Keywords:narrative, American Studies, Packhorse Purgatory, Havasupai reservation
Deep in a remote basin of the Grand Canyon, the Havasupai Indian Reservation is one of the most isolated and poorest areas in all of North America. It also contains some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. With no access road in or out, its 500 residents are still supplied almost entirely by packhorses. This essay chronicles a visit I made there in December 2015, and the serious health and cultural crises I observed during conversations with local tribe members. All the Havasu wanted to learn from me about life “up top” – whether Donald Trump was really running for President, or if that was just “a show.” Back in 1947, the novelist Wallace Stegner visited this very same reservation, and he wrote an article for The Atlantic detailing his impressions titled “Packhorse Paradise.” My own essay “Packhorse Purgatory,” as the title suggests, is partly a response to and an updating of Stegner’s largely outdated and paternalistic impressions.
Stegner, Wallace. “Packhorse Paradise.” The Grand Canyon Reader. Ed. Lance Newman. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2011. 180-189.
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