On our second day in Havasu Canyon, as we hiked the uphill mile and a half to Navajo Falls in 110-degree midday heat, my fiancee said she felt like she was in T.E. Lawrence’s book, suffering through the “sun’s anvil” of the Arabian Desert. She didn’t mean it in a good way. But whatever sort of crazy, asking-for-melanoma fool it makes me, my love of the desert is year-round, even when the sun is at its most scorching. So long as there’s water nearby—which, in Havasu, is the whole point.
This series of four major aquamarine falls—the highest measuring 200 feet—in the western part of the Grand Canyon is one of the most uncannily beautiful places ever, one that has to be seen to be believed. Its uniqueness comes from the travertine in the water, which accumulates in great bulging terraces, making everything look like some David Lynch vision of Xanadu.
And the opportunities to jump into pools, bodysurf currents, and explore shady fern canyons make it ideal for families with kids over eight. Think of it as God’s own water park. A 2.5-hour drive from Flagstaff, followed by a ten-mile trek (best undertaken at the first light of day), takes you to Supai, home of the Havasupai people, on whose land these falls plunge. The 300-capacity, reservation-only campground is well shaded and equipped with outhouses, a natural spring, and a large rushing creek cutting through its middle.
Our favorite way to usher in every summer is with a canyon trip in northern Arizona or southern Utah. This year we were celebrating my daughter’s high school graduation, so we brought her best pals and their families, all of whom vow to return annually. For this place yields up secrets, and they’re worth ten miles of tramping in anvil-esque heat. Here’s some of the stuff that made it a perfect desert-camping escape. (A pair of Keens, Tevas, or Chacos with heel straps is also essential.)
When to go: Spring and fall have pleasant temperatures, but the water is cold; May and June are hot, but the water is perfect. We avoid late summer on the hunch that heavy use takes its toll on water quality.
When to reserve: The camping office takes reservations beginning February 1. Call then.
Cost: $40 per person to enter; $17 per person per night to camp.
Provisions: You’ll pack in all your food and pack out your trash. For $187 round-trip, you can send up to 130 pounds of gear and food down and back by mule; inquire with the camping office.