Tag Archives: alley spring

Float #146 & #147: Jacks Fork River

13 Jul

Buck Hollow to Alley Spring

F147_JacksFork

Jacks Fork River
Shannon County, Missouri
Saturday, June 24 & Sunday, June 25, 2017
24 Miles
Temperature: Saturday 80˚/59˚, Sunday 86˚/56˚
Wind: Saturday NNW at 6mph, Sunday NW at 4mph
Water Level: Saturday 2.9, Sunday 2.8 at Eminence gage

We’ve done quite a few overnight trips on the Jacks Fork, but this one was special because it was the first overnight float trip for my niece (Celia) and nephew (Silas). They’ve been floating with us for a couple years now, but never camped out overnight on the gravel bar. We decided on the Jacks Fork because we had not been there yet this year, it’s a nice trip and my sister had not been floating down there since we were kids. The Jacks Fork and Current River area were our go-to family vacation spot for a number of years.

We paid Harvey’s Canoe Rental to run a car shuttle for us and drove up to Buck Hollow to unload all our gear. It’s a little bit of a walk from the unloading area to the riverside when you have a bunch of gear, but Silas helped carry the lighter stuff while the dogs ran around and Celia spent her time getting in trouble for throwing a fit because she had to wear sunscreen. We finally had everything situated and started paddling around 10:30am.

Jacks Fork River

Ocoee oversees loading the boats

Jacks Fork River

Emily and her trusty steed

Jacks Fork River

Marge the Barge scrapes her way downstream

We usually stick to doing the upper portions of the Jacks Fork in the spring. There are fewer freshwater springs on the upper section, so it needs rainfall to be floatable. This late in the year it was just barely floatable. The kayaks made it through without scraping, but the fully loaded canoes had a bit more trouble. Especially Marge the Barge as she’s a heavy lady to begin with! This was probably the last weekend it was enjoyable for this summer unless we get a good amount of rainfall.

There was a significant flood back in late April/early May of this year that hit the Ozark Riverways pretty hard. It was one of those 500 year floods that happen every couple years or so. A lot of outfitters were wiped out and had to rebuild and the vegetation and riverbanks took quite a beating. We saw a few new scars from landslides, lots of rocks that had been displaced, gravel bars and banks scoured or relocated, and ripped up trees everywhere. There were some trees that had been stripped of all their branches, just a tall pole with a few new leaves starting to grow from the trunk.

Jacks Fork River

A fresh new landslide

A tree stripped of branches

We stopped at Blue Spring for lunch and did some swimming where the spring water enters the river. Blue Spring had not changed much from the flooding, but Jam Up Cave was a bit different. Many of the large rocks and a couple boulders had been washed downstream from the entrance. It’s still jammed up, but not as much as it used to be. We also passed a river hazard warning sign, something I’ve never seen before on the river. There was a big tree trunk across the narrow river channel. I guess it was too big or too submerged to cut out. We walked our boats around it or pushed them over the log without any incident.

Blue Spring

Celia & Emily swimming in the spring water

Jacks Fork River

Two dorks

Celia won

Flood damage

Jam Up Cave

Jacks Fork River

River Hazard Sign

Jacks Fork River

Eh, that’s not much of a hazard

By late afternoon, it was time to find a campsite. Henry was getting pretty tired paddling and scraping that heavy aluminum canoe down the river! With all the flood damage there was plenty of firewood available, but it took a while to find the perfect gravel bar that wasn’t full of large rocks. I paddled ahead and scouted several options. I know from experience that there is always a better site just around the bend! However, this time I found the best one, a large gravel bar across from a bluff with some sand to sleep on. We set up our camp and spent some time fishing while our fire got going. Celia and Silas really wanted to fish, but they have no idea how to cast a pole. DW let them reel his in a few times. He caught a small bluegill and let Silas reel it in. Then he cast the little fish out again so Celia could “catch” it too.

Celia & Silas at camp

Celia being silly

Jacks Fork River

Henry, Silas, Emily & Celia

Jacks Fork River

Safety dog always wears his PFD

After a good night’s sleep we woke up around 8:30am and started packing up while our breakfast burritos warmed on the fire. The kids went swimming within 10 minutes of being awake. One thing I have learned from this trip is you have to do shorter overnight trips with little kids. They are slow and want to stop and swim every 5 minutes!

