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2013: Year in Review

30 Dec

2013 was an exciting year for us with many new stretches of river and a fun trip east to float some whitewater. Here is a look back at all we did in 2013.

Float Stats*

Number of trips in 2013: 33

Number of rivers floated: 20

Miles paddled: 411 (almost 100 miles more than last year!)

Best critter sighting: 2 muskrats on the Big Piney

Best bonus prize: Length of barge rope found on the Mississippi (it’s now our dogs’ favorite toy)

* these stats do not include DW’s MR340 trip

Best Photos

My favorite photo from each trip this year.

Big River

Big River in January

Mississippi River, Commerce Rock

Commerce Rock, Mississippi River

Courtois Creek

DW on Courtois Creek

Big River

A cloudy day on the Big River

Little Piney Creek

Easter weekend on Little Piney Creek

Huzzah Creek

A log jam portage on Huzzah Creek

Charlie runs a rapid on the Mineral Fork

Charlie runs a rapid on the Mineral Fork

Big Indian Creek

Floating the flood on Big Indian Creek

Meramec River

Meramec River

Flood rapids on Huzzah Creek

Flood rapids on Huzzah Creek

Current River

Current River

Council Bluff Lake

My niece Celia’s first float, on Council Bluff Lake

Jacks Fork River

Boats resting on the Jacks Fork

Gravel bar camping on the Big Piney

Gravel bar camping on the Big Piney

Current River

Upper Current River

Huzzah Creek

Upper Huzzah Creek

Meramec River

A tranquil August float on the Meramec

Me, Cynthia, DW, Chris and Jake rafting the Ocoee River like champs!

Me, Cynthia, DW, Chris and Jake rafting the Ocoee River like champs!

French Broad River

Jake and the Biltmore hotel on the French Broad River

Rafting the Pigeon River

Rafting the Pigeon River

Me shredding the gnar on Double Drop, Tuckasegee River

Me shredding the gnar on Double Drop, Tuckasegee River

DW paddles the falls on the Nantahala River

DW paddles the falls on the Nantahala River

Me and the Smoky Mountains, Fontana Lake

Me and the Smoky Mountains, Fontana Lake

Meramec River

Meramec River

Salt River

Salt River

A large Northern Red snake on the Eleven Point

A large Northern Red snake on the Eleven Point

Beachcombing on the Mississippi

Beachcombing on the Mississippi

Autumn on the Meramec

Autumn on the Meramec

Meramec River

Meramec River

Winter floating on the Meramec

Winter floating on the Meramec

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Float #94: Meramec River

30 Dec

Robertsville State Park to Pacific

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Meramec River
Franklin County, Missouri
Saturday, December 28
11 Miles

Looks like that float in November wasn’t the last trip of the year after all! This past Saturday, DW and I did not have any plans and the weather was looking good with highs in the upper 50s and sunshine all day. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get one last float trip this year. It has been almost two months since our last trip, so we were suffering float withdraw! We dropped our truck at the Pacific Palisades access and drove to the boat ramp at Robertsville State Park; our boats were on the water by 10:15. The temperature was still rather chilly and I felt like a toddler in a snowsuit, all bundled up and hardly able to move.

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A Bald Eagle watches me from a sycamore

A Bald Eagle watches me from a sycamore

DW breaks up ice on Calvey Creek

DW breaks up ice on Calvey Creek

Approaching Fish Trap Rapid

Approaching Fish Trap Rapid

Fish Trap Rapid

Fish Trap Rapid

A couple of miles down from Robertsville is Calvey Creek, a large creek that comes in on the right side of the river. Just before the creek we saw a Bald Eagle flying upstream. He stopped in a sycamore overlooking the water and watched us float by. We saw another Bald Eagle, not far downstream from the first one. I noticed that Calvey Creek was still frozen over, so we paddled into it to break up some ice. Ice breaking is one of DW’s favorite winter activities. The ice was a couple of inches thick and broke off into large rafts. Just past Calvey Creek is a rocky riffle called Fish Trap rapid. There’s not much to it, but it does make for a fast little run on an otherwise flat and slow paddle.

