Monday, July 28, 2008

Nebraska + SouthDakota


I was interested in seeing more of northern Nebraska- inspired by what I saw during the river clean-ups over the last few months. My mother proposed that we visit the badlands- so we did! We drove up 29 and west on hwy 12-out of sioux city, IA. In search of a place to stay, we found PONCA SP on the Nebraska side of the Mighty Mo. We picked a spot and visited the river for sunset. I fished- caught a couple of Drum, a tiny channel catfish and something that a local identified as a Redhorse- out of a green eddie in the river.
The river is wide here; many broad sandbars disrupt the smooth surface and make the water rough. As the sun became lower, the texture on the river became more defined. The sky was orange and yellow, green and blue- only a slight breeze blew past the soft bluff just downstream from my eddie.- upstream was flat.
The moon was still very bright, and it was an early night.

In the morn, I fished in the same eddie as I had the night before. My mother disappeared on a trail through the wet prairie behind me. I caught another miro-catfish. A small bit of worm, small sinker and a size 6 hook did the trick., 4 drum and a small gar, too.

We left the park and headed west early- drove to the far side of the town of crofton- to a gas station at the corner of 121 and 12 where a man approached the car and attempted to fill'er up. 'Shoulda seen the look on my mothers face when he asked her what octane gas she wanted. - Unfortunately, his pumps would not work and we had to fill up in yankton. I really wanted to find a good gravel bar- I owe a friend a bison tooth! There were none accessible here and we visited the Lewis and clark rec area just west on the lake. There was a small pond on the area- separated from the main lake by only a few feet of gravel. I through in a small silver 'jerk bait' and caught a handful of sunfish and bluegill. I tossed it near a patch of hornwart in the middle of the lake and began to fish the small lure. When I spotted the large fish goin at it, I let the lure lay still- suspended in the water just inches from the surface. The large black bass approached it, and upon seeing my lure give a final twitch, inhaled it!
It took me a second to get him in- The largest bass Ive landed in a long while! We walked the shore for a few minutes and I fished some more. All of the boat traffic on the main lake made the water mucky- though still much clearer than the Big muddy would be south of Sioux city
Near the little town of Niobrara, we explored a huge wetland on the shallow Missouri river and the braided waters of the niobrara river near the confluence (of the Mo).. I spotted a gar in a pool within the thicket of cattails on the Missouri- Through that same little jerk bait in front of him and twitched it to watch him stalk the lure. He snapped at it, but I pulled it from his reach. I toyed with him a few minutes before I let him get it- reeled it in and snapped a photo before releasing 'em again.
Hwy 12 is closed- a sign read. We took a detour south- right by Ashfalls fossil beds. The area, designated a historic sight by the state of NE, is a large prehistoric watering hole that was smothered in volcanic ash over 11 million years ago- The volcanic blast, from southern Idaho, laid 10-20 inches of ash on the creatures that were using the pond. Now, paleontologists study the skeletons of everything from zebras and rhinoceros to camels, elephant and buffalo on the site. Public, for a fee, is invited to come see the fossils.
We walked around the area- the bones were everywhere! Skeletons showing food and babies in mothers and adults were displayed in glass.
It was not until we got into cherry county that we noticed the lack of trees and rolling sandhills that surround VALENTINE. We'd visited the area once before- and loved it !
Just east of the town is a small state park and a large refuge called Ft niobrara Wilderness. We found a small herd of bison and a city of prairie dogs here. They 'barked' at us until they retreated to their holes. The small squirrel-things stood on their hind legs to watch us go by- like a meerkat.
In smith falls state park was the niobrara river. It is mush skinnier here than just down the road in valentine. There are no sandbars or islands- just a shallow stream resembling the blue river near swope park.
A small creek trickles into the Niobrara in the park- a short hike reveals the tallest waterfall in the state- Smith falls. The spring-fed falls created a little oasis in the desert that surrounds the park and displays a sample of the plants and animals that have survived there since the last ice-age- when the climate was wetter. The water WAS COLD! my mother jumped under the falls first- then I HAD to . The waterfall does not discharge a great volume of water, but spills the little water from about 70 feet.
Many canoes floated past our campground on the river. I found a small creek in the park- its dry bed was full of fossilized bone shards. I found a hunk of fossil antler- like from a deer- and a small gypsum crystal. We had a good fire.
In the morn- the cool, cloudy, rainy morning- we visited the falls once more and headed towards town. There we found a small local diner- the name of which I cannot remember. It was full of cowboys- the hats, boots, tight jeans and all! We had a nice meal and drove north on 83. When we crossed the border into south dakota, we entered an Indian reservation. The first thing you'd notice is the casino and truck stop powered by a huge, single wind turbine. The towns were not wealthy, but those things like graffiti, trashy and littered homes and sagging pants that I tend to associate with poverty were not common. Liquor and pawn shops, however, were around every corner. The skin of every pedestrian was like tanned leather- though not everyone looked native American. The colors of whatever tribes or families were displayed on just about everything.
We got onto hwy 44 and the land grew flat- more so than I'd ever seen it! There were hay fields everywhere- each in a different stage of harvest or re-growth. Those giant rounds of tan hay sat on the side of the hwy for the duration of our drive. A few homes speckled the landscape, but there was not too much but cows, hay, a little corn and some broad leaf row crop I didnt recognize.
We saw the first buttes and eroded badlands long before we neared the border of the National park. We got to the town of interior- on the edge of the park and hung a right. There we were! My mother got a annual pass so that I could have it for parks in the future.,
We drove a bit further into the park and found a visitor center. In front was a HUGE eroded hill- the start of an amazing formation of the badlands. We picked up some maps and headed into the area.
I was very impressed with the land, but felt disappointed when I learned that there were only two hiking trails. There was a handful of boardwalks, but there was only a 5 mile trail and a 3/4 mile one.
When we arrived at the head of the castle trail, my mother began to prepare for the hike. I intended to walk the trail, but felt no need to pack or change clothes or any of that. I walked over to a ledge- there were many people in the area- mostly families and elderly folks. I was overwhelmed at the site that greeted me at the ledge; which I later learned was named the window notch. You could see for miles over the seemingly endless 'badlands'
Some of the critters of the area during the sub-tropical Oligocene epoch that lasted from 23-35 million years ago. The illustration is from the park brochure- The small deer thing on the left is called a Leptomeryx, and is the creature that I believe the little jaw belongs to. The trio of taper-things are called Oreodonts- literally, Mountain-tooth -I believe I found teeth from these creatures as well- will have to go back and get a better look!

