Archive | April, 2011

Float #5: North Fork of the White River

28 Apr

Twin Bridges to Sunburst Ranch

North Fork River Map
North Fork of the White River
Ozark County, Missouri
Friday, April 22
17 Miles

Every Easter weekend DW and I go floating. This has been our tradition ever since we bought our first canoe, about 10 years ago. Before we had kayaks the Easter float was our first float of the year, but recently it more likely in the first 5. Some Easters have been cold, some hot, and most of them involve a bit of rain. I recall one Easter float in mid-February when the temps dropped below 20˚ at night, others were in late April and sunny with highs in the 80s. So far, we have never been rained out entirely. This float came close though! Rain was scheduled for the entire weekend, but we hoped for the best and headed down anyway.

North Fork Twin Bridges Panorama

Twin Bridges access

The North Fork of the White River (commonly referred to as just the North Fork) is located in southern Missouri, nearly in Arkansas. It runs into Norfork Lake in Tecumseh, MO. We floated this river for the first time in mid-October of last year and were instantly smitten. This river is about an hour west of the Eleven Point, one of our favorites, and bears many resemblances. The water is crystal clear and fast flowing, with many springs and rapids along the way. However, with the amount of rain we had in the preceding week and another large storm the night before, the water was high, brown and full of debris.

We left early Friday morning and drove to Sunburst Ranch in Dora, MO. Sunburst is a family owned campground and outfitter right along the river. We arrived around 10:30 am and did a quick turn and burn to get a shuttle back upriver to Twin Bridges put in. We had originally planned to do 12 miles with the uncertainty of the forecast, but our shuttle driver said the river was moving so fast we might prefer a longer float. Since we didn’t know if we would get rained out the rest of the weekend we decided a longer trip would be better. I’m glad we did because the water was really fast (by Missouri standards) and we completed 17 miles in 4 hours!

Water flowing from Grey Bat cave

Water flowing from the cave

Tree swallows hunting sign

Hunting sign swallowed by a tree

Grey Bat Cave on North Fork

A Grey Bat cave on the river

We put in just after 11 am. Right around the first few bends was a low water culvert bridge that provided an awesome rapid where I immediately got soaked by a big wave! I had declined to wear my kayak skirt as it is new and hard to get on and off quickly, so I figured I’d get wet at some point. Our first stop was a cave right along the river. We climbed up to the mouth and gawked at the beautiful view of the water crashing down the bluff into the river. I don’t know the name of this cave, but it is one of the few caves in the state that house a Grey Bat habitat and thus was gated (and full of water). The climb back down was dodgy as there were plenty of slippy rocks and poison ivy to avoid.

As we continued our float the water continued to rise and more debris came floating by us. Water was pouring in from every wash, creek and bluff. We saw numerous waterfalls, but were moving too quickly to stop and appreciate them.

Waterfall on North Fork

One of many waterfalls along the river

North Fork River flooding

High water on the North Fork

We stopped for lunch at Hammond Camp, where there is a picnic area and access. The water rose about an inch during the 45 minutes we ate. Before lunch I saw some firewood size logs and branches coming down the river. While we were stopped I started seeing large tree branches about 8 to 10 feet long floating by. Good thing kayaks are so maneuverable, I wouldn’t want to confront one of those with a canoe!

Blue Spring North Fork River

Blue Spring boil

Downriver from Hammond Camp is Blue Spring, a large spring right along the river. It was almost unrecognizable with the high water and the spring was no longer blue. We floated right up to the boil. This spring has a flow of over 7 million gallons per day and is worth a stop. There is usually a nice path around the spring with a lookout area, but the water had covered all of that.

Rainbow spring North Fork

Rainbow Spring

The next spring we came upon was Rainbow Spring. This spring is the one of largest in the state with flows of 137 million gallons in the summer months. The water coming from this spring is the iconic turquoise color of Missouri springs and looks very inviting, but very cold! Unfortunately this spring is private property (lucky bastards) and the boil is not visible from the river.

spring water flood water

Spring water and flood water contrast

The rest of the float went by quickly as there are many rapids downstream from Hammond Camp. We encountered 2 or 3 foot swells in many spots. But that just makes it more fun! It was my favorite kind of water; so fast you don’t have to paddle, but you do have to paddle if you want to stay straight. We did have to portage one low water bridge, which can be floated under in normal water.

