Float #137: Big Creek

15 Jul

Hwy. 143 to Sam A. Baker State Park

F137_BigCreek

Big Creek
Iron & Wayne Counties, Missouri
Sunday, July 11
10 Miles

Big Creek has been on our list for a while, but it’s one of those trips we never seem to get around to. It is a fairly large creek/small river that confluences with the St. Francis River. It has a couple sections of shut-ins that make for fun, casual whitewater when the river is flowing good. It’s not nearly as technical as the whitewater portions of the St. Francis, but it’s still fun. Big Creek is rain dependent for the most part, so it is usually only floatable in the spring when there is a lot of water. We got lucky and had a big rainstorm a few days before which bumped the water level up enough to make it feasible. Our friends Jake and Jess had paddled Big Creek on the Thursday before and they convinced us to come along and paddle it before the water dropped too low. I think we just barely made it, any lower and we would’ve had to portage the shut-in sections. You don’t want to float this creek much lower than 2ft. at the gauge.

Accompanying DW and me on this little adventure were our brother-in-law Henry, our friends Jake and Jess, and our friend Rob, his three kids, and his girlfriend Crystal. We put in around noon at the Hwy. 143 access in Des Arc, MO. This is not an official conservation access, but it is fairly popular with locals and there are no problems with parking your vehicle there.

Big Creek

Hwy. 143 bridge access

Big Creek

Big Creek

Big Creek

Two miles from the Hwy. 143 access is a low-water bridge. There was just enough water for the kayaks to scrape over, but DW and the canoe had to portage. Somewhere above the bridge Jake saw a beaver swim directly beneath his kayak. That was a cool experience! Three miles from the access the first shut-ins begin. The first shut-in section is technical because you have to do a lot of maneuvering, but it is not dangerous. There were a couple of boat flips all the same.

Big Creek

The shut-ins begin

Big Creek

Jake & Brianna surf some rapids

Big Creek

Henry makes a run

Big Creek

Jake works the gnar

Big Creek

DW wrangles the canoe through a garden of boulders

After everyone finished playing in the rapids (or bailing water from their boat) we headed downstream. About a mile down from the first shut-ins is an old bridge and a few cabins. The next set of shut-ins is right after that bridge. The water in Big Creek is crystal clear and you can see all the way to the bottom. We saw quite a few big smallmouth bass hiding out in the deep pools. This would be an excellent river for fishing if you have some time to kill.

Big Creek

Big Creek

Big Creek

The old bridge near Brunot

Big Creek

More rocks!

Big Creek

Rob shoots the rapid

Big Creek

Brianna rocks it!

Big Creek

DW shows off his paddle skills

Big Creek

Another successful run for the canoe

After this second set of shut-ins there are a few boulders strewn here and there, but nothing to make much of a rapid. The water slows down quite a bit as you near the state park. There are several beautiful swimming/fishing holes and gravel bars that look excellent for camping. We also paddled by quite a few rock slide areas and a few bluffs.

Big Creek

Big Creek

Big Creek

Big Creek

Sam A. Baker state park access

We arrived at the state park access around 5:30. Everyone felt pretty well exercised by the end. Dodging those boulders is a lot of work! I can’t wait to get back to this stream when the water is higher and there is more action on the shut-ins. We had an excellent time, as usual!

Critter Count: 1 Beaver, Herons, Kingfishers, Hawks, Turtles

Float #136: Black River

2 May

Lesterville Conservation Access
to Hwy. K Bridge

F136_Black

Black River
Reynolds County, Missouri
Saturday, April 23
13 Miles

The Black River has been on my list to revisit for a couple years now. We don’t go there very often, as it is usually very crowded in the summer and there are so many other, more exciting options to float in the spring. However, this year my sister’s family bought a canoe and we’ve been doing some easy float trips to get them and their two young children out on the water and familiar with paddling. This stretch of the Black River is an excellent choice for inexperienced paddlers and children. There are no obstacles, the river is fairly wide for an Ozark stream and there is not a lot of gradient.

