Float #120: Buffalo River

26 Mar

Boxley to Kyle’s Landing

F120_Buffalo

Buffalo River
Newton County, Arkansas
Saturday, March 14
16 Miles

After hanging in camp during the all day rain on Friday, we awoke Saturday determined to paddle. The rain had slowed to an occasional sprinkle. The river was now a muddy brown and had risen to just below the banks. We left camp shortly after breakfast to scout Boxley access, get our car shuttle set up, and purchase some dry firewood. Everything looked good, the water was rocking, but didn’t look too dangerous and we talked to a couple other paddlers getting ready to put in at Boxley. We purchased a car shuttle from Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca and headed back to camp to gear up.

We donned our wetsuits (our best purchase this year) and the rest of our water resistant gear, packed a couple beers and headed back to Boxley. There were plenty of rolling waves on the first 6-mile section between Boxley and Ponca and the water was moving quickly. Within the first mile or so we came upon the people we had seen putting in while we were scouting. One of them had lost their boat and was stranded on a small island in the middle of the river. Their paddling companion was just downstream with the runaway boat, so DW towed her down to them. We figured they must have been waiting for someone to come by for a while!

High water at Boxley bridge

High water at Boxley bridge

Buffalo RiverBuffalo River

Waterfall

Waterfalls

The water was a  bit technical and reminded me a lot of the Nantahala in Tennessee. Of course, there is no time to snap photos while paddling the waves, so I was only able to get shots of the calm waters between rapids. Some of the waves were pretty big and one of them went over my head and soaked me completely. Thank goodness I had that wetsuit! My touring paddle was nearly useless for water this fast. It felt like I was just sticking a toothpick in the waves and couldn’t steer as well as I needed to. DW had brought his whitewater paddle and let me use it. What a difference that made! I’m going to make sure I bring my whitewater paddle along for any spring floats from now on.

Ponca bridge

Ponca bridge

Buffalo RiverBuffalo RiverWe soon arrived at Ponca bridge, which we had to portage as the water was not over the bridge, but it was pretty close. There were a lot of people there checking out the river and a few paddlers thinking about putting on. After Ponca bridge the river was much calmer and the few waves we paddled through were not too big. Two miles down from Ponca is Steel Creek campground, so we stopped at our camp to have lunch and warm up a bit. I debated staying at camp because I was a little chilly and tired from the rough water, but the sun poked out of the sky just enough to convince me to continue the rest of the trip. As we put back on the water we encountered some locals who were enjoying the whitewater. They shared some whiskey with us and some good conversation.

Every bluff we passed had numerous waterfalls that were very pretty, but the river was moving so quickly I didn’t have much time to photograph. We soon came to a few more rapids and one nice little drop, where I took on a little bit of water and pulled over to bail. While bailing, another couple paddled up in a tandem kayak with no skirts. They had a look of inexperience about them, so DW talked with them a bit. They asked us where the “hard part” of this section was. As we’ve never paddled this section in high water we didn’t know what they were referring to, but we would soon find out.

There were a few miles between Steel Creek and Kyle’s Landing where around every bend there was a solid line of whitecapped waves. It wasn’t as hard as the Boxley section because the river is wider and there is more room to maneuver and take a different line out of the big waves if needed. I think the waves were just as big though. DW had lots of fun riding the rollers and I did too, though I didn’t hit them quite as hard as he did.

Buffalo RiverBuffalo River

Kyle's Landing

Kyle’s Landing

There were several bluffs along the way that we recognized as we flew past, but everything looked so much different with high water! We soon reached our take out at Kyle’s and pulled off the river with that tired, satisfied feeling you get after a challenging paddle. We had paddled the 8 miles between Steel Creek and Kyle’s in 1 hour and 40 minutes. There was an outfitter waiting to pick up a couple rafts at the access, and he said we were 10 minutes slower than the fastest time he had heard of that day. If I hadn’t stopped to bail my boat we probably would’ve beat that time!

