Friday, January 23, 2009

Day Twelve: Thunder River/Deer Creek Traverse

Sunset & Approaching Storm

Monday, April 17, 2000 - Morning dawned with a crystal clearness not seen outside of the arid western lands. We ate some breakfast burritos with eggs and hash browns, packed a sack lunch and did a quick splash in the dories to Tapeats Creek where six of us and some of the crew were dropped off for a hike downstream via several rivers and a couple passes. The rest would take the dories and meet with us downstream later.

Tapeats Creek

We hiked up Tapeats Creek and were forced to cross it twice and only with great difficulty. Once involved us forming a human chain to give the weaker members of us something to hold onto as they crossed the waist deep water roaring downstream. We made it to the junction of Tapeats Creek and Thunder River and from there, it was almost straight up. Thunder River was one continuous maelstrom of white froth as its fall was equal to or greater than its run. After 500 feet of altitude gain, we finally came upon the source of Thunder River, a mammoth spring pouring out of the red wall cliff and crashing down 50 or 60 feet below.

Thunder River

Thunder River Spring

After eating our lunch, we climbed another 1000 or so feet up and over a pass to a big valley aptly named Surprise Valley since it runs parallel to the river and is thus surprising to find. The hike through the valley was a very hot, dry march and full of prickly desert rose bushes. By the time we climbed over the second small pass and began to descend, everyone was either bleeding or were picking spines out of their flesh. I was doing both.

We dropped down into Deer Creek, which began life as another spring pouring out of the red rock into the valley below. Like dusty forgotten mops, we all fell into the water and absorbed way more than I thought I ever could. I climbed up behind the waterfall where it was hollowed out a bit and sat in the shade absorbing even more through the misting spray. As we continued down, the water carved a beautiful and deep slot canyon. As we hiked the rim of this slot canyon on a very narrow trail, to narrow to pass each other safely, it was slow going for every corner we stopped to take a picture of it that we deemed more beautiful than the last corner.

Deer Creek Spring

Deer Creek

In places, there were Anasazi handprints on the rock due to their belief that this was the seventh and final place where you were tested after death before you were allowed to reach the afterlife. They had to leap across the canyon and the hands were there to help you. Lee told the story of his younger days after having too much to drink perhaps, deciding to jump across for himself. He ran for all he was worth and leapt in the air at the perfect point at the very edge of the canyon, instantly knowing that there would be no way in hell that he would even come close to making the jump. He said midway as he hurtled downwards certain broken bones and possible death, he felt something grab him and pull him across. He said nothing ever sobered him up quicker than that feeling and he swears that those handprints hold some sort of power. The sincerity in his voice as he told me this was hard not to believe.

Anasazi Handprints

We hiked on down to the river where we were the dories were waiting and floated a 1/2 mile downstream to a camp at mile 136.5 on a beach near some overhanging cliffs. Mary gave me an "extra" beer and I decided to enjoy it while taking a bath. I found a nice private sand beach upstream and did just that. Our camp tonight is a beautiful sand beach with an overhanging cliff on the downstream side. After everyone settles down and if the spot is still taken, I aim to camp underneath the overhang tonight just for the novelty of it.

As supper was being prepared, I sat in a chair and watched a beautiful sunset on the cliffs upstream and a natural arch downstream near Cranberry Canyon. For supper we had noodles and stir-fry that was excellent as usual. Per our habit, we built a little fire after supper and sat around swapping stories until late in the evening. The overhang was vacant and I update my journal from there now.

Above Lower Deer Creek Falls


PhilippinesPhil said...

I'm more than a bit skeptical hearing Lee's story of his leap. No one gets THAT drunk. He was pulling someone's leg, HARD.

sage said...

I've been there! The hike from the top down to Tepeats Creek is long and dry! I should get out my photos and write about it. The night before hiking down, it was freezing on the top (at 9,000 feet). When we got to the bottom, it the next day, it was around 100 degrees--Surprise Valley with no shade and my water bottle near empty, seemed like an eternity to cross. I was never so glad to get to the bottom on the falls, where I drank and drank and rehydrated.

Beau said...

Breathtaking pictures... I love the eroded canyon walls.

TC said...

Wow. I'm loving this continuing story. And your photos are amazing.

Do you think you'll do something similar again?

Murf said...

I can't look at these pictures without thinking of the book The Secret Knowledge of Water. Hurry and read it.

Ed Abbey said...

Phil - That was poorly worded on my part. I should have said that I believed that Lee believed in the power of the hand prints. I'm not sure I believe in the power. It was a good story though.

Sage - The canyon is sure a land of extremes. I remember there was snow on the rim when I began this trip and yet within days I felt so hot at times that I thought I would literally fry.

Beau - I have probably an entire roll of film just of that particular area. That was one of the better ones but even the worst were still pretty spectacular compared to anything around here.

TC - I'm glad that you are enjoying it. I'm sure your time on the North Rim helps you by being familiar with the area.

Murf - I'll add it to my lengthy list.

The Real Mother Hen said...

I could spend hours photographing those rocks in Deer Creek.

lara cladny said...

Hey, where can I find more information about the Anasazi story about the hands? Would greatly appreciate any tips you have to point me in the right direction. Thanks!

Ed said...

Lara Cladny - Just got back from overseas so sorry in the delay of posting this response. I don't have any information as it was told to me by one of our river guides and I haven't found any other reference to it. I used to have a picture of it but it has long since disappeared from this site though I do have a digital copy of it on my home computer. You can email me using the link on my main blogger page or at and I can send you a copy or talk to you more about it. I'm guessing you've been there?