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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

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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

Float #113: Niangua River

13 Oct

Moon Valley to Barclay

F113_Niangua

Niangua River
Dallas County, Missouri
Friday, October 3
14 Miles

There is almost nothing better than a good float trip during the week when everyone else is at work. On this particular trip we floated with our friend Jake, from Nashville and our friend Rob. This was our first kayak trip in over a month, as we hadn’t floated at all in September. A busy work schedule and chores around the house sucked up all our time. We don’t get over to the Niangua all that often and we had gotten a decent amount of rain the night before, so we decided to put in above Bennett Spring in the hopes there would be enough water for a decent float. We ran the shuttle and were on the water around 10:30. The sky was overcast and the temperature was chilly. The high temp for the day was sometime around 8am and it kept dropping all day long, making me wish that I had dressed a little warmer. The transition from summer kayaking to winter kayaking happens so quickly and I never manage to bring the correct gear the first couple of fall floats!

We put in at Moon Valley Conservation Access, conveniently located on Moon Valley road. DW had recently purchased a used whitewater boat and was testing it out for the first time. The water at the access was pretty shallow, though there was enough to float. The upper portion of this float all the way to Bennett Spring would have been great with about four more inches of water. As it was, we had lots of sections that were draggy, and we did have to get out and walk just a couple of times, but nothing too bad. DW had it the worst as the whitewater boat did not have enough surface area to glide over the shallows and he got stuck the most often.

Putting in at Moon Valley

Putting in at Moon Valley

Niangua River

Niangua River

Niangua River

The fall colors were just starting to show in the river valley and the leaves were beginning to drift down from the trees. The sun did manage to come out for about an hour, which was really nice. I just wished it would have lasted longer. Soon the clouds drifted back in and we got sprinkled on for a while. We saw a good amount of wildlife on this trip. A deer, a bunch of turkey, two juvenile Bald Eagles and two adult Bald Eagles. We also saw the normal assortment of herons and other birds. We only saw a couple of turtles, I guess it wasn’t a good day for sunning.

Niangua River

Niangua River

Niangua River

Niangua River

The portion of river above Bennett Spring had quite a few small boulder gardens and several tight turns that would have been a lot of fun in higher water. At this level they were more like sleeper gardens, as the overcast sky made it hard to see below the surface of the water and we all ran into a lot of rocks. We all got a lot of good ab exercise in trying to scoot over shallow areas and paddle around small boulders. Soon we reached Bennett Spring, which adds a lot of water to the river and it was smooth paddling from there.

Bennett Spring

Bennett Spring

Two Bald Eagles watch from a tree

Two Bald Eagles watch from a tree

Hwy. 64 bridge

Hwy. 64 bridge

Bennett Conservation access

Bennett Conservation access

There were a fair number of trout fishermen at the mouth of the spring and as we paddled by we noticed two Bald Eagles watching from a Sycamore tree. They didn’t seem to mind all the humans. I think they were waiting for someone to catch a fish for them! We watched them as we floated past and they watched us right back, allowing me to get a couple of good photos. Right after the trout park is highway 64 bridge and then Bennett conservation access is on the left side of the river. After the conservation access we stopped on a gravel bar for lunch and to try to warm up a bit in the feeble sunlight. DW was pretty wet from the waist down, as he didn’t have a properly fitted skirt for his new boat.

Niangua River

DW testing his new whitewater boat

DW testing his new whitewater boat

Niangua River

The next six miles from Bennett to Barclay is a popular trip and we saw quite a few kayakers on the water. We didn’t come upon any obstacles on this section, but it is a pretty float. Toward the end there are a couple of steep hillsides with glades, which stand out quite a bit from the usual forest. Of course the sun came out again quite nicely as we finished the trip! We were finished around 4:30 and headed back to camp. The next day we did the short float from Bennett to Barclay again, as everyone was tired (still drunk) from the night before. It was much warmer and a good day for a casual float.

