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Float #91: Mississippi River

8 Nov

Cape Girardeau to Commerce

F91_Mississippi

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

F91_12

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 #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.

F62_08

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