Montauk State Park

Salem, MO – July, 2016 We enjoyed an awesome 4th of July weekend with family and friends. After the festivities we were looking forward to a few quieter days. We headed to one of our favorite Missouri state parks. Montauk is a beautiful trout park.

It has an old mill that they open for tours a couple times a week.

The source of the Current River is Montauk Springs. The river then flows over 100 miles, growing in size with the addition of water from the many springs along the way. A few years ago Jim and I decided to float every inch of the Current from the state park border to the Arkansas state line during one summer. We divided the river into a series of 13 day floats.

One of the hardest things to accomplish was putting in at the state park border. You are not allowed to float inside the state park and a private individual owns the property immediately following the state park. So our solution was to drop our kayaks off on the side of the road just inside the state park. We scrambled down the steep embankment in the below photo then floated about 150 yards in the forbidden state park waters before reaching its border.

It is only a couple miles to the first commonly used put in, Baptist. The park service does not encourage anyone to float above Baptist so they don’t clear away any trees that might get caught in the stream during flooding. We were told by a fisherman that wades that section, that after recent flooding it is currently unfloatable.

For this visit we decided to float the seven and a half miles from Cedar Grove to Akers Ferry. We hired Jadwin Canoe to shuttle our truck to the takeout for $40. This was more money than we wanted to pay but a fair price for the number of miles involved and cheaper than their competition.

This section has many caves and some drop dead gorgeous bluffs.

We only had one day available to float so even though we knew there was a good chance of some rain that day we decided to go for it. It started drizzling about halfway through the float. Luckily we were able to find this great place to wait it out before it really let loose.

I had some extra layers of clothing with me and we always keep some disposable rain ponchos with us so we stayed pretty comfortable. I was surprised how many people continued to float by during the 2 hour storm despite the lightning. A local couple stopped after a while and it was nice to have someone to visit with and pass the time. Since they had lived in the area their whole lives we learned a lot of interesting local history.

The storm passed and we were finally able to get under way again. A highlight of this particular float is Welch Hospital and Welch Spring. If you don’t know what you are looking for you can easily miss it. You will hear the roar of the spring and you want to stop on the left before the spring water exits into the river. Usually there will be some boats there already.

You can walk over to the remains of the historic hospital. In the early 1900’s a doctor built this room over the mouth of a cave and claimed that the fresh cave air flowing into the room could heal what ailed you.

Walk up the steps for a great view inside the hospital.

Welch Spring flows from under a bluff next to it. You can reach the spring by road and a short hike. You can see that path across the water in the following pic. You are not supposed to wade across to the hospital however and it would be really cold besides.

Jim enjoyed some great fishing on this float. He caught two good sized trout, one at least 14 inches. Unfortunately both times I was too far downriver to get back for a pic. We still had trout in the freezer from Roaring River so we didn’t keep either of them.

A couple miles past Welch Spring is the takeout at Akers Ferry. The Ferry has said “Temporarily Out of Service” for a few years now. The very first time we visited here was the only time I have ever seen it in service.

Montauk is a good sized campground with electric only sites for $24 per night. It is well maintained but they have had some recent flooding so our site was a bit on the muddy side. The park has great cabins, a nice store and restaurant, and plenty of places to walk.

Two Rivers

Eminence, MO – June, 2016 Both the Current River and the Jack’s Fork are lovely, clear, clean rivers that are very popular for floating. Since the Jack’s Fork joins the Current just outside the little town of Eminence, the town is also very popular with floaters who can arrange to float many miles of either river from this location.

We had originally planned to float on the Jack’s Fork from Alley Spring into our camp in Eminence the first day, a Saturday. But some good friends who visit Eminence regularly explained that was the most crowded float in the area. They suggested a float on the Current River from Two Rivers, just below where the Jack’s Fork joins it, to Powder Mill.

This is the view of the rivers joining at Two Rivers. The Jack’s Fork comes in from the left of the photo and the Current from the right.

two rivers

There is a campground here, a store, and outfitter. They agreed to shuttle our vehicles to the take out for $45 each. It was an 8 mile drive to the put in and a 14 mile drive back to Eminence at the end of the float. For this minor inconvenience we had a beautiful section of the Current practically to ourselves. We did pass a large family on a couple rafts and we saw a few boats, but much of the day it was just our group of nine.