On the trail- which weaved through the isolated mountains in the small beds of grasslands and stream beds- I began to find fossils. It was sometime around noon and far too bright for photos, so my eyes were on the ground. There was not a whole lot of variety in the rocks I found, but when I stumbled upon a nice wash-out of gravel and chunks of dirt I found the first of many bones. It was a small set of teeth- herbivore- larger than a big rodent, but too small for a deer. I later read that there was once a small pika-type of a critter from which I suspect the teeth came from. I took a photo, but not one with any size comparison. I'd guess that the whole thing was a little over an inch long? I found also a small skull that looked similar to a modern- day raccoon, a piece of shell from the carapace of a hug tortoise, a crushed horse skeleton, several sets of large teeth from an ancient creature I suspect to be the oreodont, and a million shards from all sorts and sizes of fossilized creatures. A beautiful set of oddly shaped crystal points lines a crevasse on one of the rocks- I believe them to be those of calcite. We lasted maybe two miles on the trail and turned back- my mother became overwhelmed by the heat that radiated from the rock.

We accidental exited the park on 240E and pulled over to find the pass we'd got. Just across from where we parked was a small helicopter and a little shack- my mother offered to take me up and the next thing I knew we were being escorted over to the little bubble of a helicopter. I gave my mother all of my cash towards the fight and park pass. We put the headsets on and were able to speak with the pilot and each other.. Lift off- we scooted just above the grassland for a few hundred feet. The helicopter was surprisingly smooth! Without warning we rocketed into the air- my mother closed her eyes and gripped my knee. She is afraid of heights!
I felt he grip loosen when the little pod leveled out a few hundred feet off the ground. It was soo cool! I snapped a few pics- stuck my camera out the small window for a couple of them . ,. I was taking aerial photos!
We flew over the park for several minutes before circling back over the prairie. The pilot carried on a conversation with my mother, but I was waay too distracted by the incredible panorama to pay any attention to their words. We swooped to the side and down- I felt a shot of adrenaline go through my head... though I was not clinging to anyones' flesh! My mother faced the sky and her eyes were as tight as her fists. I looked out over the horizon and had a second of dizziness. Once we were only a few feet from the ground, we wizzed across the grassland- over a fence and a pond, through a row of trees - we rose quickly over the highway and circled back for a smooth landing. It was soo cool!
After our thriller, we circled the park and were back in the badlands when a threatening set of storm clouds drifted over us and darkened the sun. We drove about the park -stopping for photos and walks. I found a complete jaw- looked like it came from a medium-sized pig. A family came over and I showed them the fossils that were embedded in a mound of red rock or dirt. The smallest boy of the group went on and on about what kind of dinosaur it belonged to.
I climbed through the pinnacles for a low-light photo shoot and we got to a small wetland before we left. There we found a group of angry rock-wrens, some meadowlarks and handfuls of different toads. Some had dark strips on their sides and legs and bright yellows on their backsides.Other toads were covered in red spots. The one below is a red-spotted toad, I believe the others to have been different types of woodhousii.

