Conor Watkins And J. David Rogers
Grand Canyon Research
Deer Creek

Deer Creek is well known among backpackers and river rafters for its scenic waterfalls and narrows incised by this spring fed tributary of the Colorado River.  Backpacker Magazine ranks the Deer Creek and Thunder River as one of the top backpacking destinations in North America.  Tourists visiting this scenic location have the Deer Creek Landslide to thank for the gorgeous scenery.  The Deer Creek Slide dammed Deer Creek and the Colorado River.  The Colorado breached the dam and diverted slightly to the south.  Deer Creek rerouted to a its present location, along the eastern margins of the blockage.

The older Cogswell West Slide (discussed in previous section) rerouted Deer Creek to the west before its course was changed again by the more recent Deer Creek Slide.

Deer Creek Narrows was carved into the Tapeats Sandstone when Deer Creek was diverted east of its former course. Deer Creek Falls represents the erosional nick point of a channel that is grossly out-of-equilibirum, carving downward to re-establish its equilibrium gradient with local base level (Colorado River).

Another view of the entrance to the Deer Creek Narrows showing slide debris filling the pre-slide channel at right.

Deer Creek drops over 186 feet to the Colorado River at its mouth.  In geologic terms, waterfalls are temporary features, soon to be worn away by running water and its abrasive sediment load.  As with the narrows, tourists can thank the Deer Creek Landslide for this feature.

Several small waterfalls and cascades are present within the Deer Creek Narrows, indicating that the stream is currently out-of-equilibrium in this area.

A large zone of seeps emerges from the downstream toe of the Deer Creek Landslide just to the west of Deer Creek Falls.  Prior studies by Peter Huntoon suggest that this water is being pirated from Deer Creek through alluvium and landslide debris filling the buried channel of proto Deer Creek.

Raft trips commonly stop at the base of Deer Creek Falls, where river
runners join backpackers in exploring Thunder River and Deer Creek.

The Deer Creek Landslide as it appears from the trail heading into Deer Creek from Surprise Valley.  This is only the east end of the slide complex which continues several kilometers downstream towards Cranberry Canyon.

This three picture mosaic shows compound slumps, which developed within the main Deer Creek Slide mass.

Deer Creek is filled with ancillary Quaternary deposits, such as these.  Some of these materials may have been deposited underwater, within the lake formed behind the landslide dam. 

An infilled graben formed at the headscarp of the Deer Creek Landslide.  This graben is coloquially termed the "Anasazi Stadium". It has been accumulating sediments and talus since its formation.   Anasazi Stadium is usually dry, but is filled with stratified fine-grained sediment, typical of intermittent ponds.  These sediments are currently being analyzed using paylnology.

Conor driving a soil auger into the surface of Anasazi Stadium to recover samples for palynology analysis.  The auger punched through these sediments very easily. This soil auger can only penetrate around 5.5 feet.  Sediments in the graben may have accumulated to a depth of 300 feet or more, but deeper sampling is not practical using hand tools carried to the site over rough terrain.

Secondary sliver slumps coming off the Deer Creek Landslide headscarp graben are partially buried in talus.  Similar slumps are also present behind the Fishtail and Surprise Valley Slide Complexes.

A small sinkhole has formed at the east end of Anasazi Stadium, suggesting that material is piping into voids within the underlying slide debris.  This sinkhole feature is obstructed by large blocks of talus that have fallen from the headscarp evacuation scarp, immediately above.

A smaller secondary graben has formed on the SE portion of the Deer Creek Slide Complex.  Although much smaller than the Anasazi Stadium feature, this graben also contains fine grained sediments that appear to be of lacustrine origin.

The secondary graben also contains a small sinkhole about 5 feet deep and 15 feet in diameter, indicating that fines are being piped into underlying voids within the slide mass.

The sinkhole within the secondary slide graben is not obstructed by talus. This allowed us to sample the fine grained sediments deeper than would have otherwise been possible.   Samples were taken in the side of this sinkhole to reach a depth of 8-9 feet below the surrounding surface.  These samples are currently being analyzed using palynology.

The face of the Deer Creek Slide is covered by large blocks of rock.  One must traverse this type of terrain to study most of the landslides in the Grand Canyon.

The main Deer Creek Landslide Block viewed from the west, where a considerable portion of slide material has been removed by erosion.  Back rotation of the displaced blocks is a typical feature of Toreva block landslides.  Note the secondary block at far right.

This wash through the Deer Creek Slide has carved through a small slide present in the Bright Angel Shale just above the Tapeats Sandstone.  Slides east of Deer Creek tend to fail above the Rampart Cave Member of the Muav Formation while those west of the creek often have portions failing both above and below the Rampart Cave Member.  The Deer Creek Slide has several portions such as this that failed below the Rampart Cave Member.

This view looking towards the Deer Creek Slide from the west shows two interesting features.  The buried channel of the Colorado River in the Tapeats Sandstone is visible in the lower left portion of this image.  Run-up deposits from the slide are visible on the south (right) side of the river.  The dark inclined layer is a portion of the Rampart Cave Member that has been displaced by the slide and deposited on the opposite side of the canyon.  This layer covers indurated slope wash that may be old colluvium.

Several smaller slides have slid down from Cogswell Butte and the saddle leading to Surprise Valley, both of which are just east of Deer Creek.  These slides are highly brecciated and have been cemented by travertine.

Closeup of travertine cemented slide debris east of Deer Creek along the trail heading from Surprise Valley into Deer Creek.

Questions or comments on this page?
E-mail Dr. J David Rogers at
or Conor Watkins at