I also bought a new boat that weekend. A Wilderness Systems Tempest, which is a 17 foot long sea kayak. I hadn’t intended on buying a 17′ boat, but it was a really good deal. I took it out on the short float Saturday and was pleasantly surprised at how well it turned on such a small river. It took a little planning ahead when entering the turns, but it did well and I didn’t fall out! I look forward to taking it out on some bigger rivers and lakes in the future.

Critter Count: 1 Deer, Turkeys, Herons, Kingfishers, Turtles, 2 Juvenile Bald Eagles, 2 Adult Bald Eagles

Float #112: Mississippi River

24 Sep

Truman Access to Ste. Genevieve Marina

F112_Mississippi

Mississippi River
Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri
Sunday, August 31
18 Miles

DW and I both spent part of our childhood years in Ste. Genevieve county and members of both of our families still live there. During Labor Day weekend we had multiple family events to attend and decided to fill the time in between with a float trip on the Mississippi. The Mississippi is about the only floatable water in Ste. Genevieve county and we have been remiss in doing it. We took DW’s Dad, Dan, along with us, as it was his birthday and he had never floated the Mississippi before, despite living right next to it his entire life.

We headed to Truman Access, which is off Hwy. 61 and literally right next to the Rush Island power plant. Just before the entrance for the power plant, take the little road to the right that winds under the bridge and across the railroad tracks. This will lead you to the river bank where there is a large parking lot and a concrete boat ramp. We readied our gear, gave Dan a few tips on paddling big rivers and pushed off into the muddy expanse. The river was up a little bit and there were several medium-sized logs making their way downstream. The temperature was hot and muggy, but there was no rain in the forecast.

Mississippi River

Rush Island power plant

Mississippi River

Dan’s first big river paddle

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

The next few miles after the power plant are very pretty. There are numerous bluffs and rolling hills on the Missouri side of the river and sandy beaches and banks on the Illinois side. There were a lot of barges moving upriver that day, so we had plenty of rolling waves to play in from the barge wakes. We saw more towboats and barges on this section than we usually see on the Cape Girardeau section. I don’t know if that is normal or it just has to do with the time of year and river levels being busier for barge traffic. As we floated downstream it was fun trying to figure out where we were on our journey. We are all very familiar with Ste. Genevieve county, but everything looks so different from the river!

Eventually we pulled up to a large island to eat our lunch and explore a bit. We found a large barge rope that we wanted to take home for our dogs, but both ends were buried in the sand and would not budge. DW decided to cut the rope where it went underground. He dulled two different knives in the process, but finally got the rope out. Next, he had to figure out how to fit the huge, heavy coil of rope in his hatch! He managed to wrangle it in and get it home. The dogs love to tear that rope up, 2 feet at a time. We also found a lot of cool rocks and some green glass that had been rounded off. I saw a lot of large chunks of coal on the island. If you need some free coal I guess the river islands are a good place to find it. Dan found a soap dish that looked really old. He looked it up when he got home and found that it dated from the mid to late 1800’s. Pretty awesome that it was still in one piece and usable!

As we finished our lunch and paddled back out on the river the sky began to grow dark and we could see storms approaching from the West. They lingered a long time, but finally blew over the river. I welcomed the downpour, as it was so miserably hot and you don’t want to swim in the Mississippi.

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Ominous sky

Mississippi River

Downpour!

Mississippi River

The storm seemed to stall out over the river for a couple of miles, but we eventually paddled out of it. We soon neared Ste. Genevieve. It didn’t seem like we had been on the water all that long, but the river moves fast! If I were to do this trip again I would definitely take out at the ferry landing instead of the marina. The ferry landing is easily visible from the river (where the marina is not) and the river bank is very solid, so you are less likely to sink in the muck when exiting your boat. The ferry was doing brisk business that day. We saw it cross the river four times as we paddled by.