Stayed in a small motel in Rapid city- my mother needed me to see Mt rushmore in the morn..
.....We got there early and there was only a handful of people at the memorial. We walked the path around the front of the carving- Got to look up Lincolns' nose. It was actually cooler than I'd expected, but wasn't any big deal for me considering yesterdays' adventures!

My mother went on about how much it'd changed since she visited it long ago. It was a perfect day to see it- the clouds created moments that seemed to spotlight the sculpture.
We drove down some curly-cue mountain hwy through one-way tunnels and such until we passed a tempting national forest area that we had to turn around to see. I through my lucky lure in for a few casts- until something finished it off. My mother conversed with a local woman about less-known trails and roads in Custer state park, our next destination, and I became distracted by an eroding granite hillside. It was heavily wooded by pines, but the understory was bear. I found huge slabs of mica and gorgeous hunks of clear quartz- though no points. I collected a few flakes and pieces of mica and quartz- one thin sheet of mica- about an inch in diameter- is a brilliant red colour. My favorite piece was as block of quartz with a sheet of silver mica on the top face- In the mica are many small bars of a metallic black mineral. The whole think is only about 3 inches long, and an inch wide and tall. It is legal to collect small quantities of rock or mineral from the national forest for personal collection- so I nabbed a hand full of the shiniest, clearest, most beautiful ones I could find, and a chunk of shiest that we found on an embankment on the entrance road. The shiest is fine and the worn faces show small, dark garnets. I did not know about the garnets until I examined the rock that I put into my garden- would LOVE to have collected some!
When we crawled over the cattle gaurd that marks the edge of Custer state park, we encountered a mob of parked cars, little kids with carrots and wild borros. My mother slowed to maneuver around the jackass'- people and horse alike- and I snapped a photo before one of the critters attempted to stick his head into the open window of our moving van-
We drove past a glade and a bison that rubbed it's head on a tree next to the road. We paid our fees and entered the main park where we pulled over for the largest herd of bison I couldve imagined! There were several hundred of the giants on a hill not too far from the road. I noticed a family of antelope to the left of everything. They wondered closer until the baby was just a few hundre feet from the line of cars. A pair of male bison went at it- raming their heads at our side of the herd. There were other brawls, too, and there was a noise coming from the group that sounded like the deep moan of a far-off thunderstorm blasting operation. After a while of watching and listening to the bison, we continued to find a handful of different groups of antelope and borro. We cut through a handful of country roads within the park, but never found another bison.
Before we left the park, I explored a patch of red dirt and rock. There were a lot of tiny crytals, but I could not ID them. We followed a set of dirt roads leading south to exit Custer SP- were stopped early by a large group of pronghorn... we crept on them in the minivan- until they stood in the road only a short distance from us. I couldnt believe how close we'd got, and they seemed oblivious to our presence. A couple of males locked horns for a second and a trio of youngin's stretched and ate just to the left of us. Just a short distance further we found ourselves in the center of a prairie dog empire!

their little red and white holes spanned for as far as you could see and each and everyone of them gave us a word before retreating. Most poeple refer to their yelp as a bark, but I soon recognized it as being strikingly similar to the noise made when a squaeky toy is repeatedly beaten.... I dont mean squeazed- you know the sound when you step on or hit a squaeky toy violently?....
We took a turn and exited the rodent city. Drove right past another grouse of some sort. A huge female that looked something between a roadrunner and a chicken. She took shade under a tree that hung low over the red gravel road. We drove through another two indian reservations to get back to valentine..,. We watched a storm develop and grow to the SE... A huge band of rain reflected bright when it was not shaded by the tall clouds overhead. It was not until we dipped south and began to head East on hwy 12- about 30 miles from valentine that we bagan to feel it.

