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Thunder Canyon
May 1, 2004

Ever since I read about Thunder Canyon in Tim Ernst's online journal it has been at the very top of my list of places that must be seen. He's probably been to as many amazing places in the Arkansas wilderness as anyone, and he says some impressive things about the canyon. You can read the entire journal entry for his visit here.
I finally made it to the extraordinary spot Saturday, but it was one of the toughest hikes I've ever been on, and the joy of witnessing the falls was diminished by the condition I was in by that time. I wasn't so much tired as I was wet, cold, frustrated and out of patience.
I arrived at the Erbie Trailhead at 1:45. I was only wearing jeans and a t-shirt but put on this lightweight pullover jacket that is fairly water resistant because the temperature was in the low 50s. I headed down the Cecil Cove loop trail and immediately fell in love with the trail. It went alongside Cecil Creek under a thick canopy of green trees and through a lush forest floor full of plants and wildflowers. There were plenty of times I wanted to stop and set up the camera, but I was on a mission to see Thunder Canyon and I could always take pictures on the return hike.
It wasn't long before I came to the first of four creek crossings. I've never had to cross a creek on a hike before, but I understand it's no big deal to a seasoned hiker - just pull your socks and shoes off, roll up your pant legs and walk right across. And that's exactly what I did. For some reason the water at the third crossing was a lot deeper than the others. The water came up over my knees and got the bottom of my rolled-up pants wet. With each crossing, the water on my feet made my socks a little bit more damp when I put them back on, but it was still a lot better than sloshing around for the rest of the afternoon with waterlogged shoes.
At the final crossing point I just had to get the camera out. Across on the other side of the creek there was a wide area where water was spilling in, presumably from another creek, making all these tiny waterfalls (once I made it to the other side I realized Cecil Creek had just made a split somewhere upstream and was now coming back together).
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At this point I picked up a spur trail going off to the left towards Thunder Canyon. Soon I was walking beside a stream like none I've ever seen. The stream bed was a smooth narrow channel worn down into the solid bed rock. As it turned out, the stream bed stayed this way the entire trip up to Thunder Canyon  - I'm guessing about 600 yards. The depth of the channel continually changed - at one point it was about eight feet deep. There were several spots where it suddenly dropped, created waterfalls that rumbled with a loud hollow sound.
It started raining, which surprised me because two different TV weather guys had said the rain would end by noon. It's not their fault, but I was ticked because now I was seeing all this cool stuff that I wanted to get pictures of but didn't want to get the camera wet. Again I reasoned that I could get pictures on the way out.
Several times the banks of the stream got too steep to walk on and I would have to walk up in to the woods until things leveled out again. It was real slow going up in the woods. The plant growth was so thick I couldn't see where I was stepping without first moving stuff out of the way with my hands. And the forest floor was nothing but loose rocks. And all of this was wet and on a slope!
Suddenly I came to another scene that I just had to get the camera out for. It was pretty darn difficult to get that picture. It was raining steadily, and without getting anything wet I had to open up by camera backpack, put the camera on the tripod, adjust all the settings and take the shot. Man I hate taking pictures in the rain!
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Right after I took that picture I had to cross the creek again, and this time there was no avoiding stepping in the water with at least one foot. By this time my patience had worn thin and I wasn't up to the tedium of taking my shoes off  and putting them on again so I just sacrificed one shoe. It was a big deal because once your shoes get waterlogged your sense of feel and touch down there is shot and it makes walking on all those slippery and loose rocks all that more difficult.
I arrived at the canyon around 4:45 - three hours after I set out. It was way too awesome for me to describe so hopefully the picture below will suffice.
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As I was setting up the camera for the picture of the big waterfall I realized I really needed to get in the picture for scale (this only partially worked though because the falls are a lot bigger and taller than they appear in the final photos). It was still raining but thankfully there was the big rock overhang above.
The only way to the base of the falls was to go around either side of the 14-foot-deep hole of water. The path on either side consisted of a narrow ledge of solid rock that not only slanted down toward the water but was smooth, wet and slick. I had to consider the possibility that if I fell in that hole, I wouldn't be able to get back out. The water was swirling around in the hole reminding me of a whirlpool. Still, I had to do it.
I started out standing up, holding on to outward jutting rocks about chest level. Then those rocks kept jutting out farther and getting lower until I had to crawl under them. Before I reached a level place to stand next to the falls, there were places I had to stick my foot way back under the ledge to keep from sliding down into the hole.
The power of the water jetting out from the falls was incredible. I was standing right there beside it and thought that if I were to step out in front of it, it would just push me away.
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By the time I got back around to the camera I was shivering. My pants were soaked from snaking around on those rocks, and the waterfall created a strong wind. The place was visually stunning and I could have taken a hundred pictures, but all I wanted to do was get the heck out of there. So I packed up the camera and started to head downstream. After I passed several of the small waterfalls I turned around for another look, and I stopped. "I just gotta get that shot" I said out-loud, then took the backpack off for another tedious photo in the rain. I was so cold that first I ran in place real hard for a couple of minutes just to warm up!
It took me an hour to bushwhack the 600 yards back to the trail. I stayed in the woods away from the slick water slide unless the rock path beside it was wide and flat. For some reason the thought of falling in was scary. Realistically I should have just hopped right in the middle of it and followed it all the way down. I was soaking wet from the waist down anyway.
When I finally reached the Cecil Cove trail I took great pleasure in just ploughing through the creek at the crossing. One thing worth noting is that once I was across the big creek and was practically jogging toward the truck, I realized that a 20-foot waterfall splashing down a bluff and into the creek (I first noticed it on the hike in) was actually coming from the water slide stream below Thunder Canyon. I thought it was only fitting that such an awesome stream would go out in such style!
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