Monday, June 02, 2008

Jacks Fork River - May 28, 2008

To see slideshow of photographs click HERE.

I left the office at noon on the dot to go home to pack the car. Everything had been prepared the night before, so I was on the road an hour later, headed toward Poplar Bluff, Missouri to meet Ray at the Super 8 ($60). I strayed from Route 57 at Salem (about 50 miles south of Effingham) and headed west to Highway 51 to explore as I made my way south. I spent about an hour in Centralia taking photos. General impression: Modest town and homes, two tattoo parlors (that I saw), lots of very cool handpainted signs around town, quiet. I continued on 51 to Carbondale, where I had never been. I arrived, unfortunately, just as it was turning dark, so I saw very little. What I did see reminded me of Champaign, but less flat. Not a walking community from what I could see; you have to have a car here to get anywhere. Perhaps I missed the good part. I returned to Route 57 and continued to Poplar Bluff. I was happy to find that 57 becomes 60 near Sikeston, MO, which conveniently leads directly into Poplar Bluff. I arrived around 11:00 p.m. to a room that smelled like a funeral parlor. Ray didn't arrive until near 1:00 a.m. and after some catching up we hit the hay at 2:00.

Since it was included and we didn't want to waste time, we had breakfast at the motel before heading for the town of Eminence, MO. There, we pulled over to the side of the road to consult our map. Moments later a pair of bikers passed us, but not fast enough to get away without explaining what in the world they were doing biking in the Ozarks (i.e. it's all hills). "Where are you from?" I shouted. They stopped, I think somewhat relieved for a break, explaining that they were biking to Portland, Oregon. They introduced themselves as Wayne and Dianne Wildgrube. Full details of their inspiring adventure appear on their website HERE.

We stopped at Alley Spring, where we would be ending our trip on Sunday, to drop off my car. The Jacks Fork River had an above average amount water, so we were able to put in at Buck Hollow, several miles upstream from Blue Spring, where we have put in before. There was a small crowd of people at the put in swimming and sunning. The first time we came to this river there was snow on the ground. This time, the temperature was in the mid-80's and the water looked refreshing. It's been three years since our last canoe trip and it felt comfortable to get into our canoes, ladened with equipment and provisions. The water was moving quickly, grabbing our bows and propelling us downstream, away from the sunbathers and swimmers. About an hour later we came upon Blue Spring and, for the first time, took time to explore it. In the later afternoon we staked out a perfect camp spot; perfect being defined as: Pretty bluff on the opposite side, tent in a spot that would be in the morning shade, fast running water for sound and body surfing. Oddly, there was very little firewood to be had at this spot, but we scrounged and found enough sticks and dead branches for a fire that lasted late into the night. In the morning, after breaking camp and getting back into the water, we discovered our camp spot was barely a quarter of a mile upstream from Jam Up Cave. Jam Up is an enormous cave, although an unobservant canoeist might pass right by if not paying attention. In the past, we have been on the Jacks Fork before the trees leafed out, so the cave was clearly evident from the river. This time of the year, the trees disguise the cave from the casual viewer. We stopped for an obligatory exploration and photos. Dinner: Ribeye steaks encrusted with Porcinin mushroom powder. I was trying to duplicate a steak that I enjoyed several nights earlier at the Capital Grille, but none of the mushroom flavor survived the grilling. I wonder what they do at that restaurant to get both great grilled and mushroom flavor. Nevertheless, the steaks were tasty. We were disappointed, however, because we didn't have salt for the baked potatoes.

The next day, Friday, was hot. The forecast was 92 and it felt even hotter. Fortunately, we could pull over often and body surf or swim (body surfing = laying down in a deep rapid and letting the water sweep you away and carry you for some distance; the kind of fun that usually only kids get to enjoy). In spite of the heat, and because we were trying to find another perfect campsite, we paddled hard and put a lot of miles behind us. I spotted a 4' water moccasin swimming about 30' from me at one point. We also saw an interesting blue bird, fairly large, with orange feet. He would fly out of a tree, dip low over the water and grab something out of the river (minnows?). Although we didn't find a perfect spot, we found a reasonable place where someone had left an enormous pile of wood for us to enjoy for our campfire. Later that evening, but before dark, we enjoyed watching vultures glide over the river; up to a point on the bluff, off, and back again. They glide so smoothly, effortlessly. On the previous evening we experienced some annoying insects. One was a tiny, dark brown insect that seemed to fall from the sky just before dark. The moment it turned dark, the dark insect was replaced with annoying gnats of some type that made it impossible to use a flashlight. The instant a flashlight was lit, swarms of the little beasts flew in your face. Fortunately, they didn't bother us at all in the dark when only the campfire provided light. Dinner: Soy and port marinated beef tenderloin kabobs.

Saturday was expected to be hotter, but a thin veil of cloud layer kept the sun at bay for much of the day, making it more comfortable than we anticipated. Nevertheless, it was warm and a great deal of body surfing and swimming was undertaken. We established camp early in the day because we had been too aggressive paddling the day before. We pulled out at a reasonable gravel campsite. Although there was no pretty bluff across the river, the river had sculpted a long, deep but swift moving pool that was ideal for swimming. Moreover, there was a perfect slot between trees for our tent. We emptied our canoes and were sitting, relaxing by 3:00 p.m. with a glass (cup actually) of Three Buck Chuck. More refreshing swimming followed. Shortly before dusk, the sky became cloudier and it sprinkled from time to time. At one point we were driven under the shelter of the trees for a while. We listened to deep thunder and watched the sky pulse with lighting. Perhaps because of the this, there were far fewer bugs. Eventually, the sky cleared and most of the sky was open to the stars. During the night it rained long and hard. At about three a.m., worried because our canoes were beached, but not tied, I scrambled out of the tent, into the rain, to look if the river had risen. But all was fine. In the morning, the ground was already dry. We laid out our tent, tarp, sleeping bags, etc. out in the sun to drive out the moisture and were soon back in the river heading for the pull out at Alley Spring. Of course, shortly before taking out, we enjoyed one last swim. Dinner: Italian sausage. Ray concocted an alternative for the baked potatoes. Since we didn't have salt, we crushed jalapeno Krunchers and mixed them with our potatoes. An interesting experiment, but we prefer salt in our potatoes.

  • We saw a squirrel this time. This was the first squirrel we have seen in the Ozarks!
  • Our last canoe trip, "The Best Trip Ever," was on Clear Creek in Tennessee. It was a fast, technical stream that moved almost constantly and required portaging obstacles from time to time. In contrast, the Jacks Fork River is an easy float with no dangers and no portages.
  • I was disappointed to find beer cans littering the bottom of the river. Not everywhere, certainly, but I probably saw fifteen or twenty during the 22 mile stretch. The last time Ray and I canoed here, there were none at all. The river was pristine. It's clear that this river is seeing much more use. Sadly, some of the people using it are slobs.
  • Miles driven from home to the Jacks Fork River and back: 1,225.
To see slideshow of photographs click HERE.