We loaded our gear and changed out of our wet clothes and headed back to camp to a well deserved fire and a hot meal. If we had known it was going to rain that much we would’ve brought our whitewater boats and left the dog at home, but it was pretty entertaining as is. We learned that wetsuits are your best friend and always pack your whitewater paddle in the spring! This was a fun Buffalo trip, despite the rain and I look forward to coming back next spring to do it again.

Float #119: Buffalo River

25 Mar

Kyle’s Landing to Pruitt

F119_Buffalo

Buffalo River
Newton County, Arkansas
Thursday, March 12
13 Miles

DW and I have been wanting to do a spring trip on the Buffalo for a while, so we took a few days off work and headed down there for a little “spring break” paddling. When we left on Wednesday morning the weather was forecast to be warm, with rain on Thursday night and maybe Friday morning. Instead it started raining Thursday afternoon and didn’t stop until Saturday. So, we got some unexpected whitewater in this trip too (which is covered in the next post). We arrived at Steel Creek campground late Wednesday afternoon and set up camp. There were only a few spots taken, which is a nice change from the usual crowded campgrounds of late spring and early summer. The next day we drove down to Kyle’s Landing and purchased a car shuttle from Buffalo Canoe to drop our car at Pruitt. As we put on the river the sky was partly cloudy, but that didn’t last more than a couple hours before the clouds dominated the sky.

Kyle's Landing

DW and Ocoee ready the boats at Kyle’s Landing

Buffalo RiverBuffalo River

Look at that beautiful water!

Look at that beautiful water!

This is the first time we’ve floated the Buffalo with a decent water level. Usually we are scraping and cursing our way down the river. The water was also that unique milky turquoise color that can only be found in the Ozarks. It was by far the prettiest water I’ve seen in a while. All the sections that we usually scrape over were transformed into fast ripples and waves. Ocoee (our dog) rode the back of my kayak and fell off on the first fast section, but he soon gained his footing and was a champ through the rest of the trip.

Buffalo RiverBuffalo River

Elk on the river bank

Elk on the river bank

The trip went by pretty quickly, as the river was flowing at a good pace, about 3 miles per hour. We paddled past numerous towering bluffs, some with small waterfalls trickling over the edge. There were a few hints of green in the forest with some small plants popping up. Spring is almost ready to bloom! We saw the usual birds and turtles along the way and we also got to see an elk. There are a lot of elk living in the Buffalo river basin, but we don’t often see them as we paddle by, so that was pretty cool.

Buffalo RiverBuffalo RiverA mile or two above our takeout at Pruitt it started to sprinkle on us and that was the beginning of 48 hours of non-stop rain. We took out at Pruitt around 4:30pm, loaded our gear into our car and began the drive back to Steel Creek. We only made it a couple miles before we came to a traffic jam. A tractor-trailer had somehow driven the cab off the shoulder of the road and was blocking traffic both ways. We sat there for about 20 minutes as two tow trucks righted the tractor trailer and cleared the scene. No one was hurt and the truck drove away, slightly bruised. It was a good reminder to take it slow on those super curvy mountain roads! On Friday it rained all day long. We were going to paddle if the rain let up for a bit, but every time it slowed down it would ramp up again a few minutes later. Plus it was kinda chilly and there is nothing I hate more than being wet AND cold. We just milled around camp all day, playing cards, reading and being generally bored. We did paddle on Saturday as the weather was warmer and the river was up quite a bit.

Critter Count: Hawks, Kingfishers, Turtles, 1 Elk

Float #118: Osage Fork

25 Mar

Rader Conservation Access to County Rd. J-687

F118_Osage

Osage Fork River
Webster & Laclede Counties, Missouri
Saturday, March 7
4 Miles

I did not go on this trip, so this post was written and photographed by DW.

