Juan Garcia and five buddies have had the trip planned since February.
They are flying into Las Vegas from Portland this weekend for a few days of shows and some NBA summer league games before hopping in a car for a four-hour drive to their main vacation attraction.
On Tuesday, July 17, the group has hard-to-get reservations to camp for two nights amid the stunning blue-green waterfalls on the remote Havasupai reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Those plans were dashed when flash floods turned the waterfalls a muddy dark chocolate and forced hiker evacuations on Thursday.
The Havasupai Tribal Council says visitors will not be allowed into Havasupai for seven to 10 days as the damage is assessed and cleanup takes place.
The tribe said people with reservations during that period will be able to reschedule the bucket-list trip for a later date. That doesn’t address a more pressing question for travelers like Garcia who already have plane tickets and vacation booked: What is Plan B?
The question is complicated because other options were booked by outdoor enthusiasts months ago. And Havasupai is remote so it’s not like there’s a major attraction next door as would be the case if, say, Disneyland suddenly closed for 10 days.
Garcia, a 27-year-old general manager for a commercial Christmas light company, said he and his friends started plotting other activities as soon as they heard the bad news.
They searched for Airbnbs in the region and were considering a Lake Powell houseboat rental or a visit to national parks in Utah. Garcia and a few in the group were already planning to visit Monument Valley and Horseshoe Bend after their Havasupai trek and might move those attractions up.
“It’s still kind of up in the air because it’s such short notice,” Garcia said. “We’re pretty outdoorsy being from the northwest. We’re perfectly fine with just pitching some tents on the side of the road.”
The men decided to travel with their backpacks in case the campground miraculously reopens by Tuesday.
“We’re just going to take it and be ready to go if they say yes,” he said.
Minha Kim, a 34-year-old customer service manager from southern California, was planning to drive to Las Vegas with her husband on Saturday to relax for a couple days ahead of their Havasupai hike on Monday, July 16. They had camping reservations for two nights.
Kim heard about the closure Thursday morning from a friend who was there last week and saw the news on Facebook. She immediately called her husband and told him to cancel their hotel stay at Luxor in Las Vegas. They only had until 4 p.m. Thursday to cancel without penalty and were thrilled they made the deadline.
They have already been to Grand Canyon National Park and other Arizona tourist destinations, so started researching flights to other places, including Portland, Seattle and Yellowstone National Park.
“We are actually thinking most likely Yellowstone,” Kim said.
They can book free flights on Delta to Jackson Hole, Wyo., using credit card points, she said.
As for rescheduling the trip to Havasupai, their options are limited because Eric is a teacher. They are going to try for Thanksgiving weekend when the tourism office starts rebooking travelers affected by the floods.
Travel suggestions abound for stranded travelers
A popular Facebook group for travelers headed to Havasupai is filled with alternative trip ideas for travelers from around the world going ahead with their trips this month.
On the list: Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Sedona, Zion National Park (though areas of the park are also affected by flooding), Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park.
Pamela Hokanson Gering said in a post in the Facebook group that she is headed to Lake Powell.
“Not going to let this ruin our weekend,” she posted. “Blessed that we were not stuck in that mess. I feel bad for all those who have traveled far to get here.”
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