National Geographic : 2006 Jan
I see where they put their farms and homes and granaries near the little tributaries and oases and I think, yes, that is right, that is where a farm would be." Native people are, in fact, still farming in the Grand Canyon, if not in the park itself. In Hav asu Canyon, a narrow side spur, the Havasupai, or Havasu 'Baaja-"people of the blue-green water"-tend fields where they've lived for at least 700 years. About 450 of the tribe's 650 members live here in the village of Supai. There are no roads or cars, so almost everyone takes the eight-mile trail in by foot, horse, or mule. Claude Watahomigie, a slim-faced, taciturn fellow, put me on his tall piebald horse, Kid, for the trip. "Going to Mooney Falls?" he asked, since that's the prime destination of most of the 25,000 tourists who come to Havasu Canyon. (The waterfall's true name is Mother of the Waters; Mooney was simply a hapless miner who fell to his death there.) "Yes and no," I said. "I'd like to see the farms." Watahomigie nodded, and then his face turned blanker than a mask. He gave the horses a low whistle, and down we headed to Supai. But I'd come with the permission of the Havasupai tribal council, and slowly, reluctantly, a bemused twinkle softened his glance when I spoke. The trail switchbacked down the rim in long, steep turns, then merged gently into Havasu Canyon. Watahomigie pulled up his horse and pointed far up the canyon, among the pinon pines. "See that bunch of wild horses? I'm plan ning to catch that palomino. Put him in my corral." The horses stood in a small knot near canyon walls of beige and gold, and suddenly I wanted nothing more than to see Watahomigie catch that palomino. His desire, the wild horses, the freedom to round them up, to gallop where one's heart called seemed as rare a thing as this canyon home. Once, until the early 1900s, the Havasupai had also lived in the main Grand Canyon, farming an oasis on Bright Angel Trail now called gener ically Indian Garden. Then they were evicted; their wickiups, gardens, and peach orchards destroyed. All they had left were the 518 acres of Havasu Canyon with its turquoise streams and waterfalls. (Another 187,500 acres of canyon and rimland were returned to the tribe in 1975.) So when someone like me, a paleface like those who did the evicting, rides into dusty 46 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC . JANUARY 2006 Supai, a cluster of shabby prefab buildings tucked beneath the tall cottonwood trees, peo ple tend to look away or right through you, as Watahomigie had initially done. You are as invisible as they believe your ancestors hoped they would become. "They wanted us to disappear, to vanish," Car letta Tilousi told me hotly in my meeting with the tribal council. "Like the Anasazi-who they say disappeared too. Well, we didn't vanish, and the Anasazi didn't either. We are the Anasazi." "And the true spiritual guardians of the canyon," added Dianna Uqualla, the council's vice-chairwoman. "Not just this canyon, but the entire Grand Canyon. That was our home, you see. We pray every day for its protection." Uqualla, an amply built woman, then grasped her stout prayer stick trimmed with beads and feathers and guided me from the tribal cham bers to the village outside. Most of the tribe's farmland is rich bottom land that borders Havasu Creek and is fenced to keep out tourists and horses. Behind the fences are the houses and peach orchards, the freshly plowed fields ready for planting, and other fields where the corn was up a good ten inches. Every house had a corral full of horses. "Oh, yes, we're a horsey people," Uqualla said, when I commented on their numbers. Just then her son came trotting by on a white horse, Spirit, her two-year-old grandson balanced in front. "That horse just loves my grandson," she laughed. The honeyed fragrance of cottonwood blossoms hung in the air, and Uqualla inhaled deeply. She'd returned that day from a trip. "My heart just cries for this place when I'm gone," she said, surveying the soaring red walls that held the village and its green gardens in a close embrace. "I came around that last bend this morning and all the good scents hit me. I knew then that I was home." Home. The Anasazi must have felt this too, when climbing down their trails to the bottom of the canyon. There were their farms, their homes, the people and places that held their hearts. It was good to know some of them felt it still-this grand feeling of being at home in the Grand Canyon. MAKE YOUR OWN GRAND CANYON TREK with travel tips in our Online Extra. Then download Michael Nichols's canyon images as desktop wallpaper at ngm.com/0601.