Discovering Stone Creek Anew

4 Min. Read
A waterfall spills over a ledge from a vibrant red rock canyon

The Case For Returning to the Same River Twice

“Heck yes!” Liz exclaimed as we crested the scout at Dubendorf Rapid to see that Stone Creek Camp was empty. “Maybe we can find that elusive third waterfall.”

“Wait. What?” I whipped around to face her. “There are three waterfalls? Where?” I asked, incredulous.

This was my fifth trip down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. I was lucky enough to have camped at Stone Creek three times before. The creek’s delta creates Dubendorf Rapid. On the downstream side of the delta, at the base of the rapid, is the Canyon’s largest beach. The big, inviting beach is only half the attraction. Right around the corner, a mere five-minute walk from camp, is a waterfall refuge. 

A group relaxes leisurely at Stone Creek Camp along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon
Stone Creek Camp along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. | Photo: Jasmine Wilhelm

Like most sources of water in the desert, it is magical. When the heat on the beach is palpable, the box canyon is an oasis: a tall cascading waterfall, abundant green ferns, vivid moss. Foliage abounds and mist hangs in the air. The notable temperature differential creates a mystical microclimate. It’s special in its own right — it’s indisputably beautiful. But the stunning and striking contrast to the surrounding desert adds to the awe. And it is brimming with memories: my favorite people, endless laughter, cool relief.

In all my visits to Stone Creek, I never once realized there were waterfalls beyond the box canyon. Standing above Dubendorf with Liz, jaw agape, I stared across the river into the side canyon with new curiosity. 

“There’s a trail,” Liz said simply. “On the right, before the first waterfall.” Suddenly I couldn’t get through Dubendorf fast enough. There was a canyon to explore and waterfalls to find.

In March, the valley above the first waterfall was green and red and shimmering. The sedges were still small, but the cacti were starting to bloom.

A small waterfall spills down a narrow canyon in Grand Canyon
A hike up Stone Creek in Grand Canyon leads to a series of picturesque falls. | Photo: Jasmine Wilhelm

Waterfalls were plentiful. Around each creek bend, I found myself wondering, Is this the second waterfall? I had to know, and my curiosity drove me forward. We scrambled up, through and around a number of show-stopping waterfalls. When we reached a richly red and lushly green alcove, I thought, This is it: the elusive third waterfall. We frolicked, laughing and marveling. But I just couldn’t shake the feeling I’d had when I first found the trail Liz mentioned. This whole time, there’s been a trail right here?, I’d thought to myself. I explored the valley in disbelief that this wonder had been right here, just out of reach. What else was I missing? What other secrets did this place hold? 

I stepped back and scanned the alcove. My eye kept snagging on a rock slide. “I’m just gonna see,” I told my friends lounging in the shade. “Just in case.” I scrambled up the slide and found a trail which took me above the falls. “C’mon!” I gleefully shouted, “There’s more!” Off I raced. 

The trail was more overgrown the farther we traversed. I walked fast, but the realization settled over me slowly: that wasn’t the third waterfall: it was the second. I could feel the third waterfall coming as I scrambled up a boulder jam. My jaw dropped and my hand covered my mouth as I tiptoed around the final curve. 

Speechless and immobile, I stared. 

A waterfall spills down in a hidden erd rock alcove along Stone Creek in Grand Canyon
A waterfall spills down in a hidden alcove along Stone Creek. | Photo: Jasmine Wilhelm

This place I thought I knew held more secrets than I could possibly have imagined. I thought I knew its beauty. I thought I had experienced its grandeur. It was vaster and deeper and more wonderful than I knew. 

It’s lovely to revisit places steeped in memory. The feelings flood back to me as I float past other markers of young adulthood. I remember sharing a camp at Soap Creek after the trip behind us flipped and needed help righting their boat. I hear my dad standing at the base of Deer Creek Falls whispering, “It just keeps getting better.” I feel the laughter at Fern Glen where Eric tried to learn how to backflip, but mostly belly flopped. At Parashant, I taste the homemade matcha cake and champagne that Cyrus hiked in for Britt’s birthday. I remember laughter-filled word games with Kyle and Casey on a windy stretch of Muav Gorge. I turned 32 at Salt Creek, I celebrated the 4th of July at Blacktail Canyon and Christmas at Separation. The canyon is a hallway of memories. 

I love revisiting these moments that mattered, that shaped me in significant ways. It is an unparalleled experience to return to a place you know and love, and learn it is even more than you once thought. 

Portrait of Jasmine Wilheim on the river

Jasmine Wilhelm

Jasmine Wilhelm is a high school English teacher, photographer, and river guide. An Idaho native, she spends her summers guiding for OARS Dories Idaho and feels blessed to guide on the rivers she learned to boat on.

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