I arrived in Flagstaff after connecting through Phoenix, Arizona from Los Angeles.
Flagstaff airport was very small that my concern about how we would meet up, not knowing each other’s phone numbers, was instantly disappeared.
Picked up my luggage from baggage claim and started walking towards the exit. I saw someone waving at me.
“Oh! It’s him! He actually came!”
Meeting someone who isn’t yet a ‘friend’ can be quite nerve-wracking, especially in unfamiliar places.
I thanked him for picking me up at the airport, and we headed to the hotel.
He had originally booked hotels for himself since it was supposed to be his solo trip, but he requested all hotels to change a room for “2 guests with 2 beds.”
It may be difficult to imagine sharing a room with someone of a different gender if you are strangers.
Fortunately, I have had the experience in the past.
When I backpacked around South Island of New Zealand for three weeks, I was traveling with a female friend. We usually stayed in hotels or female-only hostels. However, in a small town, we were told that they only had space in a 12-person mixed dormitory room.
I stayed in a room with 10 strangers of different nationalities, ages, and genders for the first time in my life. On the first night, I could hardly sleep, but from the second day I slept well. Yep, human needs some good sleep!
This time around, it was essentially the same. Instead of a hostel, I stayed in comfortable hotels with spacious beds. I shared the room with just one person whose identity I knew. It was much more secure than a ’12-person mixed dormitory room.
From the next day on, the travel partner and I visited Sedona, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, and Horseshoe Bend.
Even now, after 10 years, I can vividly recall the unique energy of each place —the sound of the wind, the warmth of the land, the rhythm of the water, the flow of time, and the distinct atmosphere that you can’t feel in photographs.
The final destination was the Havasupai Reservation, a Native American reservation for the Havasupai people, located next to the Grand Canyon.
Havasupai Falls is now known as a photogenic spot, but back in 2012, it was a relatively unknown hidden gem.
Havasupai isn’t typically a place you would visit on your first trip to the Grand Canyon.
You need a permit to enter the reservation, and without a reservation at one of the few lodges or campsites in the village, you are not allowed to set foot on the trail.
Lodge reservations were only made by phone, which is rarely answered, so being able to book the lodge is considered you have luck.
Havasupai is a truly hidden gem, so access is also not easy.
First, you need to go down 2 miles from the trailhead to the bottom of the valley. Then, you will walk about 10 miles on a path that is exposed to the sun.
The trail is not managed by a national park, there are no maps or signs. So we had to rely on a simple map that someone have drawn, and the droppings of horses and mules.
Since you need a permit to enter the trail, there is a very small chance of meeting people until you arrive in the village.
There’s an option accessing by helicopter, but I personally think it should be reserved for people who have difficulty walking for physical reasons.
Yes, Havasupai Reservations is a “special” place.
I had some unique experiences on the Havasupai Trail.
The most memorable thing was encountering the “Guide Squirrel.”
The hike from the Havasupai Trailhead to the lodge takes about 6 hours.
The sun in the Grand Canyon is intense in the summer, with temperatures reaching nearly 110F. Since there is little shade, it is recommended to start the hike as early as possible.
My travel partner and I started around 9AM. The sun was already quite strong.
After about 20 minutes of hiking down the hill from the trailhead, my travel partner said, “It’s super hot. We’d better hurry. I’m going to speed up and go ahead. If I see someone with a horse or mule, I’ll ask them to take you to the lodge, okay? See you later!” And he ran down the hill.
I guess it’s probably his genuine gesture, but I was surprised to be honest.
We had only been walking for 20 minutes, and I didn’t want to ride a mule or horse.
The thought of walking alone on this deserted trail, with no signs, no cell phone service, and no one else, made me speechless.
I felt like I had left and couldn’t move forward for a moment, but I continued down the hill, drawn in by the majestic scenery of the Grand Canyon.
As I was hiking down the trail, a young Supai woman with a mule approached me and said, “Do you want a ride to the lodge? I met your friend earlier, and he asked me to give you a ride to the lodge”.
I thanked her, politely declined her offer, and then continued walking.
The bottom of the valley came into view.
I knew what to expect but the dry land stretched out before me as if it would go on forever. Luckily, the trail looked flat.
“Ok, this is good! I have plenty of water and snacks, so I’ll just have to keep walking!” I was enjoying my solo hike. For a while..
However, the strong sun and the heat made me feel a bit dizzy.