The float was about 7 miles long. The water was wide enough in this section that there were no tricky turns, hard to negotiate root wads, or difficult rapids. It was a lovely peaceful float.  There were lots of tall bluffs.

current

A highlight of the float was when a bald eagle flew directly over our group while we were stopped at a gravel bar. He was only about 30 feet above our heads so we got an amazing view of him as he passed. He flew to the other side of the river and perched high up in a tree. He stayed there until we left but was too far away for us to get a picture of him with our phones.

The next day we chose to float out of our camp in Eminence. We shuttled our own vehicle down to the same place we had put in the day before, Two Rivers. We had a few less people in our party on Sunday and were able to get all the kayaks and people that were floating that day into one vehicle. So we only had to move one truck to the take out before putting on the Jack’s Fork.

We had another beautiful day on another beautiful river. This 8 mile float was more crowded than the previous day’s float but still not terrible. The Jack’s Fork is a smaller river so there were more difficult sections to contend with.

We saw a capsized canoe tangled up in a root wad but some guys got it out as we approached. And there were tales of inexperienced kayakers capsizing in the same spot. But most of the river was fairly easy for anyone with paddling experience.

The Jack’s Fork has plenty of beautiful bluffs.

And rocky overhangs.

Our friend Amy got this awesome panorama with her phone showing most of our group and our rainbow of boats.

Our favorite float on the Jack’s Fork is well upriver of Eminence. Highway 17 bridge north of Mountain View to Rymer’s is the float we recommend most. We hoped to float that section this summer but ran out of days on the calendar. Maybe next year.

One con of Eminence being such a popular town is that it can be hard to find a decent campground or a room when you want. Everyone we spoke to said that Harvey’s Circle B was the best campground but I tried calling them dozens of times and there phone was always busy. I found Arrowhead Campground on an outfitter’s website. It had some bad reviews but most of the complaints were about their bathrooms and cabins.

We had no need for either so I made the reservation. They charge $28 for a full hookup site plus $8 for each adult over the first two. The sites were shady, roomy, and a short walk from the river.

It turned out to be a pretty decent campground. My only complaint was the flies. We fought them all weekend and on the morning of our departure they literally ran us out of camp. I’d consider staying again but take an arsenal of bug spray with me.

Roaring River State Park

Cassville, Missouri – June, 2016 Jim and I enjoyed a week living in the city, getting caught up on annual appointments, and visiting our kids. Then we were ready for some fresh air and fresh fish. So we headed to one of our favorite Missouri state parks, Roaring River. I mentioned it briefly last summer. But it has so much to offer it deserves its own post.

We have visited this park at least once a year for about 20 years. I clearly remember tent camping near this very spot when our baby was about 4. We have visited in a succession of campers since then; from our first 1970 Coleman popup, to our Trailmanor, and finally graduating to 5th wheels. We have so very many wonderful memories here!

I was really looking forward to hiking all my favorite trails again. There are 7 trails totaling just over 10 miles. You can also add a lot of mileage to the hikes by walking to the trailheads instead of driving.

The most interesting trail in the park is Devil’s Kitchen. It is a mile and a half with quite a bit of elevation gain. The payoff is beautiful bluffs along much of the trail followed by the highlight. Devil’s Kitchen is a half-hazard looking pile of rocks that form a cavern.

Supposedly the cavern hid guerilla soldiers during the civil war.

My favorite part of the Fire Tower Trail is the less than 1 mile section between the end of campground C and where the trail crosses the highway. The path leads you between the river and a very scenic series of bluffs.

The shortest hike in the park is Deer Leap. It is 100 steps leading to an overlook with a view of the hatchery and the spring pond.

The pond is where they keep the big momma trout they use to stock the remainder of the stream.

Spring water gushes out of the ground under this cliff and there is often some runoff from above creating a waterfall.

It’s fun to watch the fish in the stream even if you have no interest in catching and/or eating them. The water is so clear there are many great fish photo ops.

Trout is our favorite freshwater fish to eat so thankfully Jim did have some luck and caught enough for two plentiful meals. Here is day one’s catch.

You probably see some sad, dying fish. I see trout almandine!