We met up with my sister Emily, her husband Henry and their two kids Celia and Silas at Lesterville Access. The access used to be right on the water, but the river has since changed course. It is now about a 1/3 mile walk to get to the water. Just head upstream in the dry channel and you will eventually get to the river. While DW and Henry drove the shuttle down to Hwy. K Recreation Area, Emily and I searched for the closest route to the water and carried some things down to the bank. After DW and Henry returned we carried the boats to the river. Emily and Henry have a 19′ aluminum canoe they named “Marge the Barge”. She is a heavy lass to portage, but has plenty of room for the whole family, their gear, and a dog!

Black River

Marge the Barge sets off

Black River

Black River

Black River

I think this is the perfect time of year to float the Black River. The scenery was not dramatic, but still pretty. We didn’t see anyone else on the water, even though it was a Saturday. The river was so clear, and very cold! I took a dip a few times and it felt nearly as frigid as the Eleven Point. Celia couldn’t get enough of being in the water every time we stopped. Near the end of our break we had to drag her out because she was turning blue!

Black River

Black River

Black River

Black River

Black River

We saw plenty of turtles and herons on this trip. We also saw a juvenile Bald Eagle and one adult. There wasn’t a lot of trash to pick up, but DW and I snagged some excellent bonus prizes. I found a nice little soft-side cooler that had a bottle opener, camping knife, 4 sparkling waters and one Schlafly IPA! Free craft beer on the river is a rare occurrence and I felt truly blessed by the river gods. I drank my find with my lunch and it was delicious. DW found a situpon cushion, which was great, because he forgot to bring the one he usually uses for a backrest in his kayak.

Emily and Henry did well on their first trip in the new canoe. The kids had a great time paddling too. They each have their own kid-size paddles and they get to propel the boat in the flat water. When approaching a turn or ripple they pull their paddles into the boat and yell “Marge the Barge, Charge!” It’s so cute and they have a blast. Marge the Barge is pretty fast once she gets going.

Black RiverBlack River

Black River

Black River

Hwy. K bridge

We arrived at Hwy. K in the late afternoon and loaded everything into Henry’s truck to shuttle back up to the put-in. This was a super easy float; I didn’t have to really paddle much except to steer around the turns. We all had a great day on the water. The next day DW and I did a leisurely float on the Courtois. We’ve done that float a thousand times, so I won’t be blogging it again, but it was nice to relax with friends and to float two different streams over the weekend.

Critter Count: Turtles, Herons, Hawks, 1 Juvenile Bald Eagle, 1 Adult Bald Eagle

Bonus Prizes: 1 situpon cusion, 1 lunch box, 1 bottle opener, 1 camp knife, 4 sparkling waters, 1 craft beer

Float #133 – 135: Buffalo River

8 Apr

Ponca to Hasty

F133_Buffalo

Buffalo River
Newton County, Arkansas
Friday, March 25 – Sunday, March 27
31 Miles

Our annual Easter weekend float trip this year was to the Buffalo River in Arkansas. We try to get to the Buffalo every spring and due to water levels and weather it is a completely different trip every time. This year was perfect! The water level was high enough to cover all the rocks we usually scrape our boats on and the weather was mild with no rain. If you recall last year’s trip, there was a lot of rain and high water, which made for a bit of a white-knuckle experience.

We left our house Thursday afternoon and arrived in Jasper, AR late that evening. We crashed in one of the tiny motels that night and woke up to a bright and crisp morning. Our friend Jake from Nashville met up with us and we all walked over to the Ozark Cafe for an excellent breakfast before running Jake’s van down to the takeout and purchasing a car shuttle for our vehicle from Buffalo River Canoe. We then drove up to Ponca and unloaded all our gear and reorganized everything into our boats. Jake and I paddled our trusty Liquid Logic and Dagger kayaks, while DW and our dog Ocoee manned our Old Town canoe. We pushed off around 11am for a fantastic day on the water.

