Float #96: Meramec River

2 Apr

Bird’s Nest Park to Onondaga State Park

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Meramec River
Crawford County, Missouri
Sunday, March 30
18 Miles

At the start of every float season DW and I try to develop some general goals of the rivers we want to float in the coming year. Some of these include floating rivers we’ve never visited before or completing a whole river from mile zero to the end. This year we are contemplating finishing the entire Meramec. We have floated most of the river until it gets to St. Louis County, but I looked back over my blog posts and discovered this 18 mile stretch that was missing! Last Sunday was a warm and sunny day, so what better time than now to close up this gap?

This stretch of river is not far from our house, so we both drove to Onondaga State Park and dropped the truck there, then continued on to Bird’s Nest Park. It was a short drive of 12 miles between the two access points. Bird’s Nest Park is right across the river from the private campground of the same name. This is a public access maintained by the county and has no fees. We unloaded our gear and set off by 10am.

Old bridge at Bird's Nest

Old bridge at Bird’s Nest

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Taking a side channel

Taking a side channel

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The day started out chilly but warmed up fast. The weather was very warm in the sun and cold in the shade with a cool breeze. As soon as we hit the water I was ready to peel off a few layers of clothing! We paddled at a steady pace with few breaks. The sun goes down around 7pm this time of year and you never know how long it will actually take to float a new stretch of river. It turned out we could have gone a little slower because we tore through about 2/3 of the trip before lunch! This was our first long float of the year. My arms were tired the first half of the trip, but I soon warmed up and by the end of the trip I felt great!

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Saranac Spring branch

Saranac Spring branch

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We saw a juvenile Bald Eagle flying downstream ahead of us, but he didn’t stick around for a photo. We also saw a deer on the bank who thought he was hiding, but we could see him watching us float past. The turtles were out in full force, their backs still caked in mud, sunbathing on the logs and boulders.

About half way through the trip Saranac Spring flows into the river on the left side. We stomped around here for a few minutes, but the mouth of the spring appeared to be up far up a creek, so we didn’t stay too long. Lunch was taken on a small gravel bar next to a bluff. We stopped for about an hour and then we were off again to tackle the last part of the paddle.

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Turtle pile

Turtle pile

Bridge at Onondaga

Bridge at Onondaga

There are quite a few long, slow pools on this section and at times there was a headwind that made paddling a little more difficult. There are also many oxbows, so sometimes the wind was at our back, which is always nice! Many of the bluffs we passed appeared to have cave openings, but we didn’t have time to check them and see if they were caves or just holes in the rock.

A couple miles before our take out we passed the Huzzah Creek confluence on our right. There were another couple of kayakers with their kids enjoying the day and doing some fishing, which reminds me I need to renew my fishing license. We arrived at Onondaga around 4:30pm, completing our trip in a little over 5 hours of paddle time, not bad for the second trip of the year! We loaded our gear in the truck and headed back to Bird’s Nest to pick up the car and then home. We were back home with ample time to finish some chores, which is always nice for a Sunday float.

April will be busier as the float/camp season ramps up. Hopefully we will start to see some more rain, or we won’t be doing any creek floating this spring!

Critter Count: 1 Juvenile Bald Eagle, Herons, Ducks, Geese, Turtles, 1 Deer

Float #95: Big River

10 Mar

Blackwell to Washington State Park

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Big River
Washington County, Missouri
Sunday, March 9
8 Miles

Well, it has been a long break since DW and I last floated! The winter here has been brutally cold and most of our waterways were frozen over for months. I don’t think we have ever gone this long between trips. Our last float was at the end of December and here it is mid-March as we finally accomplished our first float of 2014. It felt so good to get back on the water and exercise those paddling muscles!

This trip we were joined by our good friend Jake from Nashville. He was in Missouri for a few days and met up with us for a float trip. Unfortunately he neglected to bring his kayak with him (rookie mistake). As a punishment for his oversight we loaned him Stable Mabel, our slowest boat, that we loan out to beginners.

We started our trip by trying to locate Blackwell Conservation area, which apparently is an access that no longer exists. We did find an access just off of Hwy. CC on the right side of the road just past the bridge. The access had some large limestone rocks that are standard MDC issue and there were no signs saying it was private or not to park, so we did. DW and Jake then ran the short shuttle down to Washington State Park to drop a car while I waited with the boats. They were back within 20 minutes. We were on the water by 1pm, perfect timing for a short afternoon float.