We started our day out by evaluating an old dump site on the Osage Fork of the Gasconade for cleanup prior to the upcoming NSS Caving Convention. Once our morning volunteer work was done, Richard and I went in search of a feasible access to the upper Osage Fork. We first scouted the J road bridge at mile marker 9.0 and that was too soft to consider parking, though the water was flowing quite nicely there encouraging the opportunity for upstream access. We continued on J to Morgan and headed down J-687 (Orchid Dr.) to the low water bridge and found that there was no parking near the bridge, but that parking did appear available for a limited number of vehicles just north of the bridge, so we dropped one vehicle off at mile marker 4.3 and continued to Rader Conservation Access to check that out. The access requires you to hand carry the boats and gear down, but is fairly easy to access and only about 20 yards of distance from the parking lot to the river.

The water looked to be flowing nicely at the access so we put on and started our paddle. The upper Osage Fork is much smaller than the lower parts we have done in the past. It is much like a small Ozark creek in nature with a narrow width, clear water, pretty Ozark gravel bottom, and plenty of little twists and turns. As we paddled along we noted a couple of eagles and a heron.

Rader Conservation access

Rader Conservation access

Osage Fork

Ice on the river

Ice on the river

Shortly into the trip we found some iced in coves and played around breaking the ice, an activity I find fun. We broke off some big ice chunks and sent them down river. We did this on a few bends. While Richard was exploring and taking some photographs, I paddled up Panther creek to see what it was like. It was a nice small creek still with decent flow. There was a bluff pocked with a few erosion holes and an animal trail leading to one of them. I paddled back down to find Richard had pushed onward.

Low water bridge at County Rd. 107

Low water bridge at County Rd. 107

Osage Fork

I paddled downstream and found Richard as we reached a low water bridge about an hour into the 4.3 mile float on County Rd. 107 (Auburn Rd.). The water was moving sufficiently to go under the bridge without much issue, albeit it fairly tight fitting with the water levels we had on this day. On the downstream side of the bridge the water constricted through it, making for some fun little waves to go play in. Naturally, I went to play and surf for a while and Richard portaged around the bridge. After a few runs of surfing and wave play, I parked next to the rapid and waited for Richard. For some reason, probably because of my adventurous nature, I took one last run at the rapid and at a poor angle. While I tried to recover my boat from a full flip, I just fell out and swam the boat and myself to shore. Being a 50 degree day I immediately removed as many of my soaking wet layers as possible and started drying them in the sun. While I was having my swimming lesson, Richard was having issues negotiating the portage and also took a swim. So we both had a good laugh and the cold refreshing feeling one gets when taking a dip in a cold Missouri waters. I maintained that refreshing tingle for hours after my swim.

Osage Fork

Access at the J-687 Bridge

Access at the J-687 Bridge

By the time we were getting warmed up from our swim the next low water bridge approached. Richard changed in to dry clothes while I picked up trash, and we then ran our shuttle. While completing the shuttle, we both determined this would be fun to do with more water if a better access can be located above the 28.7 mile marker.

Critter Count: Bald Eagles, Herons, Kingfishers, Turtles

Float #117: Osage Fork

26 Feb

Long Ford to Dry Knob

F117_Osage

Osage Fork River
Laclede County, Missouri
Sunday, February 8
10 Miles

For one glorious weekend in the beginning of February the weather warmed up to nearly 70˚. It was a nice break from the below freezing temps, so we headed west to get in a float trip before the weather turned cold again. We decided to float the Osage Fork, a river that doesn’t get much love with all the other floating options in the area. The Osage is a smaller river that doesn’t boast the grand scenery of the Big Piney or the Niangua, but it is a good option for a winter paddle. We met up with our friend Tommy and his son in their aluminum canoe and our friend Richard in his kayak. Ocoee came along too, but he is getting a little big for sitting in the cockpit of my boat, so I made him ride on the back.

