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Flooding washes out bridge and prompts evacuations in northern Arizona

PHOENIX (AP) – Shannon Castellano and Travis Methvin were going to spend this weekend seeing world-famous waterfalls on the Havasupai Tribal Reservation in northern Arizona.

Instead, the two friends from San Diego spent Friday night with 40 other hikers who camped out on a helipad. But sleep was elusive as tribesmen warned that an emergency services helicopter could land at any time during the night.

“Yeah, so I didn’t really sleep,” Castellano said Saturday as he drove to a hotel in Sedona. “I just kept an eye open and an ear open… You don’t expect something like this to happen. So I guess I’m still in shock that I’m not even there now.”

Tourists hoping to reach the reserve’s stunning waterfalls were instead forced to evacuate by the terrible floods.

Floodwaters, which swept away a bridge to a campground, are rolling through the Havasupai Indian Reservation in Arizona on Friday.

Shannon Castellano via AP

The official Havasupai Tribe Tourism Facebook page reported Friday that flooding washed out a bridge leading to the campground. An unknown number of caravans were evacuated to the village of Supai, some of which 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 reach the village due to high water had to camp overnight on a path.

But the floodwaters were beginning to recede Saturday morning, according to the tribe’s Facebook post.

Visitors with the appropriate permits will be able to hike around the village and campsite. They will be met by tribal guides who will help them navigate the creek waters on a back trail to reach the campsite.

Tourists will not be able to take photos. The way back passes through places 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 Saturday.

Floodwaters began to recede Saturday morning, according to a Facebook post on the Havasupai Tribe's tourism page.
Floodwaters began to recede Saturday morning, according to a Facebook post on the Havasupai Tribe’s tourism page.

Shannon Castellano via AP

Methvin and Castellano opted to go by helicopter on Saturday instead of hiking muddy trails with a guide. Despite losing 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 especially sad about the hikers she encountered with 2020 reservations.

“They waited three years to get there,” Methvin said. “At least we have a chance to do something other than ruin the whole weekend. It’s disgusting, but it makes us lemonade.”

From Supai to Sedona, several areas of northern Arizona were affected by storms this week. The resulting snow, combined with melting snow at higher elevations, devastated highways, driveways and even city streets.

The flooding at the Havasupai campground comes as the tribe last month reopened access to its reservation and several majestic blue-green waterfalls for the first time since March 2020. The tribe chose to close to protect its members from the coronavirus. Officials then decided to extend the closure until last year’s tourist season.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration initiated by the Havasupai tribe, releasing funds for damage caused by the October floods. The floods since then have destroyed several bridges and left downed trees on the paths used by tourists and the transport of goods in Supai village.

Visitor permits are in high demand. Before the pandemic, the tribe received between 30,000 and 40,000 visitors a year to its reservation, located in a gorge west of Grand Canyon National Park. The area is accessible only on foot or by helicopter, or by horse or mule. Visitors can camp or stay in a lodge.

Castellano already plans to try to get a permit again later this year if there are cancellations. “We just want to see me in all my glory, not muddy falls,” she said.

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