Readying our boats at Blackwell access

Readying our boats at the access

Blackwell bridge

Blackwell bridge

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The beginning of the float was slow-moving through a long pool of still water. We passed under the Hwy. CC bridge that replaced the old Blackwell bridge back in 2004. Blackwell is a tiny town that is known in the area for being haunted. The old Blackwell bridge was supposed to be haunted as well. The story is a county judge back in the time of the Civil War would hang people from that bridge. There are many stories floating around of ghost sightings and strange encounters in some of the old town buildings and the cemetery. A quick internet search for Blackwell, Missouri will result with many of these stories.

After we passed the bridge the slow water continued past a large grouping of private camp sites with shelters on the right bank. I imagine this area of the river is crowded on summer weekends with people swimming, fishing and camping. After the private camp the river picked up speed as the channel narrowed and the water went over some ripples.

DW floats through an obstacle, backwards

DW floats through an obstacle, backwards

RR bridge

RR bridge

Hwy 21 bridge

Hwy 21 bridge

We stopped for lunch on a small gravel bar in the middle of the river. There was a sycamore tree blocking most of the main channel, but there was a small area just big enough for a kayak or canoe to clear it. DW floated through it backwards because he always has to take the more difficult path. We spent about an hour over lunch basking in the warm sunlight, sheltered from the chilly breeze that accompanied us most of our float. After lunch we passed under an old railroad bridge and then a mile later we passed under Hwy. 21 bridge. Just after Hwy. 21 there was another access on the left that looked like it might belong to the state park, but it isn’t on the map.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe last mile or two of the trip we floated around a large oxbow as the sun began to get lower in the sky. Most of the way the sun was right in our eyes and the reflection off the water was almost as bright. The temperature started to drop as the shadows became longer. There were a couple more sections with deadwood obstacles that were fun to maneuver and we saw some small patches of ice that were left over from the last freeze.

We arrived at the state park access around 6pm. The boat access gate was closed for the winter so we had to carry our boats back to the main parking lot. We didn’t see anyone else on the river all day, though there were a few people on the banks enjoying the weather. It was a nice float to start the season and DW and I both felt refreshed to get back on the water.

Critter Count: Turtles, Hawks, Ducks, Kingfishers

Bonus Prize: One small, waterlogged air compressor that may or may not be salvageable

2013: Year in Review

30 Dec

2013 was an exciting year for us with many new stretches of river and a fun trip east to float some whitewater. Here is a look back at all we did in 2013.

Float Stats*

Number of trips in 2013: 33

Number of rivers floated: 20

Miles paddled: 411 (almost 100 miles more than last year!)

Best critter sighting: 2 muskrats on the Big Piney

Best bonus prize: Length of barge rope found on the Mississippi (it’s now our dogs’ favorite toy)

* these stats do not include DW’s MR340 trip

Best Photos

My favorite photo from each trip this year.

Big River

Big River in January

Mississippi River, Commerce Rock

Commerce Rock, Mississippi River

Courtois Creek

DW on Courtois Creek

Big River

A cloudy day on the Big River

Little Piney Creek

Easter weekend on Little Piney Creek

Huzzah Creek

A log jam portage on Huzzah Creek

Charlie runs a rapid on the Mineral Fork

Charlie runs a rapid on the Mineral Fork

Big Indian Creek

Floating the flood on Big Indian Creek

Meramec River

Meramec River

Flood rapids on Huzzah Creek

Flood rapids on Huzzah Creek

Current River

Current River

Council Bluff Lake

My niece Celia’s first float, on Council Bluff Lake

Jacks Fork River

Boats resting on the Jacks Fork

Gravel bar camping on the Big Piney

Gravel bar camping on the Big Piney

Current River

Upper Current River

Huzzah Creek

Upper Huzzah Creek

Meramec River

A tranquil August float on the Meramec

Me, Cynthia, DW, Chris and Jake rafting the Ocoee River like champs!

Me, Cynthia, DW, Chris and Jake rafting the Ocoee River like champs!

