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ON A BUDGET

Down this trail, a new world awaits

A less-traveled path into the Grand Canyon yields delights at the bottom: blue-green pools, scenic splendors and tribal culture.

August 01, 2004|Arthur Frommer | Special to The Times

For the budget traveler, there's no better free adventure than the walk down the popular Bright Angel Trail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The trouble is that if you walk down, you must walk up. And that steep climb is beyond the physical capability of many travelers.

An easier alternative is the more gently descending trail 40 miles west of the canyon's South Rim, which descends to the isolated village of Supai on the Havasupai Tribe Reservation. It affords a spectacular view equal to any views of the vast canyon. But unlike other hikes in that area, this trail leads to a full-scale cultural experience while providing magnificent scenery.

Some hikers to Supai fly into Phoenix, rent a car and drive 210 miles northwest to the town of Peach Springs, Ariz., on the Hualapai Reservation (a neighboring reservation). And many of them stay at the Hualapai Lodge ([888] 255-9550, www.grandcanyonresort.com; click on "lodging"), a modern, 57-room motel with a restaurant that charges $90 a night for two, excluding taxes. After a night at the lodge, they drive 70 miles north on Indian Route 18, a paved road, to the canyon rim at Hualapai Hilltop (elevation 5,200 feet). There they park their car in the attended lot and begin the descent. The view from the rim top is spectacular.

Once at the bottom of this part of the Grand Canyon, they are surrounded by village life of another era. Because the Havasupai use horses to get around, many homes have corrals. The streets are unpaved. The only motor vehicle that visitors see is a single tractor. The police use an electric golf cart. Food and other items are almost all delivered into the canyon by mule, horse or helicopter. A small cafe sells hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos and large green salads.

Accommodations are available at the 24-unit Havasupai Lodge ([928] 448-2111, www.havasupaitribe.com; click on "lodge"). It's $80 (excluding taxes) for a comfortable double with bath, plus a one-time $20 tribal fee, sort of an entrance charge. The room capacity is supplemented by a 200-space campground half a mile away; it's $10 a person per night, plus the one-time fee. Contact (928) 448-2141, www.havasupaitribe.com.

Beyond the rewards of a cultural exchange, most visitors descend to Supai to see and play in the pools of Havasu Falls, about 1 1/2 miles by trail beyond the village. The falls of Havasu Creek thunder over a 150-foot cliff. At its base is an inviting blue-green pool, nearly half a city block in size, which spills into small pools, all of which makes for a natural water playground. The water temperature is 70 degrees.

Some visitors stay several days, hiking and playing in the pools. More typically, they hike down one day, spend the next day enjoying the pools, and hike out the third day. In between, they socialize with the Havasupai, who emerge from their homes to shop and visit as the sun's heat wanes. In the early-evening hours, the children come out to play. It makes for a cultural and scenic experience.

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