At one point- just before we we swallowed by the shade of the storm- the ground infront of our vehicle reflected the bright sunlight and was overwhelmed by a BLACK sky behind it. The storm in the distance was not a dark grey or blue at that afternoon hour, but was black. There were threatening clouds directly above us- those bubbly mammatus clouds associated with severe weather, and a light roll cloud low and to our right.
after several minutes in the dark shadow of the storm and without precipitation, I spotted a familiar silouhette on the souther horizon- that darkened, tube-like vertical structure known as a tornado. I lost sight of it within seconds of spotting it- behind a long sanddune. My heart beat fast with excitement and I knew I'd seen somethin before I was able to recognise it as a funnel cloud. When the end of the hill revealed what I had seen I was sure of it! It was faint and small, but could have been nothing else! I asked my mother to pull over and told her what I'd seen- She did and I went to the back of the car and further down the road until I could see it agian. The sky was so dark (and I was so excited!) that the three photos I took were blurred beyond recognition. I watched it until I could not see it anymore.
We continued towards Valentine and watched all sorts of stuff blow across the road.. a tumbleweed and a trash bag.. then a sign and a large plastic trash barrel. When we got out to get a hotel room (mom was too wimp to camp!).. the sky was lighter, but the winds were strong.
The weather channel warned of a tornado south and west of valentine... near where I'd spotted one! Proof!
My mothr and I walked the town for a few hours as the sky grew sunny again. THe storm moved south and east and dropped several tornadoes before dissipating inside county lines. Wasnt anything too good in town, and we drove east, back towards the state park and wilderness area we'd seen just two days before. Stopped at the Niobrara access at the edge of th wilderness.. I walked up and down the river to find what I could. A zillion different COOL damselflies. red ones, bronze ones and a few beautiful iridecent green ones with large, opaque black wings. I recognized these as those found in the blue river corridor.. ebony jewelwings! Ended up staying on the river for the evening. Sunset was dissapointing.
In the morn we had ourselves a nice gasstation breakfast before heading south. We drove through the Valentine NWR.. . found several ornate box turtles, a mob of hungry horseflies, a flock of pelicans, a large woodhouse toad and some awsome birds and plants! First was a nighthawk that I spotted perched on a fence post just off the road. We stopped and I got out. I crept on the bird stopping every few feet to take a photo in case I could not get any closer. I would move and the bird's black eyes would open wide, but if I stopped, his eyes would close slowly.. as if he would fall asleep every time I stopped. I woke him up a half-dozen times until I was no more than 10 feet from the bird! I turned around and began to walk ... he'd fled by the time I'd reached the road. Lots of doves!

Our last stop was on hwy 183, just south and west of Kerney. It was a rec area on the Platte that we found blocked by construction. We headed east and got off on the FUNK/ODESSA exit... .drove south across the river and pulled into a gravel company. I asked the man if we could leave the van in his parking lot while we explored the Platte only a few hundred yards up the road. He told us we could park on the side of the hwy. We did, though I cant imagine it was legal. I waded across the river and my mother was soon to follow... The water never rose above mid-theigh.
I found a nice garvel bar and hunkered down. I looked through the stones beside me and crawled a few feet for a better selection. A handful of cars passed on the bridge above us- my mother walke downstream. I found some nice carnelian and a oiece of clear quartz. My mom came up with a handful of stones, including a chip of a bison tooth, and a toad. I continued to cawl across the warm sandbar and found my own piece of tooth. I crossed onto a shallow island on the main channel of the river- if there was such a thing. I went about the proper procedures in claiming the property- wrote my name in the sand and declared a short speech adopting the constitution of the US and asking for any objections... didnt get any!

My mother came tresspassing on MY island. she got bored after a few minutes and wanted to go. It was within seconds of her request that my eyes fell upon the iridecent blues and greens of a small piece of labradorite. The gem is only about a cm long, but is surely beautiful. I was very excited to find it! I showed my mother... she did not seem to share the excitement that I felt... she just couldnt appriciate the brilliant gem as I did!!! My mothe began to walk back and I stayed for a second- confident that I could catch up later. In the corner of my eye I spotted something white moving. It was small, but still larger than a bug. I heard a buzzing- like wings, and the white flew infront of me. It was fast, but I was able to snatch it out of the air.. It did not feel good in my hand. I began to regret catching it... until I saw it... A GIANT bettle !!! It was some kind of a sawyer or borer, but was much larger than I knew them to be. It was white with black splotches(yes, splotches is a word).. .had long, thick antennae, huge mandibles, a spiny thorax and was a little under two inches. The beetle sqeaked and squealed... like a bess beetle does when held. I dint know what he was saying to me, but it didnt sound like it ouldve been too nice. I showed my mother, wrestled it for some photos, discovered how hard it bit, and released him. Turns out he was a borer called a COTTONWOOD BORER- and was west of his known range.
On the way home I joked about traveling all those hundreds of miles for a tiny rock collection and my new gem. My mother wasnt as happy about that, either!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Missouri river MR340!!