Jacks Fork River

Ocoee is so excited to be floating

The next day was pleasantly uneventful. We did a little fishing and a lot of swimming. DW saw a snake catching a small bass which was pretty cool. The snake hauled the fish out of the river and drug it up on the bank as it flopped around violently. Never seen that before! We also found two kayak paddles; both the cheap kind, but hey, free paddles! The river was still pretty low in spots all the way to the end. Once Alley Spring comes in the river gets more consistent water levels. We arrived at Alley around 6pm, which is kinda late for a Sunday, but those kids are more into swimming than paddling! The gravel bar at Alley has changed quite a bit. It is not as big as it used to be. The campground was pretty rough too. All the bathrooms were closed and there were only port-a-potties available. The park service has put in a lot of work to get things back to normal, but I imagine repairing all those bathrooms is a large job.

Celia, Silas and their dog Lucas

Jacks Fork River

Jacks Fork River

Twilight on the river

We had an excellent time on this trip. DW and I enjoyed taking our niece and nephew on their first overnight float trip and the kids enjoyed it too. I asked them if they had fun and if they wanted to do it again. Silas gave an enthusiastic “Yes!” and Celia said “Eh, maybe.” She’s a snarky brat like me!

Bonus Prize: 2 kayak paddles

Critter Count: Deer, Hawks, Herons, Turtles, 1 Snake

Advertisements

Float #74 & 75: Jacks Fork River

21 Jun

The Prongs to Alley Spring

F74_JacksFork

Jacks Fork River
Texas and Shannon Counties, Missouri
Saturday, June 8 & Sunday, June 9
31 Miles

The Jacks Fork is one of Missouri’s most beautiful rivers. Though it is only 44 miles long it packs in some of the most scenic bluffs and clearest water in the state. Most of the Jacks Fork above Bay Creek access is too shallow to float in the summer and fall, and it is often flooded in the spring. So it is a good idea to catch it when you can. Since we have been blessed with ample rain this year we were able to float the uppermost section this June, something that was unthinkable during last summer’s drought. We’ve never floated from the South Prong access before (mile marker 0.0). It was well worth the extra half hour of driving. The upper Jacks Fork from The Prongs to Buck Hollow is a small, twisty river that varies between deep, crystal clear pools and fast, boulder-strewn runs. It was a lot of fun and would be worth doing again with more time and a fishing pole!

We woke up very early on Saturday morning and drove the 2.5 hours from our house to Harvey’s Canoe Rental at Alley Spring in Eminence, where we set up a car shuttle (we leave our car at the put-in and they drive it to our take-out). Car shuttle is my preferred method of shuttle, since we only have to unload our gear once and we can move at our own pace. Unfortunately there aren’t many outfitters who do this anymore (something about insurance I guess). We then drove our car to The Prongs access, unloaded our gear and packed everything into the “gear barge,” our trusty Old Town canoe. DW manned the barge while I took my kayak, as usual. There were several other couples loading their canoes for overnight floats, though no one was going as far as us. Right at the access there is a small ledge of rocks that was a little difficult to float over, then around the next bend is a unique bridge that is easily floated under. Around the next bend was our only tricky obstacle, a downed tree that spanned the river. DW wriggled the canoe through it, but it took some time. Since the portage was only about an 8 foot walk on a gravel bar, I took the easy route and carried my kayak around it.

Jacks Fork River

South Prong access

Jacks Fork River

Bridge just after the prongs

Jacks Fork River

Jacks Fork River

The cutest baby turtle

Jacks Fork River

We floated through an area that looked like it had seen tornado damage a few years ago. There were many twisted, broken trees on the hillside. In between the deep pools and enticing fishing holes the river dropped elevation in rocky, rippled sections that were a lot of fun to navigate. It reminded me a bit of the Buffalo River, lots of small boulders and splashy waves. I didn’t find it difficult, but an inexperienced canoeist might have a bit of trouble avoiding all the rocks. I imagine it is even more fun with higher water. When I pulled up to a gravel bar for the first swim of the day, there was the cutest baby turtle sunning on a rock. It was slightly bigger than a quarter, and it stayed put for a few minutes while I snapped a photo before it comically flopped into the shallow water. The river was cold, but not too cold once you submerged the first time. The day was bright and warm, a perfect day for floating.

Jacks Fork River

Jacks Fork River

Jacks Fork River

Hwy. 17 Bridge

Jacks Fork River

We passed quite a few very nice gravel bars and small painted bluffs. Soon we paddled under the Hwy. 17 bridge at Buck Hollow access and our unexplored portion of the Jacks Fork was behind us. It has been 6 or 7 years since we floated from the Buck Hollow access and we only did it once, so this section was almost new to us too. Down from Buck Hollow are a couple of medium size springs and Jam Up cave, a large cave opening that is easily missed if you aren’t looking for it.