Buffalo River

Jake is ready to get this trip started

Buffalo River

DW and Ocoee

Buffalo River

Looking out at the river from the mouth of a cave

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

The section between Ponca and Steel Creek has some nice, choppy runs that made for splashy fun at this water level. DW and I couldn’t help but think back to last year’s trip when these fun little splashes were huge, rolling waves. We saw a cave opening in a bluff and pulled over to stick our heads in the entrance. It was a peaceful spot with a nice view of the river from the mouth of the cave.

Buffalo River

DW steers through the ripples at Steel Creek

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

The next section of river between Steel Creek and Kyle’s Landing is one of the most popular on the Buffalo. There are many tall bluffs and beautiful scenery around every bend. At the Steel Creek access there is a small shelf rapid that can be kind of tricky for inexperienced paddlers. Jake and I made it through fine, and then we watched DW maneuver the canoe through. Of course he made it look easy!

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Jim’s Bluff

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Hemmed In Hollow Falls

Just after Jim’s Bluff there is a hiking trail that leads to Hemmed In Hollow where there is a 225 ft. waterfall (the tallest between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains). The hike is short and not difficult, so it is well worth the stop. It is best to catch the waterfall within a couple days of rainfall, otherwise it is just a drip. We were lucky enough to be there at the right time and there was a nice flow. Every other time I’ve been it was too dry.

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Our campsite Friday night

A few hours after our stop at Hemmed In Hollow we started looking for a campsite. We found a nice one with a big gravel bar across from a large bluff. The gravel bars on the Buffalo tend to have larger stones than gravel bars on Missouri Ozark streams. Thus, we set up our tents at the edge of the forest where there is nice soft soil to sleep on. However, being in the woods means there are more nocturnal creatures roaming around at night, sniffing at your tent! DW and I woke up several times that night to the sound of some four footed beasts rustling around. One instance they were very close and DW had to yell at them to “go on, git” and they stomped off. Ocoee did not prove to be much of a guard dog. He was silent the entire time and soon snuggled up with us. I guess he knew they were bigger than him! In the morning we noticed lots of tracks and spots where the ground had been rooted up, so at least some of those noises we heard were razorback hogs. Exciting (eek)!

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

A small waterfall

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

The second day of our trip was just as sunny and beautiful as the first. We set out at a leisurely pace, our goal being to stop for the night just past Pruitt access. There wasn’t much to report from the second day other than beautiful, clear water and nice scenery. As it neared evening we started looking for a campsite. Most of the good gravel bars were already occupied, as is usually the case. We finally found a rough looking gravel bar that had plenty of firewood and there was room for our tents in the woods. Luckily there were no piggy visitors this time.

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

The bridge at Pruitt

After a peaceful night, we woke up to a chilly, but sunny morning. We knew there was a chance of rain that day and the clouds soon began to roll in. However, we were spared getting wet as the rain held off while we were on the river. We had about 5 or 6 miles to our takeout at Hasty access. A couple miles above Hasty the Little Buffalo confluences with the river. The Little Buffalo is a nice sized creek that can be paddled when there is enough water flowing. Just past the creek we saw a razorback hog carcass on a gravel bar. That’s definitely something I haven’t seen before! It must have died recently because it was still mostly intact and the buzzards and other scavengers hadn’t gotten to it yet.

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

The Little Buffalo flows into the river

We pulled up to Hasty sometime between noon and one, loaded all our gear back into our vehicles and started the four hour drive toward home. This was probably our best Buffalo River trip yet and I am already looking forward to next year!

Critter Count: Hawks, Ducks, Turtles, Razorback Hogs

Bonus Prize: A Spyderco pocket knife

Float #132: Meramec River

3 Mar

George Winter County Park to Kimmswick

F132_Meramec

Meramec River
Jefferson County, Missouri
Saturday, February 20
13 Miles

So far, 2016 has had plenty of warm days perfect for winter floating. Back in January we shook off our cabin fever with a short float on the Meramec near home that we do fairly often. In February we were able to finally finish the last section of the Meramec that we have never previously floated. This is not the most scenic or exciting stretch of river, but it was something that needed to be checked off the list. Now all 193 miles of the Meramec has been recorded on this blog!

