In northwestern Arizona, there is a magical place called Supai. Located about 17 miles south of the Colorado River, Supai is home to approximately 450 residents of the 600 member Havasupai Tribe, the "people of the blue-green water". It is believed they have occupied the region since the 1300s, although their ancestors undoubtably lived here for a much longer span of time. Their name comes from the magnificent turquoise colored streams and waterfalls resulting from the extreme alkalinity of the lime-rich water. The Havasupai reservation consists of about 300 square miles of canyon country, formed of the erosional forces of wind and water gradually wearing away layers of limestone, sandstone and shales that form the canyon walls. The purpose of this project is to explore how small-format aerial photography can be employed to examine features associated with various types of rock as well as to see some really cool photos of this beautiful location.
Getting to Supai is not a simple task, adding to the mystique of the location. Driving along Interstate 40, one takes Route 66 either going west or east, for 30 or 55 miles respectively to the Route 18 turnoff on the north side of the road. Driving 60 miles north takes one to the "end of the road", a parking spot called Hualapai Hilltop on the edge of the Hualapai Canyon rim. Named for the tribal people living to the west of the canyon's edge, Hualapai means the "pine-tree people" for the vegetation found at the higher elevations. From here the choices include hiking the eight mile trail down into the canyon to the villlage of Supai, riding horses or mules or flying in a helicopter, reducing a trip of many hours down to a five minute flight. Since I generally arrive to this location for business equipped with a heavy toolbox and considering the unique opportunity to capture digital images for this project, we decided to take advantage of the "aerial option". Observe the helicoptor to the left, used to transport food and passengers as well as building supplies and farming equipment into the village. It served well as a powered, manned supporting platform for hand-held photography. The considerable costs and technical support required were supplied by the tribe, making this type of transport possible for us. The mail, however, is still carried in and out on the backs of mules. This is the only place in the United States where this still occurs, and mail sent out of the canyon bears the unique postal stamp seen below.
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Below left is a low-oblique view with a depression angle of around 45 degrees showing the eroded sandstone of The Esplanade above the canyon floor. Diffficult to capture at this height, you may be able to see the mud cracks preserved in the deposits when arid conditions prevailed. The trail actually follows this narrow slot worn deep within this layer. Here it is clear that the flow of water down a steep elevation gradient has created many "shelves" as it encountered materials of differing resistances to weathering. The nine inches of average annual rainfall in this canyon falls mostly in August and September, creating torrents of fast moving water. The strongest winds are present in March, when horizontal weathering predominates.
Below is a horizontal high-oblique view of "The Sentinels", also called "Wigleeva", believed by the locals to be the guardian spirits who watch over the people of Supai. The shadow of the left formation on the rock wall formed from the late-morning sun gives depth to the composition.
The 38 million gallons of water per day supplying the village is captured in a huge subterranean formation referred to as the "Havasupai Downwarp", a funnel-shaped collection of rock layers that direct all the rainfall and snowmelt over a 3,000 square mile area into an aquifer that is transected by the stream. After percolating through permeable limestones and sandstones, the water picks up calcium and magnesium carbonates, calcium sulfate and magnesium chloride. Not only does this combination give the water its magnificent color, but as it evaporates in the dry canyon air and gives up much of its carbon dioxide, travertine deposits are produced around the falls, brown from iron oxides. Below is a good example of the travertine deposits formed around Mooney Falls. Although not taken from the air, this vantage point high above the pool below the falls replicates the low-oblique perspective one might achieve from an airborn platform.
The two images above, although not taken from the helicopter, are good examples of "specular reflection" and "sun glitter". With specular reflection, as in the scene on the left, a smooth glass-like surface reflects light similar to what you might expect from a mirror. Notice the reflections of the sandstone formations in the distance and the trees along the left bank. Sun glitter refers to the effect of light bouncing off the wave crests of rippling water as is evident in the photo on the right, visible on the water's surface below the falls.Return to top
All Photos Taken by Larry Kuss Using a Nikon Coolpix 5700 5.0 Mega Pixel Digital Camera
The Havasupai, John F. Martin, 1990
Havasu, Grand Canyon Trail Guide, 1998
Arizona Traveler's Handbook, Bill Weir, 1992
The Sierra Club Guide to the Natural Areas of New Mexico, Arizona And Nevada, John and Jane Greverus Perry, 1986
Native Roads, Fran Kosik, 1996
Hiking the Southwest's Canyon Country, Sandra Hinchman, 1990
Hiking the Southwest's Geology, Four Corners region, Ralph Lee Hopkins, 2002
Supai and the Havasupai Reservation; http://www.kaibab.org/supai/gc_supai.htm
Supai/Havasu Canyon; http://www.http://gorp.away.com/gorp/resource/us_national_park/az/sup_grand.htm.htm