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

The Ste. Genevieve ferry on the Illinois side

After the ferry landing we floated past more woodland on both sides of the river. I thought we would be able to see the Ste. Genevieve catholic church steeple, as it sits up on a hill, but you could not see it from the river, you could hardly tell the town was there at all. When Ste. Genevieve was originally founded the town was much closer to the river, but it flooded all the time, so they moved it further inland. We were keeping an eye out for the marina landing, but Dan was the only one who spotted it, due to a pair of barges that are routinely parked right below the slough. Lucky he did or we would have ended up in Chester, IL!

A barge was moving upriver, kicking up waves that DW just had to play in, so he missed the marina. I passed it too, and yelled at DW to paddle back upriver. He easily powered back upriver, but I ended up struggling to make it the few hundred yards up. The waves were rolling downriver, pushing me back and the parked barges were blocking the ferry eddy that would normally carry me upstream. It took all the strength I had and then some to paddle up that bastard and make it to the marina. I guess I could have gotten out and carried my boat along the bank, but that didn’t look much easier.

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Paddling up the creek to the marina access

After finally making it to the slough we paddled up the creek a little bit to reach the boat ramp. This access isn’t much used anymore and the slough hasn’t been dredged in a long time. There were lots of small trees growing in the shallow water. Dan learned not to trust the river mud. He stepped out on what he thought was solid ground, only to sink up to the knee in black muck. We hauled our boats out of the water and unpacked while we waited for DW’s Mom to pick us up. It was an interesting float and a very pretty section of river. I’m glad we finally got around to paddling this one!

Float #111: Mississippi River

12 Sep

U of M Flats to Harriet Island

Mississippi River 8 Water Trail Map

Mississippi River
Ramsey County, Minnesota
Friday, August 8
11 Miles

The last day of our vacation to Minnesota we paddled the Mississippi just south of downtown Minneapolis. DW dropped me and the boats at the put-in, drove down to Harriet Island to drop the car and took a taxi back to the start. It took him nearly an hour due to having to wait for the taxi to arrive. The taxi driver was actually familiar with Missouri, as he goes fishing at Table Rock Lake every year. He was the only person we met the whole trip who knew how awesome Missouri can be. Most people were under the impression that it looks just like Iowa!

After DW returned we carried our boats down to the narrow strip of beach and paddled out onto the water. The water clarity in Minneapolis is basically the same as the Mississippi around Alton, before the Missouri river mucks it up. There was a light wind kicking up some ripples on the water, but the river was pretty quiet otherwise.

Mississippi River

Putting on the water

Mississippi River

Looking upriver at Minneapolis

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

The landscape was very green as there is a nice corridor of trees separating the river from the cityscape. There is a long stretch of sand beaches lining both sides of the river, which seemed to be very popular with residents. We saw many people fishing, sunbathing, and walking their dogs. The river definitely gets more recreational use in Minneapolis than it does in St. Louis. However, I didn’t find the landscape very compelling as it was pretty much the same scenery the whole way. In Missouri there are huge sandbars with strange, alien landscapes ripe for exploration and beachcombing. I don’t know if there is much barge traffic in this part of the river, but we didn’t see any. Just some recreational motorboats. All the motorboats we saw were very polite and slowed down when approaching us so as to not kick up a huge wake.

 

Soon we approached Lock & Dam #1, which was our first experience going through a lock. DW rang the signal cord and we waited for about 15 minutes while the lock filled to our level. Then the signal light turned from red to green, the gates opened and we entered the lock. We knew we were supposed to hang on to a rope from the wall of the lock, but they were all tied up. DW asked the lock attendant, who explained we were to grab this one short rope attached to a pillar. Apparently the pillar moves up or down with the water level. Neat! So DW grabbed the rope and I grabbed on to DW’s kayak as the lock began to drain. It was a weird feeling, like being in a big draining bathtub (which it kinda is). About 10 minutes later we were finished and the horn sounded, the gate opened and we exited the lock.

Mississippi River

The signal cord for the lock

Mississippi River

Entering the lock

Mississippi River

Hold that rope!

Mississippi River

The lock drains

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

The lock doors open

Mississippi River

Looking upriver at the dam

The remainder of the trip was fairly uneventful. We floated past a lot of nice beaches just below the dam, then the river became a bit more industrial as we neared St. Paul. We took out at Harriet Island, where the beach was less nice (more trash and debris). I encountered some familiar Mississippi mud as I exited my boat; gross muck up past my ankle!