July 15-19 2008: MR340
There were 145 canoes and kayaks competing in the third running of the worlds longest continual river race. tandem racers, solo paddlers and now kayaking teams raced from the starting whistle at KawPoint park in Kansas City for a ramp 340miles downstream in St Charles. 44 hours, 27min was the fastest time last year, in the second running of the MR340, but contestants have 100hours to complete the race.
I was invited to volunteer with the MissouriRiver Relief on a safety boat. Boats would support paddlers throughout the race with first aid if it were needed. I met my fellow river rats and their boat at Kaw point for the beginning of the race. I cant help but wonder how many people got lost in search of the ramp- Its a mess down there!

There was a mass of boats pacing along the Kaw anxiously for the start of the race. Kayaks and canoes of every shape and color- the ramp and bank of the river swarmed with family members and friends. Music played and the start was sounded.

Two of the team boats, of six men each, paddled in the lead- though not by too far! They were off the kaw in a flash, but there was a oblong cluster of paddlers following them close behind. The group sped towards the Kansas city morning skyline and the last of the boats trickled onto the big muddy and off the shore for several minutes. following the boats towards downtown and the skyscrapers paddlers and their onlookers were blinded by the risen sun, but it was not long at all before the bend of the river turned them from the east. Safety boats led and followed the paddlers and supporters and media rushed to their vehicles and downstream to ramps and the first of the checkpoints in Lexington and Waverly.

A boat must stop at each checkpoint and initial (or have a groundcrew sign) a sign-in, but do not have to exit their boat.. Volunteers record the time a boat arrives and departs a checkpoint.
I joined RiverRelief-ers Steve and Mel on a trip towards Columbia- to the races half-way point at Coopers' Landing. We hauled one of our largest boats- it was in the water by early afternoon and we juggled trailers and vehicles until we had a plan for shuttling boats and volunteers throughout the race. I had some time and took a stroll down the Katy trail- only a few hundred feet from the checkpoint. Once I told him of my plan, Steve suggested I visit a 'boat henge'- a little up the trail. He would not tell me what it was. I went over the first creek and looked to my right- as Steve had said to. A line of dead boats stood on their nose's and tails and a pink flamingo guarded the art. I took some photos and continued the bank of the river was steep and muddy in most places. I ran into Cooper who told me of some of the treasures he'd found on the river. He showed me a set of arrowheads and rock tools he'd discovered in a nearby field. Some were really cool!!

When I returned to the Landing, they fed us. Dino made us some brisket and I was introduced to the rest of the Landing's crew. Steve spent a lot of time on the phone; the racers were to encounter the barge that we had driven over on I-70. Once all of the boats and volunteers were informed and the safety of the racers was ensured, the three of us discussed our checkpoint and the procedures that we were to follow.

We drove across the river and downstream a bit to join a friend on an exposed sandbar. We returned at sunset-which wasn't a nice as it shouldve been! Kim, a local woman, built a fire and folks stayed up to discuss the race and the river. Coopers landing seems to be a community of the friendliest river rats and fisherman in the area. It hosts it's own culture of youthful, spirited, relaxed folks who live with the river. They continuously told stories of giant fish, old boats, farms and military time. I got to know several of them well and enjoyed all of the stories and bs-

Steve and Mel got to sleep around 11 and the Landing was quiet by midnight. It was dark and cool- the moon lit the river and trees. We expected the first of the racers to arrive around 3:30am. I stayed up and fed the fire for a few hours. Kim returned to the fire and we talked for a while. We walked down the trail for a few minutes and back- It was cold once we left the flames. Steve and Mel sat by the fire, though they were not exactly awake. It was no time before I spotted the first light in the distance.

A bright light shown off the river and quickly disappeared as it turned a bend in the river. Again, the light broke the dark on the far river- followed quickly by a second. Steve woke the group's ground-crew in the campground and was surprised to find the progress that the two team boats had made. Steve shouted at the boats- warning of the dangerous wing-dike which blocked the checkpoint. The second boat sped to the first. And in seconds the ramp was filled with shouts and yells of orders and reports from the boats. "ROCKS!- hard right, hard right, Now!"