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Erosion: it can happen to you

Erosion: it can happen to you

The perfect blue sky and calm water made for a lovely, relaxing day on the river. We saw a couple other people in john boats and several people on the riverbanks enjoying the sunshine, but we were the only paddlers. As we approached Catawissa we saw several river cabins. One of them had not been built on solid ground and was slowly tumbling into the water. Another flood or two and it will be washed downstream.

Approaching the railroad bridge

Approaching the railroad bridge

A train crosses the river

A train crosses the river

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Six miles from Robertsville is the Catawissa access. If you don’t know it’s there you will miss it, as there is no ramp or sign. Catawissa access is a lake that drains into the river on the right side. Directly after the access is the St. Louis – San Francisco Railroad bridge. As we passed under the bridge I heard a train horn, so we waited around for a few minutes as the train passed overhead. Three more miles downstream is the Hwy. F bridge in Pacific, a sign that our trip is almost over. There aren’t many gravel bars on the lower section of this float. There is a large gravel bar right before the bridge, but it is surrounded by houses and a lot of people; not a good spot for lunch.

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The bluff over Pacific

The bluff over Pacific

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We ended up eating our lunch just before we finished the float. There is a very small island between the highway bridge and where the river bends around Pacific. We stopped there and enjoyed our lunch. There were many deer tracks on this island. I don’t know why they would ford the river just to get to that island, there didn’t appear to be much food on it. I left them my apple core anyway.

A mile later we pulled up to the Pacific boat ramp, just as two other kayakers were putting on. It was only 3pm, so there was a couple hours of daylight left for a short float. These paddlers had a large black lab that rode on the back of one of the kayaks. That dog must be well-trained and the paddler must have good balance!

DW bought me a new camera for Christmas, a Olympus Tough. It is waterproof, so no more clunky waterproof camera housing for me! I took all of these photos with it and I think it did a great job. I’m really excited to put it to the test in the coming year. It was a good end to another year of excellent floating. Getting out on the water felt really good after such a long break and the river was beautiful. Now it’s time to crunch those numbers for the year in review!

Critter Count: Ducks, Geese, Herons, Kingfishers, Hawks, 2 Bald Eagles

Float #93: Meramec River

10 Dec

Red Horse to River Round

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Meramec River
Franklin County, Missouri
Saturday, November 9
15 miles

Just as winter began to set in we were blessed with one more warm Saturday with sunny weather and highs in the mid 60s. DW and I set out for a float trip close to home on the Meramec. We dropped the truck at the take out and drove the 10 minutes to our access at Red Horse. The first five miles of this float went by quickly, as the water is swift on that section of the river. As we approached the bend before the highway 30 bridge, the water becomes still and lake-like. Of course that was when the wind decided to pick up as well. It was hard paddling around that corner!

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Hwy. 30 bridge

Hwy. 30 bridge

We saw a large group of ducks on the slow water, there were probably at least 30. As we approached they all flew off down river until we met up with them again. After the Hwy. 30 bridge the water picks up a little bit. There is a large island on the left side of the river. Keep to the right as the left channel is shallow and often full of debris. There aren’t many gravel bars for the next five miles or so and most of the land on either side consists of steep banks and private properties.

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Most of the trees were bare, but the oaks were hanging on to their leaves for a little longer, as they usually do. We stopped for lunch on the first large gravel bar we saw and heated up some leftover chili on our backpacking stove. It was really comforting to have a hot meal on a chilly float trip. I will have to remember to take the backpacking stove more often! We saw lots of birds on this trip, including turkey, hawks and one Bald Eagle. We also saw a buck in the woods. He was busy chasing after a doe and didn’t even notice us!

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Bruns' bridge

Bruns’ bridge

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Eventually we passed under Bruns’ Bridge, an old iron bridge and a modern concrete one. After the bridge the river curves around a large oxbow. The driving distance from Bruns’ Bridge to River Round is less than a mile, but it is about 4 miles of floating. We arrived at our take out before dusk set in and we were back at our house before dark.