Mississippi River

Minnehaha Creek

Mississippi River

A cruise boat goes upriver

Mississippi River

Downtown St. Paul

We loaded the boats on the car and drove back to Minneapolis, where we showered and went out for one last night on the town. We ate our first Juicy Lucy (delicious!) and planned to go out later for a drink, but ended up falling asleep on the couch instead. The next day we went out for breakfast and then made the 8 hour drive back home to Missouri. We had a great time in Minnesota and the people were very friendly.

Float #110: Upper Mississippi River

27 Aug

Lake Itasca to Coffee Pot Landing

Mississippi 1.ai

Upper Mississippi River
Clearwater County, Minnesota
Monday, August 4
17 Miles

The highlight of our trip to Minnesota was paddling the Mississippi from the headwaters. The landscape was ever-changing and different from most waterways we float in Missouri. Early that morning, DW drove the car down to Coffee Pot Landing and rode his bike the 12 miles back to the campground, while I readied the gear. We started out from our campground in Itasca State Park and paddled across the lake to the outlet that marks the beginning of the Mighty Mississippi.

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca

Paddling through the grass above the headwaters

Lake Itasca

Approaching the headwaters

Mississippi River

Mississippi River headwaters

Mississippi River

We portaged our boats around the rocks and then we were officially on the Mississippi. The first few miles through the park were very shallow and much like a creek. We had to do a bit of portaging to get through the low spots and disturbed quite a few ducks along the way. A few people walking along the trail asked if we were headed all the way to the ocean! Soon after the river left the park the landscape became boggy. It was confusing at first because the water is so choked with grass and there is no discernible channel. We soon learned that there are different plants that mark the banks of the river, so anything between those lines was the river channel. The water was only a foot deep in the best spots and a few inches in the worst. There was no solid ground, just soupy bog mud, so you had to paddle through. No easy portaging here! There were several times where we paddled along in an obvious channel, only to have it disappear among thick grasses. We paddled several feet to one side or another and the channel would usually reappear.

Mississippi River

Paddling through the park

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

The marshy Mississippi

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Me, paddling through the bog

Mississippi River

Where did the river go?

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Lunch stop at Wanagan Landing

We soon reached Wanagan Landing, where we stopped for lunch. There is a nice campsite there with a shelter, fire ring and picnic table and two people were camped there. We chatted with them for a bit after eating. They were on an expedition, floating all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. We talked about kayaking and their preparation for the trip, which included physical training and lots of gear purchases. They were from Nevada and had never really kayaked on a river before. They had a 14′ Hobie sit-on-top peddle boat. Since the peddles were not working in the shallow, marshy sections of the river, they were relying on their paddling skills, and were still learning about currents and paddlestrokes! After DW and I left Wanagan we both expressed our skepticism that they would make it all the way in that boat. A few days later we learned that they abandoned the trip, due to one of them being too sick to continue. They were going to try again next summer. I hope they have better luck next year! After Wanagan the river changed yet again, into a boulder-strewn mountain stream. Evergreens towered above us and fallen logs and boulders provided lots of challenges.

Mississippi River

The landscape changes

Mississippi River

The first of many obstacles

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Beaver dam

Mississippi River

An old bridge

The mountain stream landscape lasted about five miles. We took a short swim break at the only deep pool we crossed on the entire trip. The landscape then became more like a prairie, with tall grasses on the banks and a narrow, twisty river channel. There were several concrete bridges on this section as the river flowed under county roads and highways. We floated under the first “double span” bridge which consisted of two tunnels. The river was much deeper here, but still only a couple of feet at best.