Chops on the North Fork

Choppy water is fun

Sunburst Ranch cabin

Our cabin at Sunburst

We pulled off the river at Sunburst in mid afternoon, with plenty of time to hang out and cook dinner before the rain and dark fell. We booked a sleeper cabin in anticipation of the rain and I’m glad we did! The next morning the water was still on the rise and more rain was expected all day. The outfitter did not want to put us on the water due to safety and the thunder started soon after. So we packed up our gear and headed home. We were slightly disappointed the remainder of the weekend was rained out, but we had so much fun on the Friday float that is was worth the long drive.

Critter Count: Turtles, Blue Herons, Green Herons, Ducks

Float #4: Meramec River

15 Apr

Woodson K. Woods to Scotts Ford

Meramec River
Crawford County, Missouri
Saturday, April 9
9 Miles

A Saturday with good weather and no plans leads to an impromptu float trip. The upper Meramec is a beautiful stretch of river located within an hour of my house. With no yak buddies joining us, we grabbed a shuttle from Green’s Canoe Rental just west of Steelville on Hwy. 8.

Preparing the boats at Woodson K. Woods

We put the boats in at Woodson K. Woods Conservation Area. There were a few other boaters in rental canoes ahead of us, so we chatted with some Master Naturalist workshop attendees while we waited for the others to get a head start. Unfortunately, we also found some broken glass bottles at the put in. Don’t bring glass to a river, people! It’s illegal, dangerous and really pisses me off. DW cleaned up the glass, which earned him several thank-you’s from the naturalist crowd.

Bluebells carpet the forest

Not far down from the put in the signs of spring were everywhere. The forested banks were carpeted with bluebells and other early bloomers. Many animals were out enjoying the weather as well.

Spiny Softshell Turtle

Bald Eagle in a nest

Bald Eagle

There were more turtle species out on the river than I had ever seen before. A whole group of spiny softshells were sunbathing on the bank and I also saw one huge snapping turtle straddling a log. We also saw two bald eagles on this trip. One of them was sitting in a nest; a first sighting for us. Unfortunately, the combination of the afternoon sun and my tiny digital camera made it impossible to get a good shot. The eagle didn’t leave the nest no matter how close I approached, but it did give me a couple steely glares! I wonder if the eggs had hatched yet?

One of the highlights of this trip is passing by Maramec Springs, one of the most beautiful spots on the river and home to Missouri’s 5th largest spring. Maramec Springs is also the site of the historic Maramec Iron Works, in operation from 1826 to the 1870s. The Maramec Iron Works played a big part in providing iron for Civil War cannon and gunships built in St. Louis. In 1938 the springs and surrounding area were turned over to the James Foundation, which to this day operates it as a private park open to the public. The Conservation Department also operates a trout park and hatchery on the grounds. This area is well worth a visit, both for the history and the beauty of the springs. Although the name of this park is spelled differently, the pronunciation is the same. The Meramec River has had many different names and spellings throughout history and this is one of the spots where an old spelling remains.

Water level view of Maramec Springs

Maramec Springs

The springs pump out an estimated 100 million gallons of 56˚ water every day. It’s best to do your swimming above the springs because the water gets really cold as soon as you pass the confluence! We did the rest of the float at a leisurely pace, 9 miles being a short day for the two of us.

View from a gravel bar

A perfect day on perfect water

A lackadasical paddle gave us plenty of time to enjoy the excellent weather and the burst of spring foliage. Downriver there are several caves high up in the bluffs and tiny springs flowing out a few feet above the banks. We took out at Scotts Ford, a public access at a low water bridge. Across from Scotts Ford is Adventure Outdoors, another excellent float vendor and fishing guide. We were loaded up and headed home by 5:30, with plenty of daylight to finish some chores before falling asleep on the couch!

Dogwoods on the hillside

Spring Beauty

Critter Count: Turtles, Blue Herons, 2 Bald Eagles, 2 Woodchucks, 1 Beaver or Mink (couldn’t tell as it was swimming across the river)