Day 14 – The Thunder River / Deer Creek Loop

Day 13 ——————————— River Journal ——————————— Day 15

Day 14 – Stone Creek(132.4) to Football Field(137.7)
River Miles: 5.3
Hiking Miles: 7

Our 14th day in the Grand Canyon started right with a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bagels, cream cheese, and sliced apples and oranges prepared by Bo, Steve, and the Nally girls. I’d been looking forward to this day since the early planning stages of the trip… today we were slated to do the classic Thunder River / Deer Creek loop hike!

I first backpacked to this area in August of 2009, and the memories of that trip are still forever etched in my mind. Numerous waterfalls and cascades flow like a dreamy, genuine oasis throughout the side canyons here. When pressured in a pinch to name my favorite trail in the Grand Canyon, I typically fall back on “Thunder River.” Today I would get to revisit this place the easy way – from the bottom up!

In addition to me and Jackie, three of us were lucky enough to have the opportunity to do this hike as a full loop – Mike, Nic, and Brooke. The “loop” began at the mouth of Tapeats Creek and ended downstream at the mouth of Deer Creek, so the boatmen had to hang back to pilot the rafts downstream. All in all, this was a relaxing, short day on the water where everyone had ample opportunity to dawdle about and bask in the glory of the Canyon.

The hike begins along the ledges on the west side of the canyon before descending down to the creek level. Mike took off at a brisk pace and it was challenging to keep up with his lead.

Tapeats Creek is notorious for its dangerously high, swift water to ford in the spring, but it proved to be quite tame today on March 31st… tame enough to pause and grab a picture, at least. 🙂

Soon we branched off the main creek and joined Thunder River. The “River” is a only a mile long, and loses a lot of elevation along the way in a series of wonderful cascades. I’ve heard it told that it’s supposedly the shortest of all the named rivers in the world.

The true beauty of Thunder River lies in its spring. It’s beyond reason the way that gallons upon gallons of water tirelessly burst forth from a Redwall cliff here in the Canyon desert.

For skilled climbers and daredevil types, it’s apparently possible (And definitely against the law) to use a packraft to explore the underground river from within its source cave. It’s a bad idea to try this, but neat to know that it’s possible (I may be confused with the similar but less spectacular Tapeats Creek Spring).

Nic and Mike enjoy the water. It’s a sort of tradition to directly drink the untreated purity that pours forth from this magical place. We lingered long enough here at the falls for Dave Nally and Dorothy to catch up with us. They’d unfortunately be returning to the boats, though it was kind of neat how everyone came and went and split up in a multitude of ways to do their own thing today.

Above Thunder River, “Surprise Valley” opens up as rare slice of Tonto Plateau this far west in the Grand Canyon. This area is known for being hazardously hot and dry throughout the summer, but it was okay today in the Spring beneath some cloud cover.

We encountered the first of a few “other” hikers in Surprise Valley – day hikers from another river trip. This may have been the first time that I consciously took note of how I began to view people from other river trips as outsiders. On such a rigorous and team-oriented expedition, we couldn’t help but begin to feel like a closely guarded tribe.

The hike across the valley was especially enjoyable. This was probably because I hadn’t seen or experienced an open landscape like this in a long time, and hadn’t consciously registered the claustrophobic nature of the main gorge.

The west side of the valley dropped abruptly into another oasis…
Deer Creek.

The Deer Creek Spring, seen here, is a more intimate and gentle sibling of Thunder River

Sometimes called the “throne room,” it’s an easy walk up to this special spot behind the waterfall.

Brooke shares the room with another “outsider.” 😉

Bo and Steve appeared around a corner as we made our way down the canyon. It was somewhere around this point that I realized we’d just sort of breezed through the loop – a lot of the magic in that first 2009 backpacking trip had been lost in this easy hit-and-run jaunt from the River. However, on that magical backpacking trip I also remember being a little envious of the folks on the River. So it goes.

Jackie and Brooke gaze down into the stunning Deer Creek narrows. This is one of the best slot canyons in all the Grand Canyon, and it’s one of the few slots that’s accessible without canyoneering gear. However, the National Park superintendent robbed us of the opportunity to explore this special place by recently and indefinitely “closing” the area off from visitors.

This small cascade above the closed area was wonderful for a quick bath.



Deer Creek…


The rafts sure do look pretty from up here, don’t they?

Deer Creek culminates in this high waterfall that flows from the slot canyon almost directly into the Colorado River. There was still plenty of time left to relax here and enjoy the day.

Team McCumber did some bouldering had all kinds of fun with their GoPro camera!


We set up camp almost immediately downstream of Deer Creek, across the River at a camp called “Football Field.” As we pulled into shore, Jackie was apparently very excited to leap off the boat to tie us in. She jumped so soon that she sank over her head into the water! She was wearing her life jacket (Of course) and immediately, safely swam to shore. It was great for a silly laugh.

Josh, Amy, and Nic served up some Pork Chops and applesauce with mashed potatoes for dinner.

Some of the clouds were ominous… but it didn’t rain today.

Can’t get enough of rafting the Grand Canyon?
Check out this excellent collection of Boatman Stories!

Day 13 ——————————— River Journal ——————————— Day 15

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