HAVASU CREEK

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At Colorado River Mile 157, the aquamarine waters of Havasu Creek flow through limestone walls on the south side of the Grand Canyon to merge with the river. Over the course of centuries, the creek cut Havasu Canyon (also known as Cataract Canyon) through layers of sandstone and limestone. As it flows through the Havasupai Reservation at the bottom of the narrow canyon, it drops down in a series of waterfalls each more picturesque than the next. Like Kanab Creek on the north side of the Grand Canyon, Havasu Creek is one of the few tributaries that predates the Colorado’s cutting of the Grand Canyon.

Havasu Creek is a perennial stream, and historically one of the most voluminous and dependable water supplies in the area. For centuries this creek has watered Havasupai lands, allowing them to irrigate their crops and fruit trees on the floor of Havasu Canyon, where they lived in the summer. The Havasupai Reservation was limited in size to only 518 acres along Havasu Creek in 1882, but was expanded to include portions of the rim as part of an agreement that facilitated passage of the 1975 Grand Canyon Enlargement Act.

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Havasu Creek has carved a beautiful canyon where the Havasupai have lived for centuries, using the creek’s water to irrigate their fields.

Credit: Paul Hirt.

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The aftermath of a flood on Havasu Creek, circa 1980s. Floodwaters incise channels, scour the creek banks, and uproot trees during their periodic rampages.

Credit: Paul Hirt.

However, the creek has also been a threat to the Havasupai, since seasonal floods sometimes send water gushing down the creek and canyon. On such occasions, the Havasupai fled the floodwaters, living off provisions they had stashed in caves for such emergencies, but their fields and homes were flooded below. Even today floods sometimes swell the waters of Havasu Creek, damaging the creek and the Havasupai Reservation.

In 1776 Father Tomas Garces, a Spanish priest traveling through the region, made note of the irrigation dams and canals the Havasupai had built along Havasu Creek. Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives passed through the area during his 1857-58 expedition, naming the waters Cataract Creek. Not long after, in the 1860s and 70s, prospectors came to the area and found lead and silver deposits along the creek, leading them to stake some of the earliest mining claims at the Grand Canyon.

Today the clear blue-green waters and travertine pools of the creek still provide water for the Havasupai. The lush riparian community that it helps support makes the creek appear as an oasis in the desert, luring many tourists to the area. Anyone planning to travel to Havasu Canyon or Creek should contact the Havasupai tribe for information about regulations and fees.

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The blue-green waters and travertine pools of Havasu Creek truly make an oasis in the desert.

Credit: Paul Hirt.


written by Sarah Bohl Gerke


Suggested Reading:

  • Anderson, Michael F. Living at the Edge: Explorers, Exploiters and Settlers of the Grand Canyon Region. Grand Canyon Association, 1998.

  • Billingsley, George H., Earle E. Spamer, and Dove Menkes. Quest for the Pillar of Gold: The Mines and Miners of the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon Association, 1997.

  • Ghiglieri, Michael P. Canyon. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992.

  • Hirst, Stephen. I Am the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon Association for the Havasupai Tribe, 2006.