It was a warm and sunny day with highs in the 60s. DW and I put our boats in at George Winter County Park in Fenton, which is a small lake that merges into the Meramec. The previous couple of days had been very windy with gusts near 40mph. Fortunately, on this day the winds were much more calm, gusting to only 10mph.

Meramec River

Putting in at Winter Park

Meramec River

Meramec River

Hwy. 21 bridge

Meramec River

Meramec River

I-55 bridge in the distance

You may have heard of the epic flooding we experienced around late December/early January. The Meramec was the main cause of that. The waters have been back to normal levels for a while now, but the flood debris, mud and property damage is still visible along the river. All the debris and mud made the normally brown winter scenery even more brown and dreary. If we had brought the canoe we could have scored quite a haul of usable debris. We saw a couple guys in a john boat doing just that. They had stacks of lumber, patio chairs, and other things in their boat.

Meramec River

A water treatment plant

Meramec River

Hwy. 61 bridge

Meramec River

Railroad bridge

Meramec River

Meramec River

DW checks out an old foundation

There are a lot of bridges on this stretch of river, as it winds under several major highways and railways. At one point during the flood, every single one of these bridges was underwater, effectively cutting off Jefferson County from the city of St. Louis. It was crazy, floating underneath them and imagining the water being so high. You can still see pieces of driftwood and debris stuck in the bridge girders and treetops.

Even though this part of the Meramec is very close to several towns and neighborhoods, it wasn’t too industrial or civilized along the riverbanks. There were a couple of spots that almost looked the same as farther upstream where I live, which is pretty rural. But other than the bridges, one small bluff, several old foundations, and a few gravel bars, there isn’t much to look at. We took our lunch on one such old foundation. There seem to have been a lot of houses that were flooded out over the years. The trees, sand and mud have reclaimed the area and all that’s left is the concrete. The river was surprisingly not as wide as I thought it would be this far downstream. We even managed to catch a couple of riffles in some narrower spots!

Meramec River

DW, an old boxcar, and a sycamore

Meramec River

Bald Cypress trees

Meramec River

Lines near a power plant close to the Mississippi

Meramec River

Railroad bridge

Meramec River

Flood debris stuck in the underside of the bridge

We saw several birds on this trip including a falcon, hawks, herons and two bald eagles. We even saw an eagle nest, which was not something I expected to see this close to the city. I also saw the first turtle of the year, just the one though. Soon enough they will all be out soaking up the sun.

1.5 miles above the confluence we passed Flamm City, which is the last access before the Mississippi river. Even without that landmark we could tell we were nearing the big river. We passed a power plant, several fishing camps (now flooded out), and we could hear the trains moving along the bank. The most obvious sign was the smell of Mississippi river mud, at least a mile before the confluence we could smell the muddy water! It’s not a bad smell, but it’s unique.

Meramec River

Confluence of the Meramec and Mississippi

Meramec River

Nearing Kimmswick

Meramec River

Paddling up Rock Creek into Kimmswick

Once we reached the confluence we only had about a mile to paddle on the Mississippi before we reached our takeout at Kimmswick. The Mississippi was very calm that day and the water was smooth and glassy. We experienced a strange optical illusion as we were paddling. As there was a cold front coming in that evening, there were a lot of hot and cold air currents mixing over the surface of the water. I could see the air shimmering on the water, like it does on pavement during a hot day. As we looked downstream, past Kimmswick, we saw what appeared to be a huge tsunami size wave go from the east to the west side of the river. Not only have we never seen a wave that big on the river, they don’t usually travel east/west, and the water was dead calm where we were paddling. The only thing I could logically assume is that we were seeing the hot and cold air currents bending the light, making it look like a huge rolling wave on the surface. If it were real, we probably would have heard a crash from that much water! It was pretty freaky all the same!