We met up around 10am at the Long Ford access at the Hwy. B bridge. Long Ford is a gravel bar conservation access with a small gravel parking lot. While we waited for Richard to arrive DW cleaned up a bunch of litter and Ocoee did his part by eating some hot dogs he found by a recently used campfire. DW and Tommy ran shuttle down to Dry Knob (Hwy. 32 bridge), which took about 45 minutes round trip. We set off around 11:30 on a gorgeous, sunny day. The water was still very cold, but also very clear. There were a few low spots that the canoe had trouble getting through, but I never had to portage the kayak.

Hwy. B access

Long Ford access

Ocoee is ready to go

Ocoee is ready to go

Osage ForkOsage ForkOsage ForkWe have floated the Osage Fork once before, downstream from Dry Knob. I think this section is much nicer, with more bluffs and tighter turns and ripples. There are several very small springs along this stretch as well. It was very easy to find them in the winter with no vegetation in the way.  One drawback to the Osage is that it has several cow fields that access the river, so you will probably run into some cows on your trip. We did the first time we floated the Osage and we saw several of them this time as well.

Cows watch us warily

Cows watch us warily

Looking down at the river from a spring

Looking down at the river from a spring

Osage ForkOsage Fork

Old iron bridge

Old iron bridge

There was a lot of wildlife out on the river since the weather was so warm. Several turtles had crawled out of the mud to sunbathe and we saw many birds, including hawks and eagles. DW saw a beaver running along the bank and we saw plenty of the chewed tree trunks they had been working on.

DW explores a hole in the wall

DW explores a hole in the wall

Osage Fork

Ocoee rides the back of my boat

Ocoee rides the back of my boat

Osage ForkWe also saw several holes in the bluffs that could have been caves, and one that definitely was a cave, though it didn’t go back too far. There weren’t too many obstacles on this stretch besides the occasional tight turn and one tree that had recently fallen across the channel. DW spent a few minutes trimming back the branches so we had a path through it. However, my boat got spun around at exactly the wrong time and I ended up going backwards through the tree, which is always fun. Ocoee did a good job of riding on the back of my boat and he only fell off once. I made a quick maneuver of the back end to avoid hitting a fallen tree trunk and Ocoee did not move with me. DW was right behind me and scooped him out of the water. Ocoee wasn’t even wet to the skin thanks to his Labrador coat.

Osage ForkOsage Fork

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Osage Fork

Upstream from Dry Knob access

We saw a trio of adult Bald Eagles and one juvenile about half way through our trip and they flew downstream just ahead of us the rest of the way. Around every third bend or so we would see them again. We arrived at our take-out around 4:30, packed up our gear and ran shuttle. By then time we were done with that it was dark and time to make the long trek home. I really enjoyed this stretch of the Osage. It has just enough challenges and scenery to keep it interesting, yet still relaxing and fun. It was a good weekend and a relief to get outdoors in some nice weather. It has been too cold to paddle since then, but we’re hoping things will pick up in March.

Critter Count: Turtles, Ducks, Kingfishers, 1 Juvenile Bald Eagle, 3 Adult Bald Eagles, Hawks, 1 Osprey, 1 Beaver

Float #116: Meramec River

26 Jan

Castlewood State Park to George Winter County Park

F116_Meramec

Meramec River
St. Louis County, Missouri
Sunday, January 18
11 Miles

Our first float of the year kicked off on a warm weekend in January. We floated the next section of the Meramec down from Castlewood State Park, which is where we left off last year. Our friends Richard and Jake joined us for this stretch. After this float we only have one section of the Meramec left that we have never done.

We met up at Castlewood around 10:30am. DW, Richard and Jess ran shuttle while Ocoee and I waited with the boats. Ocoee got to say hello to lots of dogs and kids, so he wasn’t too bored with the wait. We set off shortly before noon with sunny skies, a slight breeze and mild temperatures.