Unfortunately this is probably our last float trip of the year. It doesn’t look likely that we’ll be able to get out in December. The weather here is currently below freezing and isn’t going to warm up for the forseeable future. I prefer to have a high temperature of at least 45╦Ü to float! Perhaps after the holidays we’ll be able to get out on the water again. It has been a great year of floating with a lot of new trips. My next post will be the year in review, where I tally our miles and look back on the highlights of the past year.

Critter Count: Herons, Ducks, Turtles, Kingfishers, Hawks, Turkeys, 1 Bald Eagle, 1 Deer

Float #92: Meramec River

18 Nov

Onondaga State Park to Sappington Bridge

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Meramec River
Crawford County, Missouri
Monday, October 21
15 miles

This float was right in the peak of fall color for our area and what better place to enjoy it than the Meramec River. This section of the Meramec has many beautiful bluffs with some swift sections in the beginning and some slower pools near the end. Our good friend Aaron was in town from NYC, visiting relatives and we managed to meet up for a float trip. We drove to the access at Onondaga State Park and dropped our gear. Aaron and I stayed with the boats while our friend Mark helped DW run the shuttle. The day was cool and partly cloudy, but the sun came out a few times to warm us up.

Onondaga access

Onondaga access

Aaron get his riverlegs

Aaron get his riverlegs

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We didn’t see any other boaters that day, which is typical for a Monday. The first five miles of the float go by pretty quickly, as the water is swift in that section. As we floated past a small bluff I noticed a cave gate about 10 feet above the river bank, so I scrambled up to check it out. There was a sign identifying it as Saloon Cave. With a name like that, I imagine the cave must have some pretty nice formations. We also passed Campbell Bridge, which is another access five miles downriver from Onondaga.

Saloon Cave

Saloon Cave

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A hornet nest

A hornet nest

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While gazing upward at one of many tall bluffs I noticed a hornet’s nest in a tree, dangling over the water. I don’t see many of those. Luckily, the hornets were asleep. Around every turn there was another beautiful bluff topped with gorgeous fall foliage. We didn’t make many stops, as it was too cold to swim. On one bend of the river there was a herd of cows on the riverbank. The young ones had some fun running away and the older ones just looked at us and shambled off to the field.

Cows on the river

Cows on the river

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A cave high up in the bluff

A cave high up in the bluff

An old river cabin

An old river cabin

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Sappington bridge

Sappington bridge

One third of the way through the float we passed Blue Springs access. There is a spring here that flows into the river, but it is a bit of a hike up the spring branch to get to it. After Blue Springs the river slows down a lot and there are a few long pools that feel more like lakes. Eventually we reached our take out at Sappington Bridge, just as dusk was starting to fall. It was a nice float, though a bit chilly and we all had a lot of fun.

Critter Count: Herons, Hawks, Kingfishers, Turtles, Cows, 1 Hornet Nest

Float #91: Mississippi River

8 Nov

Cape Girardeau to Commerce

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Mississippi River
Cape Girardeau and Scott counties, Missouri
Sunday, October 6
14 miles

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

Red Star Access

Red Star Access

Cape Riverwalk

Cape Riverwalk

Cape Bridge

Cape Bridge

Looking back at Cape from a sandbar

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!

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The alien landscape of a Mississippi sandbar

The alien landscape of a Mississippi sandbar

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Beachcombing

Beachcombing

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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

A docked dredging operation

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Thebes railroad bridge

Thebes railroad bridge

Exploring the rocks

Exploring the rocks

Fossilized coral

Fossilized coral

Rocks near Thebes

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

A large tug pushes upstream

Richard rides the barge swell

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

Float #90: Eleven Point River

16 Oct

Greer to Riverton

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Eleven Point River
Oregon County, Missouri
Saturday, September 28
19 miles

This trip was our annual wedding anniversary float. We usually take a couple days and do an overnight float, but this year schedules and weather did not permit for such luxuries. Instead, we decided to try and float as much of the river as we could in one day. Last summer we floated Greer to Riverton in two days, but we knew it was feasible to do it in one if we didn’t dawdle too much. We camped at Hufstedler’s Canoe on Friday night and woke up early on Saturday morning to catch our shuttle to Greer. We were geared up and on the river before 10am. It was a nice day, but too cold to swim in the Eleven Point’s chilly waters.