The six-man "Texas" team hit the rocks hard. They rammed their black boat onto the wing dike; the Belize boat tried to avoid the hazard by turning to shore. They hit hard, but not as bad as the other. Men poured out of the Belize boat and I asked a paddler to sign in. Steve had the other boat to sign- I did not pay much attention to them- there was so much happening in the huge canoe just in front of me! The Texas team got louder and then disappeared a few feet downstream. The Belize team seemed confused and unorganized- There were people everywhere around the boat and many folks were talking. My brain wasn't quit working at that point in the morning- I cant image how they were able to communicate as well as they did!

Steve noticed that a member was missing and teammates, when asked, told us that they had dropped him off at a ramp upstream. He had been in pain and was useless to his teammates.

The Belize team split with folks still jumping on and off of the boat... They left with only three of the 5 that they had arrived with. Two of their paddlers sat with us at the fire- one suffered a bloody nose and felt week and the other had become too frustrated to continue. He told me, in a thick accent, that he "did not come to finish, but to win..." and he did not think that they could do it. They were very friendly and shared stories and listened to ours. The two of them spoke Spanish, creole and English and told of exotic creatures and wild rivers in their homeland. Compared to Belize, they said, the Missouri river was extraordinarily long, dirty and boring. "A deer, two fish, and only a single turtle" is all that they spotted on their trip.

When we told them that they had reached the half-way point (Cooper's) they were shocked! One of the paddlers became distracted by a leftover hamburger given to him by a ground-crew member and the other ranted on how ridiculously long the race was. The team had paddled in the Texas Water Safari- ~260 someodd miles- just a month earlier and drove up in the bed of a pickup to compete in our race.
At 5am, a pair of Fish and Wildlife officers came to relieve us. Dino served us another meal and we packed and were on the water again by 8:30- for Jeff City. The plan was to take it easy and watch for paddlers on the way.

We stopped at a sandbar- Mel swam for a second and Steve and I paced in search of any good rocks. I was on the hunt for any arrowhead-lookin things I could fine. Picked up a pair of nice Carnelian crystals and Steve collected all of the glass he could before a phone call required us to pick up our pace. We jumped in and started for Jeff City- I think he said 28miles? downstream-

Another phone call, just as we were passing Claytown island gave us some time to relax- we pulled into the back of the giant island. I jumped out- Steve and Mel stayed in the boat for a few minutes. The island was like a giant sand dune sticking out out the river with a clay cap covered in trees. There were a few good rocks in the water- I headed towards the tip of the island in search of my arrowhead. It wasn't there either! --returning to the boat, I tried to chill out with Steve and Mel for a second but the water at my feet was far too tempting. I stripped off my shirt and began to wade into the water. About 30 feet off of shore, the water reached to my thighs before It became ankle-shallow again. The little ridge was about 5 feet wide- we'd run over it on the way in. On the other side of the ridge, I walked until The current left me swimming upstream to stay with the boat. I ended up sitting in the water between the ridge and the island- where the water reached the base of my neck when I sat on the sandy bottom. If I did not plant my feet or hands in the substrate, the current would push me down- Steve played his guitar for another few minutes before I found him in the river. I dunked my head and walked to shore and up to the ridge of our sand-dune. The fine sand scorched the bottoms of my feet until I found that odd sensation where your not sure if it is hot or cold- I laid on the top of the ridge and the sun felt awesome!
I laid for a few minutes before I started to drift off in sleep. A while later I woke to Steve- He told me I'd been laying shirtless in the sun for a while and he feared I would be sunburned. Ooops. (never did burn)

We got to Jeff city around 3pm- Only ever saw one paddler on our float from Coopers landing! ! There were a lot of people on the ramp and in the adjacent park, but not so many boats! Jeff city is where we encountered the first problem with fishing boat traffic. Several boats put in and pulled out and even more passed us on the river. An older couple manned the sign-in duty; we were there as back-up.
We set up a shade tent and a trio of chairs. The ramp was nice! It was wide and fresh and there was a small park just to the right. The park had a nice flower garden with a small windmill and a set of bird feeders. There were paths through the raised beds made of river gravel and some of sand. A giant post at the top of the ramp displayed mileage signs (via the river) to everywhere from Hermann to a town in Montana and one on the gulf coast! I met an nice old cowboy- Joe Wilson- who claimed he was in the process of building the park and maintaining the ramp. He was retired and the park had been his hobby for four years! He visited it almost daily and said he got the greatest pleasure when he watched folks enjoying his park. The city, he said, has been opposed to his fantastic work throughout the process and was trying to shut him down. the conservation department, too, had written him letters telling him to stop working on or near the ramp, but gave no clear reason why. I think it looked great!

the boats began to trickle in about an hour after our arrival and the traffic picked up dramatically just after sunset! Steve, Mel and I visited the best sandbar of the trip just above the ramp for a dramatic, beautiful sunset and a full-moon rising over the capitol! an eagle was on the point when we arrived!