The Mississippi was higher this day than the last time we accessed at Kimmswick, so we were able to paddle up Rock Creek into town instead of hauling our boats up the muddy river bank. Once we arrived DW pulled our boats up and we relaxed with a beer at the Blue Owl, while waiting for my aunt Marcia to finish her shift and run us back to our car. It was a good day on the river and it felt great to finish that final leg of the Meramec!

Critter Count: 2 Bald Eagles, 1 Falcon, Herons, Hawks, 1 Turtle

2015: Year In Review

30 Dec

2015 had a lot of high water and a lot of floating opportunities. There were the usual floods of spring, and then another dose in June & July, and now it’s flooding again in December! This year I only posted floats that are new to the blog. So out of about 30 float trips, 16 of them were new stretches of river, which is a pretty good amount. This year brought new whitewater adventures, a rotator cuff injury for me, and lots of planning, scouting and paddling to prepare for the National Speleological Society convention in July.

During the week-long convention we met cavers from all over the US and took many of them floating on some of our favorite Missouri rivers. We did 7 float trips in 6 days with an average of about 30 people each trip. It was a great experience and we were stoked that we got to introduce so many new people to the awesome paddling Missouri has to offer.

After the convention we slowed down a bit and spent some recreational time on our favorite rivers (most of those trips were not new). This year was also the first floating year for our dog, Ocoee. He was a very nervous float dog at the beginning of the year, but by the fall he was jumping out of the boat and swimming on his own.

Here’s a look back at 2015.

Float Stats

Number of trips in 2015: 31 (16 of them new trips posted to the blog)

Number of rivers floated: 14

Miles paddled: 342 (184 new river miles)

Best critter sighting: Elk on the Buffalo River in Arkansas

Best Photos

My favorite photo from each trip on the blog this year.

Meramec River

Ocoee on the Meramec River

Osage Fork

Ocoee rides the back of my boat on the Osage Fork

Osage Fork

Ice on the Osage Fork

Buffalo River

Elk on the Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Ponca bridge on the Buffalo River

Mulberry River

Jake paddling on the Mulberry River

Mulberry River

Stopping for lunch on the Mulberry River

Missouri River

Dramatic skies on the Missouri River

Gasconade River

Falling Springs shoals on the Gasconade

Gasconade RIver

Flooded waters on the Gasconade

Gasconade River

A beautiful day on the Gasconade

Roubidoux Creek

The cornfields are drowning on Roubidoux Creek

Mississippi River

Citra Ass Down on the Mississippi River

Big Piney River

A perfect day on the Big Piney River

Lady Bird Lake

Congress Bridge on Lady Bird Lake in Austin, TX

Mississippi River

Choppy waters on the Mississippi River

Float #131: Mississippi River

20 Nov

Kimmswick to Truman Access

F131_Mississippi

Mississippi River
Jefferson County, Missouri
Saturday, November 14
18 Miles

This past weekend was quite warm with highs in the upper 60s. DW and I wanted to go floating, since it would be our only chance to get on the water in November. However it was also opening weekend of firearms deer season, so we didn’t want to go anywhere too close to hunting areas. That eliminated most waterways close to our house. So we decided to knock out another section of the Mississippi. We didn’t have anyone going with us, so we drove two vehicles and ran our own shuttle. After dropping one car at Truman Access, we drove up to Kimmswick to put on the river. There is a small public parking area right next to a creek that runs through town and spills into the Mississippi. Normally, this is where you put in to access the river, but the creek was very low so we drove closer to the river and walked our boats down the bank to the water.

Mississippi River

Putting on at Kimmswick

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Choppy waters

There was a fair number of barges going upriver that day, as well as a variable wind that kicked up some small waves. I enjoy the Mississippi when it is more calm and flat water, but DW likes it choppy. There are quite a few houses on this section of the river, many more than I am used to seeing and most of them quite large. We paddled for about five miles and then took a break on a sandbar to eat some food.

