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Thunder River Trail
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mini location map2014-04-21
17 by photographer avatarAZWanderingBear
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Thunder River TrailNorthwest, AZ
Northwest, AZ
Hiking10.50 Miles 3,500 AEG
Hiking10.50 Miles
3,500 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
Partners none no partners
This was the hike I was most looking forward to. Kelly was going to lead us up Tapeats Creek to Thunder River, they across Surprise Valley into Deer Creek at the Throne Room and then down Deer back to the River at Deer Creek Falls. JP and Scott would baby sit the rest of the group and move the boats down later in the day.

Kelly led out nice and early with four of the Phoenix Five and the youngest of the Lower Six. The trail is good, but it is just up and up and up at the start, but soon we had great views of Tapeats below us and then the trail merged with the Creek. Tapeats Creek is fast water, a true mountain stream. It was beautiful but I knew Thunder would be even more spectacular, though we still had some climbing to get there. Everyone was in great spirits. My chest cold was in full bloom and I figured to be operating on about 70% lung capacity, but nothing was going to stop me from completing this hike. MJ was strolling, her pre-trip training really showing.

Finally the trail merged with Thunder River and we began the steep climb to its source. Rounding a bend in the trail there it was – a river emerging from a hole in the Redwall Limestone. A huge underground aquifer feeds Thunder River, water gushing out of a sheer rock wall hundreds of feet high and then tumbling down waterfall after waterfall. We were mesmerized. Each turn in the trail up gave us another and even more spectacular view. Kelly led us higher and higher to the first fall just below the source. White water rushed by in a tumultuous near vertical fall while rivulets streamed along the moss and lichen covered rocks along the side.

We were tired and both Mary Jo and I had gone through our 3 liters of water each. We let the small rivulets give us a cooling shower and then filled our water bottles from Thunder River – Thunder Water!!! It tasted like heaven. We snacked and drank and rested for the final push up to Surprise Valley. The setting was as magical as I had imagined and more. Refreshed and replenished we reluctantly left and began the short steep climb to the apex of the hike.

Surprise Valley is a large and wide relatively flat area. Trails from the North Rim descend into the Valley and allow hikers to descend Tapeats or Deer all the way to the River. We ran into a few backpackers doing just that. The day had heated up and we began the hot dry hump across Surprise. Kelly surprised us with a full-head raven mask she hoped to use to tease JP. He has a thing for ravens apparently. She helped a few of the group out with water they sort of didn’t want to carry up the final climb. That girl can carry some weight. I was impressed to say the least.

JP showed up just before we began the descent from Surprise Valley down into the Deer Creek drainage. He casually tossed me a cold beer, well, cool anyway. He’d humped one up for me, another for MJ and one for himself. Sometimes there is payback for helping out around camp and on the boats. It tasted great.

We slowly picked our way down the steep and loose rock descent to the Throne Room, so named for the huge rock chairs hikers have built. MJ and I went slow. She is cautious on descents and I was really feeling the effects of my decreased lung capacity. There is a spring and waterfall at the Throne Room. Was nice to get cooled off again and refill our water bottles once more. I think I had gone through about 9 liters by that point in the hike. We hung with some other hikers there, an interesting eclectic group. Was nice to have comfortable places to sit while we all shared introductions and stories. I wasn’t talking much since the cold was stealing my voice.

After a good rest we set off down Deer Creek towards the boats. There is a composting toilet along the trail and it was a welcome site. Deer Creek becomes more and more of a slot canyon as it descends. We worked our way along the upper ledges with some exposure. There are ancient hand prints on the rock here. A hand silhouette seems to be a common occurrence among ancient cultures worldwide. I guess mankind has always wanted to leave a personal mark on his/her world. Some concepts transcend time and place. We are all human.

The Patio above Deer Creek Falls gave us a great view of the River and our boats tied below. JP had mentioned there was a pilot waiting to meet me down by the boats. He was a retired USAF fighter pilot like me and had a few years ago retired from the airline I now fly for. We didn’t know each other but had many friends in common. He was on a 3-week rowing trip. I fought through the laryngitis to try to talk to him. It is a very small world.

This was my favorite hike of the 12-day trip. I’ve had a Reavis apple and now I’ve drunk Thunder water. The world is a great place if you go and find it.
 Named place
 Named place [ checklist ]
[ checklist ]  Surprise Valley  Throne Room
All you have is your fire...
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