Then, I came to a fork in the trail.
To the right was a wide open, and to the left was a narrow trail that looked like for hiking.
I stopped and asked myself, “Which way should I go?”
Looked at a copy of the simple map, but I couldn’t even tell where I was on the map.
I felt lost and hopeless.
“I might die here alone.. Well it’s not a bad place to end maybe?”
“There’s no one here. I might not even be found, and back to the earth.”
“I tried not to think about it, but I heard that a Japanese woman was killed in this area…”
I felt I became a tiny live than an ant in the enormous Grand Canyon.
I thought “I need to take a break” then, sat down on a rock barely in the shade.
As I sipped water and was eating an energy bar, I heard a rustling sound.
“Is anyone here?” I looked around, but I couldn’t see anyone.
“Hmm.. maybe the wind? Or a snake???”
Then, a squirrel appeared in front of me.
“Is that you? A squirrel? In the middle of the desert?” I stared at the squirrel, and he stared back.
The squirrel must have been attracted by the smell of food. I quickly put the food back in my backpack.
Even so, the squirrel was still staring at me.
“Sorry, I can’t give it to you. It’s human food.. it’s not good for you.” I said to the squirrel in English.
Am I crazy? Who cares, there was no one around.
The squirrel didn’t move an inch. He just kept staring at me.
So, I asked him in my mind, without speaking.
“Hi cutie! I’m wondering if I should go right or left. I think it’s probably the right path but left path also looks like a trail path. Which way should I go?”
Suddenly, the squirrel started running to the right.
I quickly put on my backpack and chased after the squirrel. He stopped, turned around, and looked at me.
So I asked him “Is this the way?”
Then he started running again. He waved its large tail from time to time, spinning around as kept running to the right.
The squirrel was the only one I could trust in the Grand Canyon valley.
After walking for a while, I saw two human-like shadows moving in the distance.
“Great! This must be the right way!”
I felt happy and relieved. The sensations of heat and weariness disappeared instantly, and I felt like I had a clear vision and was fully awake.
The Guide Squirrel had led me, but now behind me.
“Thank you for guiding me! Thank you so much!!” I smiled at him, then he ran back to where it came from.
I tried to catch up to the two people I could see in the long distance, and I picked up my pace.
Finally, I caught up to them.
They were an American couple in their 70s, named Tony and Sandra. They said they were traveling around the national parks after retiring. Tony was carrying a large bag and it seemed heavy.
“We’re also staying at the lodge, but they told me that we can’t send our luggage to the lodge or deliver it by horse.” He said.
After walking for a while together, Sandra suddenly sat down, saying, “I feel dizzy.”
I thought she might be suffering from heatstroke, so we moved to a nearby shady spot to rest.
She set down her backpack and took her hat off. Tony and I waved to her to cool her off.
After she sipped some water and rest, she recovered to be able to talk.
I handed Sandra a heatstroke prevention drink that I had brought from Japan, but perhaps due to the package was in a language she didn’t understand or maybe didn’t want any unfamiliar thing, she politely said, “Thank you, but I’m okay.”
As we were about to start walking again, Tony lost consciousness.
It was my first time witnessing someone pass out front of me. It was quite unsettling, especially in the Grand Canyon valley.
However, Sandra seemed even more shaken than I was, so I knew I needed to stay calm.
I took out a rapid cooling ice pack and a cooling towel from Japan. I told Sandra that they were both brand new, and did not contain any harmful chemicals. I asked her to wet the towel and wrap it around Tony’s neck to help cool him down.
Sandra wrapped it on his neck, her eyes filled with worry.
There was no one around us. The Guide squirrel was also gone. What should we do? Only I could was praying for him.
Then a cold breeze swept through, and then Tony regained consciousness.
Tony didn’t realize he had passed out. He looked uncomfortable with the wet towel wrapped around his neck and asked, “What’s this?”
Sandra told Tony, “You just blacked out.”
Tony seemed to not believe it, thinking we had taken a break for Sandra.
I said, “I’m so glad that you’re conscious now,” and then Tony seemed to understand the situation.
I had been walking for five hours. The village shouldn’t be too far away.
I asked Tony, “Can you keep going?” and he replied, “Yes, let’s go.”
I really wanted to help Tony with his heavy luggage, but I was concerned that I might be the next to pass out if I pushed myself too hard and carried two luggages. I didn’t want to be a burden to them, so I erased my idea.