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Mary Decker Shoals

Mary Decker Shoals

DW squeezes through the shoals

DW squeezes through the shoals

We paddled the first five miles to Turner access in about an hour. The river flows at a pretty good pace between Greer Spring and Turner. There is a spring and an old mill wheel on the South side of the river at Turner. We usually stop there when the weather is hotter to wade in the shockingly cold spring water. This time we skipped it because we had a lot of miles left to cover!

A large Northern Red snake

A large Northern Red snake

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Float Camp

Float Camp

As the day wore on the sky became overcast, but did not threaten rain. We stopped for lunch on a gravel bar and hung out for a little bit. There weren’t too many people on the river that day, but we did see several canoes and fishermen. I would have liked to fish, but there isn’t much time for that when you are paddling all day. We passed a bunch of float camps on the left side of the river. There aren’t many gravel bars on the Eleven Point, so there are several primitive camping areas to make up the difference.

Boze Mill Spring

Boze Mill Spring

Boze Mill

Boze Mill

Boze Mill

Boze Mill

At around 3pm we arrived at Boze Mill Spring, one of my favorite places in the Ozarks. I like to come here at least once a year and take a dip in the freezing water. It’s good for my health and keeps me young! The spring is beautiful and full of so many colors. There is a short trail, a few campsites and the ruins of some old mill equipment here as well. We spent about half an hour here wandering around after our dip in the cold water. After Boze Mill, Halls Bay rapid is just around the corner. It is the most exciting rapid on the river and I always look forward to it.

DW surfs Halls Bay rapid

DW surfs Halls Bay rapid

Hwy. 160 bridge at Riverton

Hwy. 160 bridge at Riverton

As you approach Halls Bay rapid you will see a long piece of string dangling from a tree branch out over the rapid. That string marks the position of a big rock in the middle of the water. As long as you go on either side of the string you will miss the rock. Don’t go too far to the right, however, because the water is shallow and very rocky on that side of the river. We spent some time here while DW surfed his kayak and played around in the rapid. Leaving Halls Bay, there is only a couple of miles to the Riverton takeout. We finished our trip around 5:30pm, loaded our gear onto the truck and headed back up to Hufstedler’s to camp. It was a fun trip and I wish it could have been longer!

Critter Count: Herons, Kingfishers, Hawks, Turtles, 1 Northern Red Snake

Float #89: Salt River

10 Oct

Warren G. See Spillway Recreation Area to Corps Boat Ramp

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Salt River
Ralls County, Missouri
Saturday, September 14
7 Miles

DW and I were in the Hannibal area for the weekend and we wanted to check out some northern Missouri floating. The only two options near us were the Mississippi and the Salt River. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend that day and the Mississippi float was 16 miles long. So we decided to try out the Salt. There didn’t appear to be too many access points on the map, so we stuck with a 7 mile float just below the dam. The Salt River runs out of Mark Twain Lake. The section we floated is between two dams, so it was slow and murky.

Gearing up below the dam

Gearing up below the dam

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We floated with our friends Charlie & Greg and Jake came up from Nashville. We also had DW’s friend Bob and his wife, Robin who joined us in their canoe. Bob and Robin planned to fish along the way, but they soon found out their trolling motor was stuck in reverse, so they did a lot of paddling instead. The day was bright and pleasant. Thankfully it wasn’t too hot because the water wasn’t too inviting for a swim. This section of the Salt is basically a river-shaped lake. There was almost no current and not much to see in the way of scenery. We did see plenty of birds, including a fair number of Bald Eagles.

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A Bald Eagle

A Bald Eagle

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We stopped for lunch at a small creek where there was a place to pull up on the shore. There were no gravel bars on this section and the banks were a little steep. We spent about a half hour at lunch and then got back to paddling. It was a good exercise float!

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We finally reached our take-out around 5:30pm. Northern Missouri is much more flat than where I live, but it is pretty in its own way. We loaded all the boats in the trucks and headed back to the put-in to shuffle everyone’s gear into their cars and then we headed back to our campsite. The next float trip is to the Eleven Point, just about the exact opposite of the Salt River!

Critter Count: Hawks, Herons, Kingfishers, Turtles, 3 Bald Eagles