The drive from Elephant Rocks State Park to Salem was on a very tough road. One twist and bend after another. Heading south from Salem on the MO19 was easier and straighter, then as the road starts to follow the Current River we twist and turn again. We were wanting to go for a "float"!
The nationally famous Current River Country is located in the beautiful Ozark Mountains of South Central Missouri, approximately 150 mi. (3 hrs.) southwest of St. Louis. The crystal clear waters of the Current River flow serenely through this land of heavily forested rolling hills, deep narrow valleys, winding roads and widely scattered farms, and small towns. The pristine natural beauty and outdoor recreation potential of this "modern day Eden" was recognized in 1964, when the Congress of the United States designated 140 miles of the Current River as America's first national river, and a part of the National Park system. Today, the Current and Jack's Fork Rivers are managed by the National Park Service "for the enjoyment of present and future generations,".
We were headed for Round Spring State Park but didn’t like the campground there at all. All sites had parallel parking with picnic tables either on the hill up above to down below, it was like being in a mall car park. In the centre there were half a dozen hard standing areas with concrete walls dividing each site like recycle bays at a tip. Nah! Not staying here. Retracing our steps we went back up the road to Echo Bluff State Park (see: https://www.mostateparks.com/park/echo-bluff-state-park ). Opened in July this year it’s a bit spartan and open but busy. It’s sunny, clean and we find a spot on the perimeter for $20 with power...that will do nicely.
Big Henry at the entrance to Echo Bluff Park & Echo Bluff....
Whilst I set up camp and do a couple of domestic things with Big Henry, The Blonde wanders up the road to the bluff and the lodge. She manages to get some more information here and also borrow a book on the area. Part of this leads us to then deciding to book our "float"....tomorrow we will be back on the water!
The stunningly beautiful Current River in the Ozark Mountains, Missouri.
The Blonde - My new friend Jack and my new love, floating!! Jack, is a retired National Park Ranger originally from the UP Upper Peninsula, Michigan, but fell in love with the Ozarks. After 12 years of being a park ranger he and his wife, Lois, set up Running River Canoe Rental and he was the one to pick us up this morning and run us to Pulltite on the Current River and to our first ever "floating" trip. I thought floating was just the American term for paddling. And by paddling I thought that some effort would be required! But no! Floating means floating! We learn by example from three other floaters within just a few moments of us clambering inside our aluminum tub that was to be our home for the next 5 hours!
Jack's Rig....at 74 years young he is still lifting the canoes from the top of the rack and carrying them to the waters edge! And "The Man" himself.....plus The Blonde.
The general character of the Current River is narrow, swift, shallow gravel-bottomed rapids, alternating with deep, calm pools. It is much like floating down a winding, watery stairway as you canoe downstream through this verdant river valley. The average gradient (drop) is 4.0 feet per mile, and average canoeing time is 3 miles per hour. The river is fed by several first magnitude springs (20+ million gallons per day) along the way, and water temperature ranges between a cool 58 and 68 degrees year around. The canoeing difficulty of the Upper Current River is rated a class I (easy) with occasional class II (medium) sections...more on those later. It is generally suitable for the novice, while still challenging enough for the more experienced recreational canoeist. That makes it enjoyable for all ages and most skill levels....our skill levels were about to be tested.
The Blonde...oh so happy to be back on the water again.......look at that balance!
Like I said, Floating means, floating. Effortless, gentle, meditative, We floated 11 miles of the Current River's 184 miles length, enjoying the peace and tranquility down in the river gorge looking at the Hickory oaks, plain trees and red oaks. Rock ledges, caves, springs, gravel bars towering dolomite bluffs line the banks of the river all making dreamy reflections in the water. The flow is pedestrian with the occasional set of "riffles" which make the pace suddenly speed up and here a bit of steering is required.
All aboard.......The Titanic Canoe!
Of course...being on the water with David was never going to be without incident! We got one of the little "riffles" drastically wrong and somehow amongst the shouting of 'left,...paddle harder... paddle left...no the other left", we successfully managed to upturn ourselves! The river in most places was only a foot deep, but where the water was flowing quicker it had scoured out the bottom and...
Drying out after our brush with the "Riffles"......
The Bear - ....it was deeper than it looked....I found myself up to my waist and the canoe full of water and deciding it wanted to wrestle with me as a result. It probably took only two or three minutes to get back in control...but we were wet, a bit scraped from one of the overhanging branches that had contributed to our demise....and of course...my macho pride was just a little bruised! In my defence? Well this "canoe/boat/bath tub" was a real pain in the proverbial to steer...but in reality, I simply chose the wrong line.
Nice spot on the bank for a picnic.....and for butterflies.
The Blonde - we beached for our picnic lunch and whilst drying out in the midday sun we watched dozens of butterflies on the bank, sipping from the clear pools of water by the side of the river. Googling now shows me these were Question Mark Butterflies, Polygonia Interrogationis, North American nymphalid butterflies. They live in wooded areas and city parks, or generally in areas which feature trees and free open spaces. Their colouful wings appear textured giving them great camouflage by resembling a dead leaf. The silver mark on the underside of the hindwing is broken into two parts; a curved line and a dot, creating a ? shape that gives the species its common name.
Polygonia Interrogatonis....plus the autumnal colours now starting to show.
We also spotted a fabulous turtle sunning himself on a log in the middle of the river. He let us get quite close and then..... plopped in the water and vanished! He was a River Cooter Turtle and one of the biggest freshwater turtles we've seen out of captivity. David also spotted a couple of minks taking a swim and then shaking themselves dry afterwards. A Bald Headed Eagle was my second sighting, David's first, on the river. I saw one as soon as we came into Echo Bluff last night.
Oh look...a Cooter.....there he was....GONE!
The trees will be splendiferous in a couple of weeks - the hickory trees will turn yellow and the oaks brown. My new friend Jack told us that many people come to float for the wonderful Autumn colors, closely followed by the birders who want to photograph as many as 60-70 Bald Eagles who come here during winter. It's easier to find them when the leaves have gone off the trees. But it does seem a very popular thing with many floaters....to bring the dogs for a float fix as well........
We floated under Round Spring Bridge just on 3pm, 5 hours after we had left Jack at Pulltite.... this was our rendezvous place with Jack...so despite our little "event" at the rapids we were back bang on time. Jack told us that once he and his wife have finished helping their grandkids through college they will give up their rental business and set off for Alaska. He already has serious spinal difficulties although he manages still to lift the canoes off the trailer and carry them over his head to the river for us this morning. He was chuffed to bits that we had found his little operation way out in the middle of the Ozarks! We were chuffed to have had our first "float" experience. It was a grand day out........