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Remnants of an old wooden rick rack

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

The next few miles were pretty uneventful. There aren’t many sandbars that looked worth exploring and no gravelbars (where the more interesting stuff usually is). Eventually some hills and bluffs appeared on the Missouri side with some interesting rock formations. There is a large quarry right on the river near Crystal City. It is loud and spews a lot of dust, so you can’t miss it. We also got to see a train roll through. We waved and the conductor blew his horn. Trains are one of the things I’ve never grown out of from childhood (another is poop jokes)!

Mississippi River

A train passes by

Mississippi River

The quarry

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Nearing our take out at Truman Access

Just after the quarry a tugboat was stacking up barges in preparation for moving them upstream. I think that is the first time I’ve seen a tugboat stacking barges. Not long after the quarry we could see the smokestack of Rush Island powerplant in the distance. As we neared our destination another barge pushed upriver. Of course, it threw up some waves, which made turning into the access a bit tricky. You want to face the waves head-on with the nose of your boat pointing into them. Otherwise you risk getting swamped. The combination of a rick rack, barge waves and making a turn into the boat dock was a little dicey. I had to point downriver into the waves, and then make a quick turn and paddle hard to reach the boat ramp before the next set of waves hit me sideways.

We both pulled in safely around 4 hours after we had put on the river. We made pretty good time, but we only took one short break. I still think the section from Truman Access to Ste. Genevieve is the prettiest we’ve done so far on the Mississippi, but it was good to get another section finished. It’s not likely we’ll find time to float in December, but I will be back before the end of the year to do the “year in review” post!

Critter Count: Ducks

 

Float #130: Lady Bird Lake

9 Nov

Lady Bird Lake

F130_LadyBirdLake

Lady Bird Lake
Austin, Texas
Wednesday, October 14
6 Miles

Last month we went down to Texas for a caving event and spent a short 24 hours in Austin. While we were there we made sure to get out on the water. We rented a tandem sit-on-top from one of the waterfront outfitters and paddled Lady Bird Lake along through downtown to the lower dam and back. It was a nice paddle on a bright, warm day. We thought about renting SUP’s, but they were pretty pricey and the two of us could rent one tandem for less than the cost of one SUP! DW and I have never been in a tandem kayak before and I doubt we will make a habit of it. We much prefer to paddle separately!

Lady Bird LakeLady Bird LakeLady Bird LakeLady Bird LakeThe waterfront seems like an area that gets a lot of use from Austin residents. There is a nice walking/biking path all along the lake and several pedestrian bridges across. We saw several people fishing along the bank or in kayaks as well as many people using the trails. There were a couple of access points where people let their dogs swim and play. It was fun to watch the pooches having such a good time! There was one area of the lake that was thick with aquatic weeds that spanned the width of the lake, but it was only a few yards long, and not too difficult to paddle through.

Lady Bird Lake

Congress Bridge

Congress Bridge

The boardwalk

The boardwalk

The dam

The dam

We saw great views of downtown Austin from the lake. The south side of the lake has a bunch of (I presume) expensive condos that look across the lake to downtown. Many of these condos had boat storage along the boardwalk and it looks like the perfect living area for the urban kayaker. We paddled under Congress Bridge, which is home to one of the largest urban bat colonies in the US. We didn’t see any bats (as it was midday), but we sure could smell them! As we approached our turnaround point we circumnavigated a small island and then paddled up near the dam and then turned around to head back to the outfitter’s dock.

Lady Bird LakeLady Bird Lake

Bridge art

Bridge art

Our way back was filled with more excellent views of downtown and a surprise piece of artwork under the bridge! We spent about 3 hours on the water and it was a good bit of exercise and an enjoyable morning. Afterward, we went into the city and ate some tacos before heading out to our caving event.

Critter Count: Turtles, Herons, Egrets, Pigeons, Dogs

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