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.