We returned just as dusk fell and I spent a few hours doing what I could at the ramp. I took many pics here- the bridge and capitol building were awesome in the dark!
Steve was asleep by 1030 and was there not too much later. (stayed in my tent!) Mel stayed up with the ramp until some horrible hour in the morning.
I woke just before sunrise and got to watch the morning mob of Canoes and Kayaks come and go. Paddlers were sleeping everywhere- on the ramp and park benches, in the sand and family cars or tents...
Steve was up at sunrise and I did what I could for another few hours. Cooked a quick meal on my little stove and mingled with the paddlers and media who ran up and down the ramp. There where a million different conversations being tossed around the ramp with food, water and supplies. Exchanges were often brief, though most paddlers did not seem to be in any sort of a hurry; I guess there was a general sense of excitement and rushing on the ground.
Steve took over the sign-in for a while and continued to help out on the ramp after I left. I met Tuesday- an Americorps volunteer trying to raise money for similar projects with a small food/beverage booth at the top of the ramp. She asked me to watch the booth for a few minutes while she ran to the airport on a coffee run.
By the time she returned the was a large group of people with empty mugs waiting for her precious drink. I watched the booth again while she made an ice run and helped he with a few other chores.
Steve woke Mel around 8am and we packed up our small camp.
The race was starting to take it's toll on racers by the tome they reached Jeff city! Blisters and a nasty lack of sleep shown on every paddler, but everyone seemed to be in a good mood and the excitement of the race was still in the air. Boats disappeared towards the capitol building- in pairs most of the time. Rumors of everything from injured paddlers to sea monsters circulated through the group of racers.
the little town of Hermann was next on the list of checkpoints and we recorded boats on the long drive to the Osage confluence- where we stopped for a quick break. A pair of gorgeous Giant Swallowtail butterflies flittered around the mud flat we were on- they were huge and looked almost surreal1!!
At the confluence, and again at the confluence of the Gasgonade river near Hermann, the water level (and, therefore, the speed of the current) increased dramatically. Steve turned up the Gasgonade river- It spilled into the Mighty Mo with a great force! We got about 1000ft up the river and began finding giant, clear green bubbles of water breaking the nasty brown water of the Mo- Over about a hundred feet, the waters of the two rivers mixed and suddenly we were driving over an emerald-green Ozark river! It was SO cool!- like something out of Huck Fin!

Herman was busy with boats and they came at a steady pace until just after sunset when we saw a mob of them arrive until midnight-ish. While the sun was up, I wondered through town. Most of it was closed up for the evening, but the dairy and an antique shop let me in. The town was built up in the early and mid-1800's and had a Strong german look. I tagged along with Steve and Mel on their jont through town. They ate at the dairy and told me stories of their October visit to the town during a river-relief scouting event a few years back. I would love to spend more time here! Steve and Mel chilled out at the ramp and I wondered around with my camera.

Sometime just after midnight we decided to go downstream- Hermann was just to bright and loud for our taste. Steve drove until he was sure we would be okay- then he shut the engine off. We drifted past a cool bluff system above the river and an odd set of wing dikes- the moonlight exposed just enough detail.! It was beautiful!

The newhaven ramp (not a checkpoint) was swamped with boats and tents. It was a little more peaceful than Hermann. Mel and Steve wondered off to find a good spot for their tent. I wondered around for an hour and fell asleep on the warm cement of the ramp. when I woke, just before the birds started going,. I was the only one up. It was almost creepy how quiet the town was! I stayed at the ramp and helped a few boats launch when that pre-dawn light woke the birds. It was a spectacular, pink sunrise and the first clouds of the race made it all the better!