It was super hot during our visit but thankfully there are plenty of places to keep cool around here. In the middle of the park is a popular swimming hole that is very family friendly and has enough water coming in and out to keep it fresh when the water is reasonably high.

Later in the summer this water can become a bit stagnant. Then people tend to gravitate to the camp swimming pool, which can be a lifesaver if you have kids in tow.

Some parts of the trout stream are designated multi-use and wading and swimming there can be fun. Our favorite swimming spot is a short drive past campground C. It is the first right after the Fire Tower Trailhead on the left. There is a memorial gravesite for the Russell’s, the original homesteaders, who wisely located their home next to a perfect little swimming hole. The water is usually about waste deep and has its own scenic bluff and waterfall.

We have visited this spot many times and never ran into another soul. I’m sure someone had swum their before our arrival one day because the generally clear water was mucked up. But it was still refreshing.

The campground here is extremely well maintained. Our spacious, electric only site averaged $24 per night including the reservation fee. The park has lots of cabins and a lovely lodge so it is a great place to meet family and friends that want to enjoy the great outdoors with you but aren’t thrilled about camping.

The Elk River

Noel, Missouri – June, 2016 Jim and I are planning to spend June and most of July around southern Missouri. We are looking forward to spending some time with our friends and family, especially our granddaughter. But we are also very excited about spending time on the many beautiful rivers here.

We have been surprised how few beautiful, clear, floatable rivers we’ve encountered in our travels thus far. We can count them on one hand. The San Marcos, the Colorado River, the other Colorado in Texas, and the Chatoogo are the ones that spring to mind. There were some possible candidates in the state of Colorado but the water there was pretty high and very cold when we visited in May.

We have always taken the rivers of our home state for granted. Most of our lives we’ve lived within a few hours of dozens of beautiful floats. I can easily think of 6 rivers just in southern MO that are so clear you can easily see the bottom most of the time. I like to see what I am swimming in and what might be swimming with me.

The rivers in South Carolina’s lowcountry really brought this point home. They have blackwater rivers which are exactly what they sound like. The water is dark as night and you can’t see a foot into it. Not a place I’d want to stick a toe into, and I wasn’t too keen on kayaking them either. You have to assume there is always a possibility, however remote, that you are going into that water you are floating over.

I’m afraid if I went into the drink in a blackwater river I’d have a heart attack imagining what might be swimming around in there with me. Alligators are a very real possibility in SC. Even though the reasonable part of my brain knows they aren’t likely to attack a person, I don’t think that is the part of my brain that would be in control if I unexpectedly found myself immersed.

So while we are back in our home stomping grounds we hope to visit some of our favorite floats and share them here. I encourage anyone passing through, or near, southern MO to stop for a while and see what it has to offer. And if you are passing through this summer and need any ideas about what to visit or want to see if our paths are going to cross feel free to comment or email us.

Now I’ll tell you about a beautiful place that we only just discovered. Our friends asked us months ago if we wanted to join them on the Elk River in June for the Chicken Coop. Huh, the Chicken what?

It turns out that last year they stumbled upon an annual dart tournament that has taken place in Noel, Missouri for over 30 years. We have no real interest in darts but they promised us it was a redneck party that was not to be missed. So we said “what the heck, count us in.”

The people involved in this event take over Wayside Campground the first weekend of June. Our friends have visited this campground several times and claim that on normal weekends it is not terribly busy. But on this weekend we knew not to expect any privacy and we were right. We had tents pitched all around us.

The campground was $35 per night for water and electric. Like so many riverside campgrounds rustic is a nice way to describe it. It’s a gravel bar with water and electric and not much else. But the staff is super friendly and it’s in the perfect location. There is a small dam that makes the water in front of the campground lake-like and perfect for swimming. Here was the view from our camp. There is another campground across the river.

To get to the campground you have to drive along a road with this scary bluff sticking out. Even though the sign says there is a 13’10” clearance it is still nerve-racking to drive your rig under because it looks so much closer.

The dart tournament consisted of a large tent with maybe 30 dart boards being played all hours of the day and night. That is why we insisted on a campsite as far away as possible. People were driving in and out all the time but that didn’t bother us. We walked down each evening to see what was going on but didn’t spend a ton of time there. The tournament did host a good band on Saturday night and some fireworks that we saw from our site.

