Looking down into the Grand Canyon from the top is no match for hiking to its floor, camping out, and swimming in pools beneath majestic waterfalls.
The new glass-floor Grand Canyon Skywalk is bringing a lot of attention and interest to the West Canyon area, which has attracted few visitors until now because of its remoteness in the northwest corner of Arizona.
The real adventure, though, is hiking in and camping out.
Havasu Canyon is one of more than 600 side canyons that form the 280-mile long Grand Canyon and one of the few places to hike down to the bottom. At the bottom, there's a thriving village of several hundred members of the Havasupai tribe (Pai means 'people' and Havasupai means 'people of the blue-green water').
This is the most remote village in the U.S. and the only place where the mail is delivered by mule train. The mules also carry camping gear for visitors, using the same path as hikers, who have to step to the side to avoid being run over.
Arizona Outback Adventures has the only private base camp in the Grand Canyon, alongside Havasu Creek, which runs through the canyon on its way to join the mighty Colorado River. Trips are 3-5 days, with a choice of hiking, horseback, or helicopter.
Hiking takes 4-5 hours, the chopper just five minutes.
It is a grueling ten miles from Hualapai Hilltop to base camp. Beautiful but grueling, with a 2,800-foot elevation change that ranges from barren switchbacks to shaded forests of cottonwood trees and broad meadows of wild grapevines.
On our way in last May, we often stopped to cool our feet in the many streams and pools along the route. On the way out, we started before dawn to reach the top before the sun got too strong. In between are daily hikes to the canyon's waterfalls and overlooks.
Havasu Falls is a picture postcard 100-foot torrent into a huge pool of blue-green water and a sandy beach. It is just a five-minute walk from camp, close enough for the sound of the rushing water to lull you to sleep in your tent.
Mooney Falls is taller, 200-feet, and famous for the treacherous climb down the rock face next to it. For much of the climb, you hold onto chain-link ropes or 'handles' of metal piping sticking out of the rocks. As each of us made it down, there was a huge cheer from those already there.
Just beyond Mooney is Beaver Falls, a series of cascades and pools of clear turquoise water invite jumping into.
Hiking trips to Havasu Canyon are year-round AOA supplies modern tents and sleeping bags and lots of enthusiasm and also operates hiking and biking trips elsewhere in Arizona and in British Columbia.