By Stephen Baldwin
Lewisburg resident Chris Cornelius lives by a mantra: “Don’t sit at home and watch TV; go out and explore the world God created!” And he practices what he preaches.
In addition to taking his family on adventures throughout West Virginia, once a year he takes a trip by himself, “to get away from people and get closer to God.”
This year, he visited the Havasupai Indian Reservation in Arizona. A trip he’s been looking forward to since 2017.
‘A difficult hike’
If you think the lines at Disney are bad, consider the line to get into Havasupai. You must apply for and be granted a permit by the reservation.
“The permits are incredibly difficult to get,” Chris says. “I actually was awarded a permit in 2020 but it was put on hold due to COVID. I was finally able to use it this year.”
Chris flew to Las Vegas, rented a truck, drove to visit sites such as Four Corners, the Grand Canyon, and the Hoover Dam, before making his way to Havasupai Indian Reservation.
Known for its blue water, the land joins the Colorado River at the southern tip of the Grand Canyon.
Outside of an occasional helicopter, the only way in…and only way out…is a difficult eight-mile hike. You’re allowed to stay for four days and three nights. Less than 100 indigenous people live in the village. Tourism is their main economic activity, providing food and items for travelers who come to experience the desert landscape.
“It’s remote,” explains Chris. “It’s eight miles from the village to the trailhead, and the nearest town (Kingman, AZ) is two hours away.”
The hike into the reservation is “all downhill,” Chris says. “Constant switchbacks as you walk down the wash of the Grand Canyon to the village.”
‘Salt of the earth’
When Chris arrived in the village, he found, “The most kind and considerate people I’d ever met in my life. Salt of the earth.”
Everywhere he went, he felt safe, welcomed, and at peace.
“The weather was beautiful,” remembers Chris. “Not a cloud in the sky. It did get down to 37 one night. But everyday it was 72-74 degrees. Now, it was a different type of heat due to low humidity. It felt more like 85 degrees.”
What kind of wildlife did Chris see along the way? “I saw feral logs, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, turkey, and lots of squirrels.”
At the campground, he met people from all over the world who had come to experience the Havasupai Indian Reservation. A couple from Phoenix who come regularly. An underwater photographer who came for the blue water. A group of guys from India who had seen pictures of the area on Facebook and applied for a permit to visit.
Famed blue waters
Chris swam in the famed blue waters, which led to an unexpected side effect.
“It was warm in the blue water,” he says, “but as soon as you get out, it sucks the moisture out of your skin. You’ve got to pack on the moisturizer or you will dry up fast.”
Why is the water so blue in appearance? Chris says the locals attribute it to high levels of calcium in the water.
Since it’s all downhill when you hike in, it’s all uphill when you hike out. Chris hiked two miles from his campground to the village, and then another eight miles back to the trailhead.
“I still have blisters all over my feet,” Chris confesses. “It’s not something you can just go and do. You have to prepare your body.”
Chris trained for his trip by hiking on Kaymoor Trail in Fayette County twice a week for ten weeks straight. He carried 25-40 pounds in his pack, to prepare for the weight of his supplies in Arizona.
“I’ve learned from many years of camping and backpacking,” Chris offers. “People pack for what they fear the most. My biggest fear is missin’ a meal! This trip I took about 20 freeze-dried meals. I brought back six, because I ate food the locals were selling in the village.”
What all did he bring in his backpack to start the trip? Food, clothes, a headlight, tent, camping gear, sleeping bag, a way to make fire, a butane heater, and a water purification pump. In total, it was 40 pounds of gear.
Why does Chris do this? Because he enjoys nature and wants to inspire others to “get out” and enjoy it as well.
“There’s a lot of beautiful places within an hour’s drive that aren’t being utilized by local residents,” he says. “A lot of folks don’t know what’s out there in our backyard.”
His favorite spots which he recommends people try are Cranberry Glades, Long Point Trail, and Twin Falls.
“I encourage people to get out and enjoy nature,” he concludes. “Use your body. Don’t just drive around. Go experience these beautiful places.
Stay tuned to The Real WV for future reports from Chris as he travels.