I strolled through town sometime around six and ran into a local man who gave me a short history on it. He'd lived there all of his life and knew of a complex tunnel system under the town. The tunnels, he said, led from a few basements in downtown and led across the countryside. The town was a player in the Underground railroad, but most tunnels are being sealed up now. How cool is that! He pointed out an abandon blacksmith's shop from the late 1800's. and told me of his plans to purchase the building and make it into a museum.
When I got back, Steve and Mel had packed up and the last two canoes that were there when I left the ramp were gone. we drove down to Washington where we met a small group of volunteers who had bought us needed gas. Washington looks like a larger town that should have been a checkpoint if it were not for some dangerous currents. We drove down to the last checkpoint at Weldon Springs- 20miles upstream from the finish line!~
Mel and I both drifted in and out of sleep and Steve got us there before we knew it! There were some cool bluffs along the way- lots of paddlers- several of which were not in the race. Mel jumped in the water about a quarter mile before the ramp and drifted down to the ramp-
At Weldon, which was only a ramp and gravel parking lot, we met up with more of our river relief crew. They were manning the checkpoint- as they had been for almost 24hours! they told us stories of swamped boats, crazy hallucinations that the exhausted paddlers had been having, and an extraordinary number of racers dropping out of the race due to the nasty heat. I swam with a few others- the ramp created a swift eddie that would take us down a few hundred feet and whip us back up to the ramp.
By the time a racer relaxed at the last checkpoint, he or she would be begin to get excited again about the race. The frustration of the horribly long paddle from Hermann to us wore off and the realization of the end of the race would bring a sense of accomplishment and relief to a paddler that gave them a sort of second wind. Folks arrived grumpy, frustrated and exhausted and, with the support of their friends, family, and our crew, leave refreshed. The boat traffic on the ramp was the worst here, and the boaters were not friendly at all! We were not welcome at their ramp and they called the cops on us. One large rec boat weaved dangerously in between our racers.

After a few hours at Weldon springs, I took off with another half of our crew towards st charles- the finish line!
We passed a large number of paddlers on the way and I was given a chance to drive the boat- That was way cool!

On our arrival, members immediately sought cold drinks and a shower, but there was still work! Folks unpacked the boat and made the necessary calls- I picked up five meals for our fellow crew members that we had left upstream and stayed at St charles with crew member Anthony while the other half of us drove back to Weldon to deliver the meals and get a shower.
Those boats that we had passed floated to the finish line and each got to experience their own brief moment of fame from the large crowd of ground crews and public. Everyone of them had a huge smile on- seeking only their family and friends at the ramp.
I walked the shore and picked up dozens of fishing weights- collected the head of a cement squirrel sculpture and the action and barrel of a sawed-off 20ga. shotgun that laid rushed on the shore. (They are my souvenirs for the trip and are now decor in my small garden out back)
Folks ate and celebrated- boats were set onshore as displays- everyone seemed happy- no matter how much sleep they needed. There was an awards ceremony, but I did not attend for too long- walked the shore instead.
Anthony took me out on the boat for a few minutes- just to float.

We met up with another group of our people and within a few hours our enitire crew and the three boats had landed safely. The time of the last paddlers was something like 87hours! the sun set and our crew socialized and celebrated late into the night- I found a bed of coals in the mud and built up a large fire with all of the driftwood on the beach. I ended up sleeping next to the fire.

Our fleet slept on boats, wrapped in tarps- or in tents in a nearby park. I was on shore- woke several times and fed the fire. Sometime around 4am it began to rain- then again at 6 and at 7. Once it was light enough to see, I walked the shoreline and picked up all of the trash I could find. Around 7 people began to emerge and I tagged along for a coffee run.
We packed up and droe the boats down a mile or so to a ramp where we loaded them- Shaved anthonys' head in the parkinglot, dorve through town for a meal and onto coopers where we did the final boat exchange.
The last of the good stories were told- paddlers who claimed to have seen mermaids and sea monsters, elephants in trees, fuzzy creatures dancing on the water, or a beaver or a small bear splash into the water... Boats that were swamped by odd currents, braving large waves, or those that just spilled over 'cause of a tired paddler... and those paddlers who encountered our killer flying carp.

It was a GREAT trip! I got to fulfill my own Huck finn fantacy and learned a load of the river, the race and my comerades! I dont think I would have been able to paddle in the race this year- I cant believe how many boats did!- but I would like to inthe future! Maybe I will take my kayak next year !

Never did find my arrowhead, but I got alot of cool pics! LET ME KNOW IF YOUD LIKE ANY PRINTS! enjoy! I took 900+ photos this trip; if there is a boat you'd like the photos of, I could find it in my photos- just gimme a description and boat #. THANKS