French Broad River

Jake and the Biltmore hotel on the French Broad River

Rafting the Pigeon River

Rafting the Pigeon River

Me shredding the gnar on Double Drop, Tuckasegee River

Me shredding the gnar on Double Drop, Tuckasegee River

DW paddles the falls on the Nantahala River

DW paddles the falls on the Nantahala River

Me and the Smoky Mountains, Fontana Lake

Me and the Smoky Mountains, Fontana Lake

Meramec River

Meramec River

Salt River

Salt River

A large Northern Red snake on the Eleven Point

A large Northern Red snake on the Eleven Point

Beachcombing on the Mississippi

Beachcombing on the Mississippi

Autumn on the Meramec

Autumn on the Meramec

Meramec River

Meramec River

Winter floating on the Meramec

Winter floating on the Meramec

Float #94: Meramec River

30 Dec

Robertsville State Park to Pacific

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Meramec River
Franklin County, Missouri
Saturday, December 28
11 Miles

Looks like that float in November wasn’t the last trip of the year after all! This past Saturday, DW and I did not have any plans and the weather was looking good with highs in the upper 50s and sunshine all day. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get one last float trip this year. It has been almost two months since our last trip, so we were suffering float withdraw! We dropped our truck at the Pacific Palisades access and drove to the boat ramp at Robertsville State Park; our boats were on the water by 10:15. The temperature was still rather chilly and I felt like a toddler in a snowsuit, all bundled up and hardly able to move.

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A Bald Eagle watches me from a sycamore

A Bald Eagle watches me from a sycamore

DW breaks up ice on Calvey Creek

DW breaks up ice on Calvey Creek

Approaching Fish Trap Rapid

Approaching Fish Trap Rapid

Fish Trap Rapid

Fish Trap Rapid

A couple of miles down from Robertsville is Calvey Creek, a large creek that comes in on the right side of the river. Just before the creek we saw a Bald Eagle flying upstream. He stopped in a sycamore overlooking the water and watched us float by. We saw another Bald Eagle, not far downstream from the first one. I noticed that Calvey Creek was still frozen over, so we paddled into it to break up some ice. Ice breaking is one of DW’s favorite winter activities. The ice was a couple of inches thick and broke off into large rafts. Just past Calvey Creek is a rocky riffle called Fish Trap rapid. There’s not much to it, but it does make for a fast little run on an otherwise flat and slow paddle.

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Erosion: it can happen to you

Erosion: it can happen to you

The perfect blue sky and calm water made for a lovely, relaxing day on the river. We saw a couple other people in john boats and several people on the riverbanks enjoying the sunshine, but we were the only paddlers. As we approached Catawissa we saw several river cabins. One of them had not been built on solid ground and was slowly tumbling into the water. Another flood or two and it will be washed downstream.

Approaching the railroad bridge

Approaching the railroad bridge

A train crosses the river

A train crosses the river

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Six miles from Robertsville is the Catawissa access. If you don’t know it’s there you will miss it, as there is no ramp or sign. Catawissa access is a lake that drains into the river on the right side. Directly after the access is the St. Louis – San Francisco Railroad bridge. As we passed under the bridge I heard a train horn, so we waited around for a few minutes as the train passed overhead. Three more miles downstream is the Hwy. F bridge in Pacific, a sign that our trip is almost over. There aren’t many gravel bars on the lower section of this float. There is a large gravel bar right before the bridge, but it is surrounded by houses and a lot of people; not a good spot for lunch.

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The bluff over Pacific

The bluff over Pacific

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We ended up eating our lunch just before we finished the float. There is a very small island between the highway bridge and where the river bends around Pacific. We stopped there and enjoyed our lunch. There were many deer tracks on this island. I don’t know why they would ford the river just to get to that island, there didn’t appear to be much food on it. I left them my apple core anyway.

A mile later we pulled up to the Pacific boat ramp, just as two other kayakers were putting on. It was only 3pm, so there was a couple hours of daylight left for a short float. These paddlers had a large black lab that rode on the back of one of the kayaks. That dog must be well-trained and the paddler must have good balance!

DW bought me a new camera for Christmas, a Olympus Tough. It is waterproof, so no more clunky waterproof camera housing for me! I took all of these photos with it and I think it did a great job. I’m really excited to put it to the test in the coming year. It was a good end to another year of excellent floating. Getting out on the water felt really good after such a long break and the river was beautiful. Now it’s time to crunch those numbers for the year in review!

Critter Count: Ducks, Geese, Herons, Kingfishers, Hawks, 2 Bald Eagles

Float #93: Meramec River

10 Dec

Red Horse to River Round

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Meramec River
Franklin County, Missouri
Saturday, November 9
15 miles

Just as winter began to set in we were blessed with one more warm Saturday with sunny weather and highs in the mid 60s. DW and I set out for a float trip close to home on the Meramec. We dropped the truck at the take out and drove the 10 minutes to our access at Red Horse. The first five miles of this float went by quickly, as the water is swift on that section of the river. As we approached the bend before the highway 30 bridge, the water becomes still and lake-like. Of course that was when the wind decided to pick up as well. It was hard paddling around that corner!