We had super neighbors. We shared their campfire Saturday night and were treated to a midnight snack of the best BBQ ribs I’ve ever eaten. Yes, we can’t believe we stayed awake ’till midnight either!

The river was the big surprise for me. I just didn’t have very high expectations for it. But it turned out to be very clear, clean water with some stunning scenery along the way. Since I didn’t expect it to be very scenic I didn’t take a camera, or even a phone, so I missed some really beautiful shots. I stole a few of my friends’ photos and took some later from the bank.

There were many beautiful bluffs.

The water was generally very calm. It flowed slowly but steadily. So there was plenty of time for visiting with friends.

This river does have a well-deserved reputation as a party river. We generally try to avoid crowds on rivers but every now and then we just embrace the crazy and go with it. This was one of the wildest river atmospheres we’ve encountered. I mean loud music, occasional public nudity, don’t bring your grandkids kind of crazy.

Jim had fun catching more than a dozen fish even though only one would have been large enough to keep. We did chat up some of our fellow floaters now and then and met a nice, young couple from Kansas among others. This would be a really beautiful, likely serene, weekday float which is how we hope to experience it next time we get a chance.

Rainy Days

Missouri – May, 2016 We arrived in Missouri in time to spend the week ending on Memorial Day at our family’s home on the Current River. It rained for most of the time that we were there so a good bit of our time was spent watching the river rise and fall. But it was a great place to meet up with friends and family, hang out, and catch up.

The river got low enough one day that we did float it. When the river is high it can be a boring, short float. The water moves so fast and since all the gravel bars are under water there is no place to stop. But we had friends along that made it fun and we found one great little gravel island to hang out on for a while. The river was roaring by us on one side but on the other was a perfect stream that we could cool off in.

That night the sky let loose with another round of storms and the river rose pretty steadily for the next several days. They actually closed the river, or at least barricaded the public accesses to it, over the Memorial weekend. I’m sure that put a kink in a lot of holiday plans.

We were watching the river forecast pretty closely since our camper was parked on its banks. The river would have to get to 13 feet before the camper was in any danger. But our river bank is higher than the yard we have to drive across to get to it. So at 10 feet the water starts backing up into our yard cutting off our exit.

We weren’t terribly concerned because they were forecasting it to top out at 8 feet. But as the days and the rain wore on we got more nervous, especially when the river reached their forecasted height time after time and they would raise the forecast once again.

It finally quit raining but the river rose for another day. It topped out at 11.5 feet. Not sure I want to ever cut it that close again! We got one more dry day and then it was supposed to start raining again. Thankfully that was enough time to let the yard dry out a little so we didn’t make a huge muddy mess pulling the rig out.

At least we had a nice house to enjoy while we watched the rain. My family built an adorable 2 bedroom home several years ago and we all share it as a second home. I enjoyed just puttering around the house. It was nice to have a washer/dryer at my disposal. And I took long luxurious showers and baths enjoying having more than 10 gallons of hot water at a time and the ample sized tub and shower.

We sloshed back and forth between our rig and the house many times a day. Most days there was a stream running through the yard that we had to wade through. We got pretty sick of mud and I literally got sick with a yucky cold. But it was still a great week.

We didn’t have any solid plans until the next weekend so with a few days to kill we headed to one of our favorite rivers that wasn’t flooded. The North Fork of the White River is smack dab in the middle of the state and flows almost straight south for about 20 miles before it runs into Norfolk Lake just north of the Arkansas state line.

It is a very clear, cold river with excellent trout fishing. It was a little high so Jim didn’t bother trying to fish this trip. We absolutely love to kayak this river but since I was fighting a cold and it was a bit on the drizzly side we contented ourselves with driving around visiting some of our favorite places. Since we were there mid-week we only saw a few floaters

There are many beautiful bluffs along the river.

Patrick Bridge is a low water bridge that you can generally float under or if the river is too high you can easily port over it.

One of the special places on this river is Althea Spring. It is a short walk from the river just below Patrick Bridge if you are floating by or can be reached from the parking lot for the Patrick Bridge Access.

After a long, hot float in the summer it is a cool, shady place to explore. The water comes out of a hill with a gentle gurgle then flows toward the river a bit before reaching a small dam built by a private individual who owned the property from 1958 to 1977. It was a domestic power plant.