Putting in at Castlewood

Putting in at Castlewood

Meramec River

Chocolate Milk Stout: Winter's Kayaking Beer

Chocolate Milk Stout: Winter’s Kayaking Beer

Hwy. 141 Bridge

Hwy. 141 Bridge

There are a lot of bridges on this stretch. The first one we crossed under is Hwy. 141. There is a gravel bar on the left side that makes a swift curve and a nice little rapid leading up to the bridge. It was the only swift water we encountered on this stretch. DW headed straight for the wave and got soaked (of course)! Luckily it wasn’t too cold so he was fine.

Meramec RiverMeramec RiverMeramec River

Floating is such hard work!

Floating is such hard work!

We stopped for lunch on a bank that was covered with flat rocks (and ice). Many of the rocks had fossilized shells in them, so we spent a while looking for some cool fossils and enjoying the sunshine. When we finished lunch it was about 2pm and we decided to actually paddle for a bit instead of just floating along with the current. With the days being shorter in winter you really can’t dawdle too much if you want to get off the water before dark.

I-44 Bridges

I-44 Bridges

Meramec RiverMeramec RiverMeramec RiverThe river takes a right hand turn just before running under interstate 44. This section of water was slower and wider than the previous few miles. Though you can see the bridges right away it takes a little while to actually get there, as the distance is longer than it looks. Then it is another long, slow mile or two to reach the Hwy. 30 bridge in Fenton. Immediately after that is the Fenton city bridge. There are a lot of houses and some businesses right along the river in Fenton, but it soon gets a little more woodsy after you pass the city. We saw a couple of large flocks of geese right before we got to our takeout. Ocoee perked up a bit when they took flight, but he didn’t let it disturb his lounging too much.

Pulling in to Winter Park

Pulling in to Winter Park

Icebreaking to the takeout

Icebreaking to the takeout

Richard walks on (frozen) water.

Richard walks on (frozen) water.

George Winter County Park is on the right side of the river just after you pass Fenton. There is a small lake that feeds into the river. DW mentioned that the lake was kinda frozen when he dropped the truck there in the morning, but he thought the sun should have mostly melted it by now (ha, ha)! Of course it was still pretty frozen. DW and Richard decided to try and break through the ice with their boats. Jess and I drug our boats along the edge of the lake, which was about 6 inches of boot-sucking mud between the ice and some scrubby trees. I don’t know which option was better as we arrived at the boat ramp about the same time. Although I was much more muddy.

Just as I pulled my boat up the ramp, Ocoee decided to walk on the ice right on the edge of the water and of course he fell in. He was only in the water for a second, as he quickly leaped out onto the boat ramp. Lucky for him he has labrador fur and didn’t seem too fazed by the cold.

The sun was just beginning to set as we exited the park and headed back to Castlewood to get Jess’ car. This float was pretty uneventful, but it felt good to get one more section of the Meramec off our checklist. The only section we have yet to do leads into the Mississippi, so that will hopefully be a little more interesting.

Critter Count: Ducks, Geese, Hawks

2014: Year In Review

30 Dec

2014 was not as prolific for float trips as past years, due to a busy work schedule, a very cold winter (we didn’t start floating until March) and construction on our house. However, we still managed to get out on the water plenty. We actually floated more miles than recorded on this blog, but some trips had been blogged too many times previously, so I didn’t count them. Our main goal for 2014 was to float new sections we hadn’t done before. Twelve out of our twenty trips this year were new, so I think we achieved our goal!
Here is a look back what we did in 2013.

Float Stats

Number of trips in 2014: 20 (12 of them new to the blog)

Number of rivers floated: 12

Miles paddled: 228

Best critter sighting: Trumpeter Swans on Lake Itasca

Best bonus prize: Water gun, found on the Big Piney

Best Photos

My favorite photo from each trip this year.