Jacks Fork River

Blue Spring

Jacks Fork River

Jacks Fork River

Snake in the debris

Jacks Fork River

Jacks Fork River

A gated cave

Jacks Fork River

Our first stop was Blue Spring, which flowed out from a small cave opening hidden behind a couple of boulders. The people who named Missouri’s springs sure weren’t very creative with their naming. There are 3 Blue Springs I can think of off-hand (this one on the Jacks, one on the Current and one on the Eleven Point) and there may be more. We parked our boats and climbed around the boulders to the spring on the other side. The water was a little cloudy, but definitely blue in color. As we pulled away DW noticed a snake camouflaged in the debris near the spring. Three more miles downriver we came to Jam Up cave and stopped there to poke around.

Jacks Fork River

Jam Up Cave

Jacks Fork River

DW climbs into the mouth of Jam Up Cave

Jacks Fork River

Jacks Fork River

Jam Up cave is easily missed if you aren’t looking for it. It is a huge cave opening, but the view is completely blocked from the river with large boulders. The climb into the cave is relatively short, but difficult. You have to either climb over large rocks or swim through freezing spring water to get inside. If you make it inside without twisting an ankle or busting a knee, you will come to a large spring fed pool with a small waterfall in the back. You can just barely see the waterfall as the light here is greatly diminished by the boulders in the entrance. On our way out of the cave we decided to swim through the water rather than climb back over the rocks. It was shockingly cold and too deep to stand in spots. Once we left the cave the river water felt like a warm bath in comparison.

Four miles down from Jam Up cave is Rhymers access. There were lots of people swimming and camping out on the gravel bar near the access. A mile down from there on the left side of the river is Bunker Hill, a beautiful resort that is exclusively for Missouri’s teachers, their families and friends. If you are a teacher in Missouri, or know one, it is well worth checking out.

A few miles downstream we caught up with a group from SLAG that were floating from Buck Hollow to Alley Spring. We knew the group was going to be on the river ahead of us and figured if we saw them we might hang out or camp with them for the night. The majority of the group was well ahead of the people we caught up with. They invited us to camp with them, wherever they might end up. It was getting close to dusk and we were nearing Bay Creek access, which is 6 miles above Alley Spring. We decided that if we didn’t see the group before Bay Creek we would have to stop for the night so we would have some distance left to paddle the next day. We did catch them setting up camp on a large gravel bar just before Bay Creek. It was nice to see some people we knew, meet new people and have a nice fire we didn’t have to build ourselves. DW and I had paddled 25 miles in one day. I was a little tired, but not sore. We probably could have paddled all the way to Alley Spring if we wanted to! It would definitely be feasible for us to do the whole river in two days if we don’t take too many breaks or spend time fishing.

Jacks Fork River

Jacks Fork River

Jacks Fork River

Jacks Fork River

The next morning we broke camp under an overcast sky and were on the river around 9am. There was rain in the forecast, but with only 6 miles to go we didn’t want to get done too quickly. We fished a bit and didn’t paddle much. DW and I both caught one nice sized small mouth bass and plenty of tiny sun perch. I could see the perch chasing my lure and I would yell at them to go away, since I didn’t want to bother with detaching such a tiny fish! Most of the didn’t listen and hooked themselves anyway. As we rounded the last stretch of the river, dark storm clouds approached from the west. It looked like that rain was going to catch up to us after all. We started to paddle, but it turned out Alley Spring was just around the corner anyway. We reached our take out around 12:30 and quickly packed up our gear before the rain. As we pulled out of the parking area raindrops spattered on our windshield.

Jacks Fork River

Jacks Fork River

Storms approaching

Jacks Fork River

Hwy. 106 Bridge at Alley Spring

If you’ve never been to Alley Spring it is a must-see. It is the most well-known attraction on the Jacks Fork with a beautiful, large spring and an old red mill nearby. It makes for gorgeous pictures in any season and is an excellent place to picnic. We really enjoyed this trip to the Jacks Fork and I am looking forward to spending more time on The Prongs section and maybe catching some nice fish in those big blue pools.

Critter Count: Blue Herons, Kingfishers, Turtles, Snake

Bonus Prize: 1 canoe paddle

Float #9: Jacks Fork River

24 Jun

Bay Creek to Eminence

jacks fork river map

Jacks Fork River
Shannon  County, Missouri
Saturday, June 18
12 Miles

The Jacks Fork is one of the beautiful streams in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Crystal clear waters, towering bluffs and abundant wildlife are all major draws to this river. It’s been a few years since I’ve floated the Jacks. There always seem to be wilder, more remote rivers calling my attention when I am going to drive multiple hours from home. After doing a bunch of close-to-home floats I was ready to drive for a weekend of camping and floating. We organized the trip weeks ahead of time, planning to camp at Bay Creek, a National Forest campground about halfway down the river. We originally wanted to float the upper part of the river, but the water was too low, even for kayaks. So we revised our plan and floated down from Bay Creek for two days.