Mississippi River

The first double span bridge on the river

Mississippi River

A replica of the 1886 bridge across the river, the first to allow vehicular crossing

Mississippi River

The landscape changes again

Mississippi River

Another beaver dam

The last few miles to Coffee Pot Landing were eventful because we became confused as to where we were. The river relentlessly switchbacked over and over. Every 5-10 yards was another hairpin turn. It felt like we had paddled for ages, but had gone less than a mile as the crow flies. Around several of the turns we surprised various birds and wildlife. I paddled around a tight turn to discover a deer drinking from the middle of the river. We startled each other and she bounded off into the grassland. Of course I saw her again right around the next turn! We also saw some ducks and one bald eagle. We probably saw the eagle four different times as it sat in a tree and watched us squiggle back and forth. I swear the river went in a nearly complete circle several times. I don’t know how that could possibly be the path of least resistance!

Mississippi River

Hwy 40 bridge

Mississippi River

An ugly duck

Mississippi River

A bald eagle

Mississippi River

One last beaver dam before Coffee Pot Landing

Eventually we arrived at Coffee Pot Landing around 6pm. We hauled our boats up the bank and loaded them onto the car as quickly as we could to avoid the hoards of mosquitos. I was very tired from paddling all that way. I am used to paddling upwards of 20 miles in a day, but I usually have some current to help me along! I imagine it must be very difficult to paddle a long kayak loaded with gear through the upper parts of the Mississippi. I bet the rest of the trip to the Gulf would be much easier as far as paddling goes. DW and I enjoyed this trip and it was a new experience for both of us. A few days later we spent some time in Minneapolis and paddled the Mississippi there, which is much more like the Mississippi I’m used to!

Critter Count: Ducks, Beaver, Deer, 1 Bald Eagle, Mosquitos

Float #109: Lake Itasca

22 Aug

Itasca State Park

F109_LakeItasca

Lake Itasca
Clearwater County, Minnesota
Sunday, August 3
5 Miles

For our vacation this year DW and I headed up north to Minnesota. We’ve never been there before and were looking forward to some new paddling experiences, especially paddling from the headwaters of the Mississippi. It took us 8 hours to drive from St. Louis to Minneapolis, where we caught up with DW’s cousin for a night on the town. The next morning we drove the additional 3.5 hours to Itasca State Park, home of the headwaters of the Mississippi. Upon getting there and finding the campground full, we learned that we had unknowingly arrived during the peak time for vacationing in Minnesota. Fortunately we found other accommodations for the evening and were able to get a campsite the next morning. The park is really nice with plenty of paddling opportunities and is very easy to get around on a bicycle.

Our first evening we decided to paddle around Lake Itasca. We carried our boats from our campsite down to the edge of the lake, which wasn’t too far. The edges of the lake are full of grass and vegetation, but it wasn’t too thick and we paddled through it easily.

Lake Itasca

Paddling through grass

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca

The local cruise boat

The waters were pretty calm and there was just a little breeze to kick up a few ripples. You can’t see the campground or any road from the lake, so it is very peaceful and feels remote. We paddled down the East arm of the lake to the visitor center, wandered around in there for a bit and got back on the water just as the sun began to set. There wasn’t anyone else on the water that evening, and the entire time we were in Itasca State Park the lake wasn’t crowded.

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca

Beautiful sunset on the lake

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca

The lake was even more calm as it became darker. At points the water was smooth as glass. The colors of the sunset reflecting on the water made for some gorgeous paddling. We saw a few loons and a trumpeter swan as we meandered back to camp.

Everyone told us the mosquitos would be really bad in Minnesota. I really didn’t notice much of a difference in the campground and out on the water, but as soon as you step into the woods it was pretty bad. I don’t think they were much bigger than the ones in Missouri, but they definitely were more numerous. I coated myself in bug spray every hour or two and still got bit. It was enough for DW to use bug spray and he usually doesn’t use it at all!

We arrived back at the campground and debated carrying our boats back to our site. Since we were heading out again in the morning we decided to just tie them up at the bank, which worked out well since everything was still there in the morning. The next day we did a long paddle from the headwaters, which was a really cool experience.

Lake Itasca

DW on the lake at sunset

 

Critter Count: 3 Loons, 1 Trumpeter Swan