PHOENIX (AP) — Shannon Castellano and Travis Methvin were due to spend this weekend seeing world-famous waterfalls on the Havasupai Tribal Reservation in northern Arizona.
Instead, the two San Diego friends spent Friday night along with 40 other hikers camped out on a helipad. But sleep was elusive because tribe members warned that an emergency services helicopter could potentially land at any time during the night.
“Yeah, so we haven’t really slept,” Castellano said as he drove to a hotel in Sedona on Saturday. “I just kept one eye open really and one ear open… You just don’t expect any of that to happen. So, I think I’m still in shock that I’m not even there right now.
Tourists hoping to reach the reserve’s breathtaking waterfalls have instead gone through harrowing flood evacuations.
The official Havasupai Tribe Tourism Facebook page reported on Friday that flooding had washed away a bridge leading to the campground. An unknown number of campers were evacuated to Supai village, some of whom were rescued by helicopter.
The campsite is located in a lower area than the village of Supai. Some hikers had to camp in the village. Others who could not make it to the village due to high water were forced to camp overnight on a trail.
But the floodwaters were starting to recede on Saturday morning, according to the tribe’s Facebook post.
Visitors with the proper permits will be able to hike to the village and campground. They will meet the tribal guides, who will help them navigate the waters of the stream on a backward path to reach the campsite.
Tourists will not be allowed to take pictures. The return trail passes through sites considered sacred by the tribe.
Meanwhile, the tribe said in its statement that it has “all hands on board” to build a temporary bridge to the campground.
Abbie Fink, a spokeswoman for the tribe, referred to the tribe’s Facebook page when reached for comment on Saturday.
Methvin and Castellano opted to leave by helicopter on Saturday rather than hike muddy trails with a guide. Though he lost money on a prepaid three-day stay, Methvin says they can still try to salvage their trip. Having only received permits last month, she feels particularly sad for hikers who have been booked since 2020.
“They’ve been waiting three years to get there,” Methvin said. “At least we have a chance to go do something else instead of screwing up the whole weekend. He sucks, but he’s making lemonade with it.
From Supai to Sedona, several areas of northern Arizona were affected by storms this week. The resulting snow, combined with snowmelt at higher elevations, devastated highways, access roads, and even city streets.
The flooding of the Havasupai campground comes as the tribe reopened access last month to its reservation and several majestic blue-green waterfalls, for the first time since March 2020. The tribe has decided to close to protect its members from the coronavirus . Officials then decided to extend the closure into last year’s tourist season.
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration initiated by the Havasupai tribe, freeing up funds for flood damage it suffered in October. Flooding at that time had destroyed several bridges and left downed trees on the footpaths needed for tourists and the transport of goods in Supai village.
Visitor permits are highly coveted. Before the pandemic, the tribe received 30,000 to 40,000 visitors a year at its reservation deep in a gorge west of Grand Canyon National Park. The area can only be reached on foot or by helicopter, or on horseback or on the back of a mule. Visitors can camp or stay in a lodge.
Castellano is already planning to try to get a permit again later this year if there are any cancellations. “We just want to see her in all her glory, not muddy waterfalls,” he said.