We arrived at the campground at 6pm Friday night. It’s a good thing we didn’t arrive any later because the campground was almost full. There was only one spot left; the smallest one. We had 9 people in our group throughout the weekend so camping was tight, but we managed. Bay Creek only has 10 sites, all well equipped with fire rings, grills and picnic tables. Half of them are in a meadow right at the river access. The rest of the sites are across a small creek ford and very spread out along a rough gravel road that goes a few miles along the river. It was almost a mile from our site to the only toilet!

It was very humid and warm on Friday night, so we didn’t build a fire, we just hung out in a circle around a citronella candle. Turns out it’s a perfect substitute for a campfire! After dinner and a few beers we hit the tents to get some sleep for tomorrow’s float. About an hour before dawn I was awakened by some rustling outside the tent. I couldn’t see anything, but I knew some animal was messing around in our site. I sent DW out to investigate. I think he was still asleep because he tried to exit the tent through the window and I had to direct him to the door. Eventually he stumbled out to discover some raccoons had broken into our food container and chowed down a bag of Red Hot Riplets (very spicy bbq chips). Joke’s on them because I bet they had asses of fire the next day! DW chased them off a secured the campsite. Right at dawn I heard coyotes howling and yipping just over the ridge. They were very loud, but it only lasted a few seconds. Just after that it started to rain. There was plenty of thunder, but it never rained too hard. It kept up throughout the early morning, so we didn’t get as early of a start as we had planned. About 9am the birds started singing, so I took that as a sign the rain was over and we could get our day started.

bay creek jack forks river

Bluff just above Bay Creek

DW, Charlie and our friend Gregg ran the shuttle down to Eminence while Alex and I prepped the float gear and food for the day. Once they returned we put the kayaks in the water just upstream from our campsite, which was a little over a mile upriver from the Bay Creek access. A few minutes after we put in we came across a rope swing and had to take a swim break. Down at the access we met up with Gregg’s brother, his 11-year-old nephew and his nephew’s friend. They were floating in a 12 ft. whitewater canoe and a 15 ft. canoe. They probably had to do a little more scraping than the kayaks, but it wasn’t too bad. The day was pretty warm, but the sun didn’t come out until after noon.

jacks for river bluff

Bluff down from Bay Creek

jacks fork river

Alex kayaks around the bend

jacks fork river

Swimming stop

We had lots of fun watching the young boys maneuver their canoe around the fast bends. The adults were yelling instructions while the boys simultaneously yelled “I got it. I know how to do this!” Every overhanging tree, bluff and large rock prompted a chorus of “Can we jump off that? Dad lets stop and jump.” Thus we made several swimming stops, which was good for a hot and sunny day.

The halfway point of our trip was Alley Spring, a beautiful and historic spring with a large campground, picnic area and historic mill. It’s well worth a stop if you have never been before. We’ve visited countless times already and when we arrived it was already pushing past 4pm so we only made a brief stop to swim. As soon as we got to Alley we saw large crowds swimming next to the campground, where there is a popular jumping rock. We stopped here for a while as everyone took their turn on the rock. I never jump off things due to a fear of heights that just can’t be reckoned with, but I enjoy watching others have fun. Due to the low water, all the outfitters were putting their customers in at Alley Spring. So the first half of our trip had been exceptionally pleasant with only private boats, fewer people and almost no trash to pick up. After Alley there still weren’t many people on the river as it was late in the afternoon and most of the crowds were already off the river. However there was significantly more trash to pick up, mostly beer cans. Thus we concluded that as a group, boat renters must be awful litterbugs and Bud Light is the choice drink of assholes. We must have picked up at least a 24-pack of Bud Light cans in the last 6 miles of the trip.

jacks fork river

DW and Charlie

jacks fork alley spring

The jumping rock at Alley Spring

baby turtle jacks fork river

Baby turtle

The remainder of the trip included several more swimming stops, many turtles and a northern water snake sunning itself on a rock. After Alley Spring enters the river the water temperature is much colder. The last two miles of the trip are more populated with houses as you near Eminence and we didn’t see as much wildlife. We finally pulled off the river at 8pm. There was still plenty of light with the summer solstice only a couple of days away. We loaded 4 of the kayaks on our Subaru and headed back to Bay Creek so the rest of the crew could run shuttle for the canoes. By the time they got back it was dark and we worked on cooking dinner and building a small fire. No critters invaded camp that night and we all slept peacefully.

Critter Count: Blue Herons, Green Herons, Turtles, Northern Water Snake