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Hwy. 30 bridge

Hwy. 30 bridge

We saw a large group of ducks on the slow water, there were probably at least 30. As we approached they all flew off down river until we met up with them again. After the Hwy. 30 bridge the water picks up a little bit. There is a large island on the left side of the river. Keep to the right as the left channel is shallow and often full of debris. There aren’t many gravel bars for the next five miles or so and most of the land on either side consists of steep banks and private properties.

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Most of the trees were bare, but the oaks were hanging on to their leaves for a little longer, as they usually do. We stopped for lunch on the first large gravel bar we saw and heated up some leftover chili on our backpacking stove. It was really comforting to have a hot meal on a chilly float trip. I will have to remember to take the backpacking stove more often! We saw lots of birds on this trip, including turkey, hawks and one Bald Eagle. We also saw a buck in the woods. He was busy chasing after a doe and didn’t even notice us!

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Bruns' bridge

Bruns’ bridge

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Eventually we passed under Bruns’ Bridge, an old iron bridge and a modern concrete one. After the bridge the river curves around a large oxbow. The driving distance from Bruns’ Bridge to River Round is less than a mile, but it is about 4 miles of floating. We arrived at our take out before dusk set in and we were back at our house before dark.

Unfortunately this is probably our last float trip of the year. It doesn’t look likely that we’ll be able to get out in December. The weather here is currently below freezing and isn’t going to warm up for the forseeable future. I prefer to have a high temperature of at least 45╦Ü to float! Perhaps after the holidays we’ll be able to get out on the water again. It has been a great year of floating with a lot of new trips. My next post will be the year in review, where I tally our miles and look back on the highlights of the past year.

Critter Count: Herons, Ducks, Turtles, Kingfishers, Hawks, Turkeys, 1 Bald Eagle, 1 Deer

Float #92: Meramec River

18 Nov

Onondaga State Park to Sappington Bridge

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Meramec River
Crawford County, Missouri
Monday, October 21
15 miles

This float was right in the peak of fall color for our area and what better place to enjoy it than the Meramec River. This section of the Meramec has many beautiful bluffs with some swift sections in the beginning and some slower pools near the end. Our good friend Aaron was in town from NYC, visiting relatives and we managed to meet up for a float trip. We drove to the access at Onondaga State Park and dropped our gear. Aaron and I stayed with the boats while our friend Mark helped DW run the shuttle. The day was cool and partly cloudy, but the sun came out a few times to warm us up.

Onondaga access

Onondaga access

Aaron get his riverlegs

Aaron get his riverlegs

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We didn’t see any other boaters that day, which is typical for a Monday. The first five miles of the float go by pretty quickly, as the water is swift in that section. As we floated past a small bluff I noticed a cave gate about 10 feet above the river bank, so I scrambled up to check it out. There was a sign identifying it as Saloon Cave. With a name like that, I imagine the cave must have some pretty nice formations. We also passed Campbell Bridge, which is another access five miles downriver from Onondaga.

Saloon Cave

Saloon Cave

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A hornet nest

A hornet nest

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While gazing upward at one of many tall bluffs I noticed a hornet’s nest in a tree, dangling over the water. I don’t see many of those. Luckily, the hornets were asleep. Around every turn there was another beautiful bluff topped with gorgeous fall foliage. We didn’t make many stops, as it was too cold to swim. On one bend of the river there was a herd of cows on the riverbank. The young ones had some fun running away and the older ones just looked at us and shambled off to the field.

Cows on the river

Cows on the river

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A cave high up in the bluff

A cave high up in the bluff

An old river cabin

An old river cabin

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Sappington bridge

Sappington bridge

One third of the way through the float we passed Blue Springs access. There is a spring here that flows into the river, but it is a bit of a hike up the spring branch to get to it. After Blue Springs the river slows down a lot and there are a few long pools that feel more like lakes. Eventually we reached our take out at Sappington Bridge, just as dusk was starting to fall. It was a nice float, though a bit chilly and we all had a lot of fun.

