Cape Girardeau to Commerce
Cape Girardeau and Scott counties, Missouri
Sunday, October 6
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
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!
The alien landscape of a Mississippi sandbar
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
Thebes railroad bridge
Exploring the rocks
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
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