The huge outpourings of water at Thunder River
, Tapeats Spring, and Deer Spring have attracted people since prehistoric times and today this little corner of Grand Canyon is exceedingly popular among seekers of the remarkable.
Take the Thunder River
Trail generally south across the Esplanade. The trail crosses expansive slickrock sections as it works around several small drainages, so runners need to be alert for cairns that mark the route ahead. Try to locate the next cairn before the last one is lost from view. About 2.5 miles of reasonably flat trail brings runners to the southern edge of the Esplanade, a wonderful canyon view, and the top of a series of steep switchbacks through the Supai and Redwall Formations to the floor of Surprise Valley. The descent is long and rough and the southern exposure makes the entire area infamously hot. Avoid running in Surprise Valley after 10 a.m. during warm weather. A large cairn marks a fork in the trail east (left) to Thunder River
and Tapeats Creek, west (right) to Deer Creek
The trail to Thunder River
and Tapeats Creek winds east across the floor of Surprise Valley, crossing shallow drainages and low hills for about a mile before dropping down steep switchbacks to Thunder River
. After so many hot, dry miles the cascades of Thunder River
seem almost too good to be true and the place demands a stop for rest and relaxation. The designated Upper Tapeats campsite (AW7) is about mile below the confluence of Thunder River
and Tapeats Creek on the west side of the creek. Runners headed for the Colorado River can cross to the east side of the creek either just below the campsite or about mile down canyon and continue about two miles to a second creek crossing back to the west side. A short rope may come in handy to lower packs at a little downclimb (8 feet) above the lower crossing. Snowmelt or heavy rain may make creek crossings impossible. During periods of high water runners must use a sketchy, seldom used trail that stays west of the creek all the way to the river. This option is narrow and exposed and should be used only as a last resort, but when Tapeats Creek is in flood it may be the only possibility.
Like a gift, booming streams of crystalline water emerge from mysterious caves to transform the harsh desert of the inner canyon into absurdly beautiful green oasis replete with the music of water falling into cool pools.