Floods erase bridge, sparking evacuations in northern Arizona
PHOENIX (AP) — Shannon Castellano and Travis Methven were supposed to spend this weekend seeing the world-famous waterfalls on the Havasupai Tribe Reservation in northern Arizona.
Instead, the two friends from San Diego spent Friday night with 40 other hikers at their camp on a helipad. But sleep was elusive because tribesmen had been warned that an emergency services helicopter could land at any time during the night.
“Yeah, so we didn’t really sleep,” Castellano said Saturday as he drove to a hotel in Sedona. “I really kept one eye open and one ear open… You just don’t expect any of that to happen. So, I guess I’m still in shock that I’m not there yet.”
Instead, tourists hoping to reach the reserve’s picturesque waterfalls have gone through harrowing flood evacuations.
The Havasupai Tribe Tourism Facebook page reported on Friday that a bridge to the camp had been washed away by floods. An unknown number of campers were evacuated to the village of Supai, and some were rescued by helicopter.
The camp is located in a low-lying area of Supai Village. Some trekkers had to camp in the village. Others who could not reach the village because of the high water level had to camp overnight on a trail.
But the floodwaters began to recede as of Saturday morning, according to the tribe’s Facebook post.
Visitors with the appropriate permits will be allowed to hike to the village and camp. They’ll be with the tribal guides, who will help them navigate around the waters of the creek on a backcountry trail to get to camp.
Tourists will not be allowed to take pictures. The back path passes through sites considered sacred by the tribe.
On the other hand, the tribe said in its statement that it had “all hands on deck” to build a temporary bridge leading to the camp.
Abe Fink, a spokesman for the tribe, referred to the tribe’s Facebook page for comment on Saturday.
Methven and Castellano decided to leave by helicopter on Saturday rather than navigate the muddy tracks with a guide. Despite losing money on a three-day paid stay, Methvin says they can still try to salvage their trip. Having secured permits only last month, he is especially sad for the hikers who have been meeting reservations since 2020.
“They waited three years to get there,” Methven said. “At least we have the power to do something else in exchange for ruining the whole weekend. It sucks, but it makes lemonade for us.”
From Supai to Sedona, several areas of Northern Arizona have been hit by severe storms this week. The resulting snow, along with the melting of snow at high altitudes, wreaked havoc on highways, access roads, and even city streets.
The flooding of Camp Havasupai comes as the tribe reopened last month access to its reserve and many majestic bluish-green waterfalls – for the first time since March 2020. The tribe chose to close to protect its members from the coronavirus. Then officials decided to extend the closure until last year’s tourism season.
At the beginning of this year, President Joe Biden approved the disaster declaration At the initiative of the Havasupai tribe, to release funds from flood damage in October. Floods at that time destroyed many bridges and left fallen trees on paths necessary for tourists and goods transport to Supai Village.
Visitor permits are highly desirable. Prior to the pandemic, the tribe received an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 visitors a year to a reservation deep in a gorge west of Grand Canyon National Park. The area can only be accessed by foot, helicopter, horse or mule ride. Visitors can either camp or stay in a lodge.
Castellano already plans to try and get a permit again later this year if there is a cancellation. “We just want to see Anna in all her glory, not Muddy Falls,” she said.