One of the most beautiful places on earth, the remote Havasupai section of the Grand Canyon, revealed its treacherous side last weekend as flash floods ravaged the area.
Josh Kaggie, 26, of West Jordan, was camping with a group of four friends in the scenic waterfall area when the floods struck. It is located on Arizona's Havasupai Indian Reservation, about 40 miles northwest of Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim.
According to The Associated Press, rescue crews found what they believe were the final missing hikers in the area Tuesday, meaning there were no known fatalities.
Thunderstorms dumped up to 6 inches of rain in the
surrounding area that drains into the canyon Friday and Saturday, and another 2 inches fell on Sunday.
Supai is one of the most remote towns in the contiguous United States, only accessible by helicopter or by an eight-mile hike or horse ride along a foot trail.
Despite spending Saturday night outside the village on a steep rocky hillside, having to return to the village Sunday and not being helicoptered out until Monday, Kaggie was still upbeat after the ordeal.
"We really enjoyed our time there," said Kaggie, who was with former college friends. "My group handled it well. We made some lucky choices."
Bill Rounds of Salt Lake City, who is going to college in San Diego, was also in the group, as well as Eric Crawford from Bountiful.
Kaggie said he now realizes that in such disasters you are mostly on your own, left to your own decisions and resources.
They believe the first flash flood that swept through probably saved people. It got campers moving to higher ground, before the second, much deeper wave struck.
Kaggie said the first warning signs were about 4 p.m. Saturday when they noticed some debris in the water at Mooney Falls. They returned to camp and two of the friends, Sam Nelson and Rob Lawrence, both from Phoenix, decided to leave anyway, because squirrels had destroyed their food.
A while later, at 5 p.m., a park ranger ran through the campground yelling "flash flood."
Except for a little rain Friday and another brief storm on Saturday, Kaggie said no significant rain fell in the campground or the village area itself.
His group hiked the two miles to the village and then kept hiking up the trail, hoping to reach the Hilltop, where their vehicle was parked. About a mile outside Supai, at dusk, they encountered about a foot of water coming down the trail.
They moved to higher ground, saw the water level stabilize and made camp there.
"We thought we'd be OK," Kaggie said. However, after a short sleep, things changed.
Rounds said this was the lone time he was frightened.
"In the middle of the night, I heard the river raging," he said. "I got up and saw a wall of water headed toward us."
"We picked up our stuff and even left a lantern we couldn't quickly take down," Kaggie said. Crossing the path, water was up to their knees. They found a much higher spot and camped on a rock ledge.
"As far as I could see, our (previous) camp was covered .. I slept with my foot against a rock."
The sound of helicopters made for a noisy night.
By Sunday morning, the trail was still a rushing river and the level appeared to have reached more than a dozen feet high, where their first camp had been. A bridge farther up was damaged. There was no safe way out of the canyon, so they returned to the village.
They encountered some campers who had lost all their gear and heard about one girl stranded in a tree who had to finally jump into rushing water and trust others to pull her to safety.
Some 100 campers slept on basketball courts, or in the community center. It had five toilets, but by Sunday only one worked.
Kaggie and his friends spent some of Sunday hiking back toward the waterfall area to see what devastation had occurred. They didn't make it very far before the trail was in danger of collapse.
"It was absolutely incredible," he said. "There was a deep valley of mud at Navajo Falls." Many trees were damaged too.
"They will have to cut new paths," he said.
Kaggie figures Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls will by OK long term, because they are mostly rock. However, Navajo Falls is sandy and was altered significantly. It may take weeks or months for the world-famous blue green water of the waterfalls to return to color.
"I can't believe the way the landscape has changed," Rounds said, suspecting there's never been a flood this bad there in 50 or 100 years.
Kaggie said some villagers thought it was the worst flash flood there since 1990.
By Monday morning, 4 a.m. a long line had formed to be be helicoptered out of the village.
They and 426 others, including Indian village residents, were all evacuated. They were flown by Apache Helicopter to about a mile beyond the Hilltop parking lot and then bused to their car. Representatives of seven different government agencies were checking lists of visitors and residents to make sure no one was missing.
Kaggie had returned to Salt Lake City by 2 a.m. Tuesday.
Nelson and Lawrence, who had left earlier, made it out of the canyon though Lawrence told Kaggie they had to walk through mud to get out of the canyon, but didn't think that was any harder than taking the rugged path that goes to most distant falls in the area, Beaver Falls.Supai residents were allowed to return to their village Tuesday, but the area will be closed to visitors for approximately a month.