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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Grand Canyon: Part III ~ Native Americans of the Canyon

Post by Kristy McCaffrey

This is the third installment of a 4-part series on the Grand Canyon.

Read Part I: Description & Early Exploration here.
Read Part II: Important Men of the Canyon here.

The Havasupai Indians have lived in the Grand Canyon for the past 800 years. Known as the Blue Water People, they’ve turned their land, consisting of richly colored waters and awe-inspiring waterfalls, into a famous tourist attraction that draws thousands of people each year. They live primarily above and inside the southwest end of Grand Canyon in a place known as Cataract Canyon. In the 1700’s they had little contact with the Spanish, and during the U.S. westward expansion the same was also true with white people, but this changed when silver was discovered in 1870 within Cataract Canyon. Relations with other Native American tribes have been generally mixed, but they have maintained a strong bond with the Hopi people.
Havasu Falls
A Havasupai family in front of a home in Havasu Canyon,
circa 1883.
Today the town of Supai, located at the bottom of Grand Canyon, is the capital of the Havasupai Indian Reservation. It is home to around 500 of the tribe members, and is one of the most remote cities in the U.S. It can be accessed by taking the old Route 66 about 60 miles to the trailhead. An 8 mile hike leads to the town of 136 houses, a café, a general store, a tourist office, a post office, a school, and several churches.

The Hualapai Indians live along a stretch of the southern rim of Grand Canyon. Their reservation was created in 1883, and they’re closely related to the Havasupai Indians. They traditionally lived in wikiups, structures formed from cedar boughs.
The Grand Canyon Skywalk, built in 2007, is owned by the Hualapai Indian Tribe. It’s a transparent, horseshoe-shaped cantilever bridge on the edge of a side canyon of the Grand Canyon. This tourist attraction, easily accessed from Las Vegas, offers views from an elevation of 4,770 feet. While this attraction has caused some controversy regarding over-development, the skywalk brings in much needed revenue for the reservation.
Grand Canyon Skywalk, managed by the
Hualapai Indians.
The Hopi Indians, while not based in Grand Canyon proper, consider the area sacred and home to the original sipapu. In Hopi mythology this is the entrance through which the Hopi entered this world from the previous one. The Hopis construct kivas—underground chambers used for religious ceremonies—with a small hole in the floor at the north end to symbolize the sipapu. It’s considered bad luck, especially for white people, to trek to the original opening (located off the Little Colorado River, a tributary connected to Grand Canyon). Stories abound of ensuing misfortune.
The Sipapu, the entryway from the lower world that
all Hopi traversed to enter the current Fourth World.
A young Hopi girl.


Kristy’s short story in Lassoing A Groom features U.S. Deputy Marshal Angus Docherty as he hunts a fugitive in Grand Canyon, but he’s saddled with an unwanted companion when he rescues a young woman who may not be what she seems. To learn more, visit Kristy’s website.

Photo Credits


  1. Kristy,

    I enjoyed the paranormal twist you wove into your story, Canyon Crossing, in the Lassoing a Groom anthology. Having little knowledge of the Grand Canyon, I'm learning a lot from the information you're sharing in your four-part series.

    And as an aside, no way in Hades am I walking out onto the Skywalk if I ever get to visit the Grand Canyon. ;-)

    1. Kaye,
      I agree with you about the Skywalk. I have terrible vertigo and things like that aren't pleasant for me at all. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. One of the most beautiful spots I was privileged to visit while working as a subcontractor for the BIA; akin, I imagined, to the Garden of Eden.

    1. Kit,
      It has a beauty all its own, that's for certain. Thanks for dropping in!

  3. What a great series on a world treasure, thank you. Doris

    1. Doris,
      It really is an amazing place with so much diversity. Glad you're enjoying it!

  4. I really enjoyed reading your article. I especially liked reading about the spiritual attachment the Hopi had for the Grand Canyon.
    How do they get supplies down that 8 mile hike down into the town for their stores?
    Just seeing the Sky Walk on TV made my knees weak. LOL.
    I'm reading Lassoing a Groom now, but haven't read your story yet, Kristy. I think it's going to be a good one.
    All the best...

    1. Sarah,
      I'm not sure about the supplies, but I'm guessing much comes in by mule/burro. I believe a helicopter might be able to get in there, but that's likely for emergencies only. My husband and I have tried to hike there twice and both times were thwarted (first was a flash flood, second was the death of an uncle). But one of these days we plan to hike in, stay at the campground and visit the amazing Havasu Falls. You must have a reservation, and those can be difficult to get.

  5. Kristy, I have not been to the Grand Canyon since I was a little girl, but I still remember it well. I didn't know about the Sky Walk and these different tribes of Indians. There are so many tribes--some I've never heard of at all. You always bring us something interesting--I've enjoyed this series of yours on the Grand Canyon--and loved your story in LAG!

    1. Thanks Cheryl!!
      When I rafted the Colorado River a few years ago, I managed to finally see the Skywalk. What surprised me the most was that it's not actually on the rim of the Grand Canyon. It's set further back, off a side canyon. I'm sure the views are still amazing, but the Skywalk has been loved and hated by many people since its inception.