DW floats through an obstacle, backwards

DW floats through an obstacle, backwards – Big River, MO

Meramec River, MO

Meramec River, MO

The group stops at Green's Cave - Meramec, MO

The group stops at Green’s Cave – Meramec River, MO

Looking out from a cave - Jack's Fork River, MO

Looking out from a cave – Jack’s Fork River, MO

Train crossing - Elk River, MO

Train crossing – Elk River, MO

Flat Creek, MO

Flat Creek, MO

Little Piney Creek

Little Piney Creek, MO

Big Piney River

Big Piney River, MO

Eleven Point River

Turner Mill Spring – Eleven Point River, MO

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca, MN

Mississippi River

Upper Mississippi River, MN

Mississippi River

Looking upriver at the dam – Mississippi River, MN

Mississippi River

Caught in a downpour – Mississippi River, MO

Two Bald Eagles watch from a tree - Niangua River, MO

Two Bald Eagles watch from a tree – Niangua River, MO

Meramec River, MO

Meramec River, MO

Illinois State Champion Cypress Tree, 1000 years old - Cache River, IL

Illinois State Champion Cypress Tree, 1000 years old – Cache River, IL

Float #115: Cache River

2 Dec

Lower Cache River Trail

F115_Cache

Cache River
Johnson County, Illinois
Friday, November 28
7 Miles

The Cache River State Natural Area is one of the northernmost cypress wetlands in the country. Located in southern Illinois near the Ohio River, it is only an hour drive from Cape Girardeau, MO. This Thanksgiving weekend we met up with our friends from Cape who were in town for the holiday and paddled this awesome wetland area. The Cache River includes lots of unique flora and fauna (although we didn’t see much of it in the winter) and massive cypress trees, some of which are 1,000 years old. These trees were saplings at the dawn of the Mississippian Indian culture and fully grown trees by the time Christopher Columbus arrived in the western hemisphere. Pretty cool!

DW and I met up with everyone around 10am at the Lower Cache River access. There is no need to shuttle for this float as the river current is so slow you can easily paddle both directions. The day was chilly, but the sun was out so that helped a lot. It was supposed to warm up to 50˚, but I don’t think it ever got out of the mid 40s.

We pushed off from the boat ramp and paddled our way over to see the champion cypress tree. There is a canoe trail through the wetland area that is well-marked with directional signage, so it was easy to navigate and not get completely lost.

Lower Cache River Access

Lower Cache River Access

Cache River

Illinois State Champion Cypress Tree, 1000 years old

Illinois State Champion Cypress Tree, 1000 years old

Cache River

We all hung out around the 1,000-year-old cypress for a little bit, gawking at the size of it. For such an old tree it is in very good shape. Most old trees growing on land around here aren’t much more than 300 years old and they usually have parts of the crown missing or some other damage. I couldn’t see any real damage on this tree at all. We then paddled a bit farther into the swamp, over to a pond that is home to an 850-year-old cypress that has over 200 knees (the knobby roots that stick out of the water), the largest over 11 feet tall!

Cache River

Cache River

Cache River

An 850 year old Cypress with lots of knees

An 850- year-old Cypress and it’s 200 knees

We left the pond and paddled out of the swamp area and into the main channel of the Cache River. The current was so slow that at a glance, you can’t really tell which way is downstream. We paddled up to a small bridge crossing the water and stopped on the bank to eat our lunch. After finishing our meal we paddled back the other direction. The river channel soon became much smaller and there were multiple logs just under the surface of the water. We were able to shove over them, but soon turned around as they were getting more numerous and the day was getting late.

Cache River

Paddling in the main river channel

Paddling in the main river channel

Cache River

Cache River

We paddled back to the swamp area and quickly found a sign with an arrow that pointed us back to the access. It wasn’t too long before we arrived at the parking area and loaded up our gear. This float was a unique experience and something I would love to do again in different seasons of the year. Although I hear it gets pretty buggy in mid-summer, so maybe not then!

Critter Count: Ducks, Geese

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