OUTDOORS & RECREATION

Dozens of hikers became ill during trips to waterfalls near the Grand Canyon

Jun 13, 2024, 3:00 PM

A tourist jumps from a rock into the blue-green water of Havasu Falls in Havasu Canyon, Arizona, Ap...

A tourist jumps from a rock into the blue-green water of Havasu Falls in Havasu Canyon, Arizona, April 6, 2004. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

(Ravell Call, Deseret News)

(AP) — Dozens of hikers say they fell ill during trips to a popular Arizona tourist destination that features towering blue-green waterfalls deep in a gorge neighboring Grand Canyon National Park.

Madelyn Melchiors, a 32-year-old veterinarian from Kingman, Arizona, said she was vomiting severely Monday evening and had a fever that endured for days after camping on the Havasupai reservation.

She eventually hiked out to her car in a weakened state through stiflingly hot weather and was thankful a mule transported her pack several miles up a winding trail, she said.

“I said, ‘If someone can just pack out my 30-pound pack, I think I can just limp along,’” said Melchiors, an experienced and regular backpacker. Afterward, “I slept 16 hours and drank a bunch of electrolytes. I’m still not normal, but I will be OK. I’m grateful for that.”

The federal Indian Health Service said Thursday that a clinic it oversees on the reservation is providing timely medical attention to people who became ill. Environmental health officers with the regional IHS office were sent to Havasupai to investigate the source of the outbreak and to implement measures to keep it from spreading, the agency said.

“Our priority is the health and well-being of the Havasupai residents and visitors, and we are working closely with local health authorities and other partners to manage this situation effectively,” the agency said in a statement.

While camping, Melchiors said she drank from a spring that is tested and listed as potable, as well as other sources using a gravity-fed filter that screens out bacteria and protozoa – but not viruses.

“I did a pretty good job using hand sanitizer” after going to the bathroom, she said. “It’s not like you can use soap or water easily.”

Coconino County health officials said Tuesday they received a report from a group of people who hiked to the waterfalls of “gastrointestinal illness” but didn’t know how many people have been affected. The tribe’s land is outside the county’s jurisdiction.

Still, county health spokesperson Trish Lees said hikers should take extra precautions to prevent the spread of illness, including filtering water.

“Watch for early symptoms of norovirus, such as stomach pain and nausea, before the trip. Norovirus spreads easily on camping trips, especially when clean water supplies can be limited and hand washing facilities may be non-existent. Isolate people who are sick from other campers,” the county said.

Thousands of tourists travel to the Havasupai reservation each year to camp near a series of picturesque waterfalls. The reservation is remote and accessible only by foot, helicopter, or by riding a horse or mule.

The hike takes tourists 8 miles (13 kilometers) down a winding trail through desert landscape before they reach the first waterfall. Then comes the village of Supai, where about 500 tribal members live year-round. Another 2 miles (3 kilometers) down the trail are campsites with waterfalls on both ends.

Tourism is a primary source of revenue for the Havasupai Tribe. The campground that has a creek running through it has limited infrastructure. The hundreds of daily overnight campers can use composting toilets on site and are asked to pack out refuse. Recent accounts from hikers on social media indicate trails are littered with garbage, including bathroom tissue, plastic bottles and fuel canisters.

The Havasupai Tribe Tourism Office says it tested the water last week from a local spring that visitors rely on for drinking and found it was safe for human consumption.

FOX-10 TV in Phoenix first reported on the illnesses Wednesday, saying some groups opted to take a helicopter out of the canyon because they were too sick to hike out.

Dozens of other people have posted on social media in recent days describing their travails with gastrointestinal problems.

“I definitely have a literally bitter taste in my mouth right now,” Melchiors said. “I think I would approach things a little bit differently.”

___ Sonner reported from Reno, Nevada. Lee reported from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

KSL 5 TV Live

Outdoors & Recreation

Officials with the the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Resources are...

Mark Jones

Officials seeking information regarding deaths of two California condors

Officials with the the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Resources are seeking information regarding the deaths of two California condors in southern Utah.

2 days ago

Emery County's Search and Rescue Team and Department of Public Safety officials worked to rescue a ...

Carlysle Price

Three rescued from Zero Gravity slot canyon

A man was rescued by Search and Rescue after he was "wedged between canyon walls," Monday night, according to Emery County Sheriff Tyson Huntington in a Facebook post.

5 days ago

An air tanker is seen dropping retardant into the Speirs Fire. (U.S. Forest Service.)...

Alexander Campbell

Speirs fire grows past 750 acres, closures in place

As the Speirs fire in Ashley National Forest has grown past 750 acres, the Forest Service has announced a temporary closure order.

5 days ago

A woman is dead and her parents in critical condition after temperatures crossed a deadly threshold...

Kiersten Nunez

Young woman dies, parents critical after deadly hike in Snow Canyon

A deadly weekend for hikers in Utah has left three people dead in less than 48 hours, including a father and daughter in Canyonlands.

6 days ago

Colorful layers of rock line the dome.
(Veronica Verdin, National Park Service)...

Mark Jones

2 hikers dead after getting lost in Canyonlands National Park

Officials at Canyonlands National Park say two people were found dead inside the park on Friday.

8 days ago

Ariel view of the 40-year-old Alta Canyon Sports Center in Sandy, Utah. (KSL TV, Chopper 5)...

Brittany Tait

Sandy City Council to vote on rec center renovation

The renovation of the 40-year-old Alta Canyon Sports Center will dot the agenda of the city’s upcoming council meeting on July 23 at 5:15 p.m.

9 days ago

Sponsored Articles

young male technician is repairing a printer at office...

Les Olson

Unraveling the dilemma between leasing and buying office technology

Carefully weigh these pros and cons to make an informed decision that best suits your business growth and day-to-day operation. 

A kitchen in a modern farmhouse....

Lighting Design

A room-by-room lighting guide for your home

Bookmark this room-by-room lighting guide whenever you decide to upgrade your lighting or style a new home.

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Dozens of hikers became ill during trips to waterfalls near the Grand Canyon