highly coveted. Before the pandemic, the tribe welcomed an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 annual visitors to their reservation deep in the canyons west of Grand Canyon National Park. The area can only be reached on foot or by helicopter, or by horse or mule. Visitors can camp or stay in lodges.
Castellano is already planning to get the permit again later this year if there are cancellations. .