Critter Count: Herons, Hawks, Kingfishers, Turtles, Cows, 1 Hornet Nest

Float #91: Mississippi River

8 Nov

Cape Girardeau to Commerce

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Mississippi River
Cape Girardeau and Scott counties, Missouri
Sunday, October 6
14 miles

Early in October the Mississippi River was low enough to visit Commerce Rock again. We had first visited the rock in February and had been talking about going again with some other people who hadn’t seen it yet. DW and I were joined by our old friends, Jess and Richard, who both live in Cape Girardeau, but had never seen Commerce Rock out of the water. I did not take photographs of the rock this trip, since we captured it so well the first time. To see those photos and read about Commerce Rock, see Float #62: Mississippi River.

We met up at Red Star access early in the morning. Red Star is just north of the casino in Cape Girardeau. Richard and DW drove to Commerce and dropped our truck at the end, while Jess and I staged the boats and poked around on the shore. The water was a couple feet lower than it had been in February. I remember us thinking back then that we wouldn’t see it that low again for some time, yet here we were with the water even lower. There were some barges operating on the river; we didn’t see any last time. That was a new experience for me. I didn’t think they ran on Sundays, but maybe they were trying to get cargo upriver before the water level dropped any lower. DW and Richard returned after an hour and we were on the river shortly after 9am. There was a good breeze that day and the water was a little choppy. It was a much more difficult paddle than the last Mississippi trip!

Red Star Access

Red Star Access

Red Star Access

Cape Riverwalk

Cape Riverwalk

Cape Bridge

Cape Bridge

Looking back at Cape from a sandbar

Looking back at Cape from a sandbar

Our first stop was a large island just south of the bridge. Richard is one of our caving buddies and he is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to geology and fossils. We decided to walk around on the sandbars and see what we could find. The landscape of the Mississippi is so different from other rivers in Missouri. The sandbars stretch on forever, dotted with isolated pools of water, driftwood, barge debris, iron parts from steamships long gone and the skeletons of huge fish and birds. The sands are constantly shifting to bury new things and unearth the old. We stopped at a couple other sandbars along the way and found many shells of snails and mussels, a pelican skeleton, a large carp skeleton, a large bristle brush (still in good condition) and some old iron. We also found a 12ft. length of barge rope, which we brought home for our dogs. It is now their favorite toy!

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The alien landscape of a Mississippi sandbar

The alien landscape of a Mississippi sandbar

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Beachcombing

Beachcombing

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After we were done beachcombing we paddled on toward Thebes, where there is a railroad bridge that crosses the river and a large outcropping of rocks on the right side of the river. The wind really picked up in this stretch and it was difficult to paddle into it. The water was choppy, but the waves weren’t too high. It definitely could have been worse!

We spent some time exploring the rocks, looking for fossils and other interesting things. We found some nice colored river rocks, a piece of coal and some more old iron. There were also a bunch of fossilized coral on the large bedrock. They make an interesting pattern of small dots. Once it was pointed out we started to see it everywhere. After spending about 40 minutes on the rocks, we got back in our boats and paddled toward Commerce.

A docked dredging operation

A docked dredging operation

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Thebes railroad bridge

Thebes railroad bridge

Exploring the rocks

Exploring the rocks

Fossilized coral

Fossilized coral

Rocks near Thebes

Rocks near Thebes

I was able to find Commerce Rock right away, while DW, Jess and Richard were still poking around on the banks looking for it. I guess I have a good visual memory. The rock was well out of the water this time, and most of the mud had dried up a bit. Last time it was really soupy! I had brought a diagram of the rock with me to find some of the less obvious markings, such as deer tracks and a duck. We spent about an hour here looking at the rock and exploring around it. We climbed up on a large boulder to view the river and we watched a large tugboat push a bunch of barges upriver. It was really interesting to watch him steer the barges around a corner and between the buoys. The channel was really narrow, so it was a very tight fit.

A large tug pushes upstream

A large tug pushes upstream

Richard rides the barge swell

Richard rides the barge swell

After the tug passed us we returned to our boats and paddled the rest of the way to our take out. The tugboat left large waves in its wake that were still churning 10 minutes after it passed us. It was fun to paddle through those. We arrived at Commerce access and climbed up the muddy bank (there is no boat ramp here) with our boats to load them on the truck. After our float we stopped at the local Mexican restaurant for some post-paddle food. It was another excellent day on the river. Even though it was the same stretch of the Mississippi we had done before it almost felt like a completely different float!

Bonus Prizes: 1 large bristle scrub brush, 1 length of barge rope

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