You can imagine how cold that spring water is. But on a hot, summer day you can usually find people playing in the waterfall. One of the fun things about it is that you can wade across the stream below the fall and climb into the concrete structure on the right and actually get behind the waterfall.

At the end of the day Dawt Mill is a great place to relax and have a beer. On weekdays it is a little slow and they close at 3 but on summer weekends you can hang out on their deck overlooking the river and watch the floaters. Here is a view of it from across the river.

We checked out their campground thinking we might stay there on a future visit. I definitely cannot recommend it. It is very cramped and pricey. I don’t know how we’d get our rig out once we got back there as the road around it was so tight I wasn’t crazy about driving the truck around it. I wouldn’t take a trailer back there period. A small motorhome would probably be OK.

After visiting Dawt we loved our site at Sunburst Ranch Campground more than ever even though it is a little rustic and the bugs are occasionally thick. They charge per person and the rates are higher on weekends. So for our water and electric site we paid $33 per weekday night. It is owned by a very nice, young couple that have always gone out of their way to make us feel welcome.

Misery

Missouri – July 2015 When we headed to Missouri a month ago we thought we would go west again right after my family reunion last weekend. I had hoped to be in Montana by now. But the universe had other plans and so we are still here and will be for another week or two. Two of our income properties have unexpectedly been vacated in the last 10 days. We joke that there is a conspiracy to keep us here in the state we fondly refer to as Misery instead of Missouri. But we are quite lucky this happened while we were in the area instead of 2000 miles away.

When we do finally break away in a couple weeks we are actually planning a road trip east and then swinging back through Missouri about Labor Day before finally proceeding west, most likely skipping Montana and Washington and going to Oregon. While we are here we are enjoying the beautiful rivers the Ozarks are blessed with. We’ve got plenty of free places to park our home. And we are saving a ton on fuel!

We enjoyed the Current River some more now that it is near normal river level. We backed our rig up to the river bank so that there was an amazing view outside our kitchen window. And we parked under a huge tree where we got lots of shade. One evening a pretty large limb in that tree broke. It was tenuously hanging on to the tree but most of it was on our trailer. We thought it was best to leave it and hoped we could drive out from under it when we left in several days. A big storm the next night moved it around quite a bit but it still held on. The day we prepared to leave we discovered this.

It fell the rest of the way down and was resting on top of our trailer. We hadn’t heard it fall so assume it wasn’t terribly violent and thankfully there was no damage to the trailer roof. I started to shove it off the roof but was damaging the roof’s edge in the process. Jim got a saw and we cut it in to 3 pieces we could safely throw off the roof.

The next weekend we parked in our friends’ driveway 20 miles south of Springfield and enjoyed their property and pool for a few days. They live very near the James River which is a pretty little river that is a convenient place to float when you are in the Springfield area. We chose to float from Hootentown to mud bank on Sunday. Hootentown is a campground that is as hick as its name implies and mud bank is exactly that, a muddy, messy take out just off the highway. There were a ton of people floating above Hootentown as evidenced by those waiting for a shuttle when we put in. But we only saw a half dozen other kayakers on our 9 mile float.

The boys had fun fishing and caught bluegill, smallmouth bass, and goggle eye. It didn’t matter what they caught because we wouldn’t have eaten anything out of this part of the river that flows out of Springfield Lake.

The next weekend we took our 4 year old granddaughter camping at Roaring River Park near Cassville, Missouri. It is a trout park operated by the Missouri State Parks. It’s about an hour from Springfield and since Jim loves to fish for trout we have camped here many, many times over the years. We had not taken our grandchild here before but knew that it would be the perfect place.

There are some great, short hikes (our favorite is Devil’s Kitchen). It has wonderful playgrounds (some right by the stream) and lots of places to wade and take a dip. Of course, the fishing is good but as we expected it didn’t hold a 4 year old’s attention for very long.

The highlight of her trip was the swimming pool. They have a very nice pool. It does cost a few dollars extra to get in but was so worth it. We spent about an hour each afternoon there. Our granddaughter had a ball each time, made some new friends, and sufficiently wore herself out so that we didn’t have to worry about a struggle at bedtime. She was more than ready to go to sleep by the time it was lights out.