Archive | March, 2013

Float #62: Mississippi River

1 Mar

Cape Girardeau to Commerce

F62_Mississippi

Mississippi River
Cape Girardeau and Scott counties, Missouri
Sunday, February 24
14 miles

This was my first trip on the Mississippi and it was a lot of fun! Our friend Ben heard about a Native American petroglyph on the Mississippi south of Cape Girardeau and we agreed to join him on this trip to look for it. The petroglyph (referred to as Commerce Rock) is believed to be an ancient river map showing the course of several major waterways as well as the surrounding villages. It is carved into a large rock on the bank of the river and is usually covered by water except in times of extreme drought. The rock was originally out of the river bed, but the Mississippi has changed course in the last thousand years and now flows over the rock most of the time. This area has been under a drought since last summer and luckily for us, the water was just low enough to find it!

We started our trip at Red Star Conservation Area just north of downtown Cape Girardeau. Ben and I waited with the boats while DW and Ben’s friend Bob ran shuttle. While we waited many people came by to stare at the river. It seems to be a popular Sunday activity. A couple of locals chatted with us about the river, Cape Griardeau history and the civil war. Cape Girardeau is damn near in the south, so people are friendly and love to talk! We asked everyone if they had heard of the petroglyph, but no one had.

The view from Red Star access

The view from Red Star access

DW paddles past Cape's riverfront

DW paddles past Cape’s riverfront

Cape Girardeau Bridge

Cape Girardeau Bridge

We got on the water before noon and started to paddle down the river. The water is pretty muddy, but you can see down a couple of inches. On this day the river was very calm and smooth. There was no wind to kick up waves and the low water level made the river move a little slower than usual. There are two sets of buoys in the river; one on each side of the main channel. These mark the deeper part of the river and that’s where you will find the commercial vessels traveling. On Saturdays there is much less commercial traffic and Sundays there is none. Sunday is a good day for recreation on the Mississippi.

We paddled past the town of Cape Girardeau, under the bridge and past the dry dock where barges and tow boats come in. Past Cape there are a few industrial sites along the Missouri side of the river and mostly wilderness along the Illinois side. We only saw one other boat the whole day; a couple of fishermen with their dog. DW had found a discarded tennis ball on the bank and gave it to the happy pup.

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Paddling under the RR bridge

Paddling under the RR bridge

The RR bridge and Thebes, IL

The RR bridge and Thebes, IL

A train crosses the river

A train crosses the river

About halfway through our trip we passed a railroad bridge and the town of Thebes, IL. There is an access at Thebes and it is a popular put in for fishermen. Just past Thebes on the Missouri side of the river we came across a rocky outcrop. These rocks are usually covered with water so it was a neat area to see. We stopped and hiked around for a bit looking for cool river rocks.

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DW contemplates a steel cable

DW contemplates a steel cable

Our boats on the rocks

Our boats on the rocks

Ben searches for the rock

Ben searches for the petroglyph

We paddled downriver a bit further and continued looking for the petroglyph. We all split up and combed the river bank. Eventually Bob found it! The rock was just above the waterline, a couple more feet of water and it would have been submerged. The surrounding area was thick with soupy, stinky river mud. We were all splattered to our knees by the time we finished looking for the rock.

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Bird petroglyph

Bird petroglyph

River petroglyph

River petroglyph

Eye petroglyph

Eye petroglyph

The rock is pretty cool. You can see carvings of a bird, an eye and several meandering lines representing rivers. We all took lots of photos and congratulated each other on our successful trip. None of us really thought we’d find it that day. DW has a few friends in the area who have looked and never found it. So we felt very lucky to have found it on our first attempt. As you look at the rock and out over the river one can’t help but imagine the people who carved it so long ago and what the area might have looked like back then.

Mississippi Mud

Mississippi Mud

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A better shot of the bird and the eye

Mississippi River, Commerce Rock

Mississippi River

Commerce rock

Mississippi River

Moonrise over the river

As the light started to fade the waxing full moon rose over the horizon. We left the rock and paddled on to our take out at Commerce. There is no boat ramp at commerce, just a large muddy bank. We pulled our boats up to the road where the car was parked and tried our best to remove the worst of the mud from ourselves and our boats. We made it back to Cape well after dark and then ate a delicious meal at El Torrero, a Mexican restaurant in town. Then it was a long drive home to fall into bed and drag ourselves to work the next day.

If you go searching for Commerce rock and are lucky enough to find it, please keep its exact location under wraps, for conservation purposes. No one wants to see this ancient artifact vandalized or looted. Please delete any metadata from your photographs before posting and do not include any identifying surroundings in your pictures. It would be great if this rock were in a museum where everyone could see it, but until then it will be up to the river to watch over it, as it has for the last thousand years.

Critter Count: Herons, Gulls, Geese, Ducks, 1 White Pelican

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