Friday, September 23, 2016

A Room With a View

     After Labor Day when kiddies return to school and vacationing adults return to work, I get to choose the best site at a campground. When I pull in a nearly empty campground and they tell me to choose a site, I always say, "Give me a scenic site, I trust your judgment." This is the site they chose for me a few days ago . . .

     It's site A17 at the Lakeview Corp of Engineers Campground on Bull Shoals Lake which is located on Missouri and Arkansas' borders (click here for map). 

Bull Shoals Lake is actually the dammed-up White River.

     Below the hill from my campsite is a beach area (see lower right in photo below). I bike there with my swimming and snorkeling gear and look for lost earrings and money that folks might have accidentally dropped into the water. Little fish look up at me. I swim parallel to the rocky shore, too (avoiding motorboats).

The sunsets at my picnic table are nice, too.

     A short ten minute drive away is the tiny Bull Shoals Library. They're lax about their sparse opening hours, so yesterday I made sure the librarian knew I'd be visiting today. I might be their only patron today.

     Made my run to Walmarts about a half-hour drive away, so I'm good for the next few days with food and ice. A short bike ride away from my site is the campground's shower house. And my site has water and electricity. I'm plugged in, using my rooftop AC during hot afternoons. With a senior pass, this site cost only $9 per day.

     For the past couple months I've been waking up, eyes still closed, wondering "Where the heck am I?" Have to think a couple of seconds about where I was yesterday. Since I'm in no hurry to return "home" to Texas (98 degrees, feels like 113), decided to stay here until Monday morning. That probably makes this place my longest camping site all summer (five nights).

     One of the pleasures of relaxing in a room with a view is reading a good book. One of the books I'm reading is Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte by Kate Williams. Our current political events pale against the shenanigans of Josephine and Napoleon.  From 1799 to 1815, they were the epitome of a power couple in France and eventually most of Europe. They both had humble difficult childhoods yet learned how to successfully exert power (and steal incredible riches) ironically during an era when "democracy" was becoming all the rage in France. Even though the French revolutionaries went to the extreme measure of literally killing off their monarchical government (Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette), a few years later they celebrated, adored and willingly crowned Napoleon and Josephine as Emperor and Empress! And Napoleon and Josephine stole and flaunted more riches than Louis and Marie Antoinette! Just goes to show how flakey folks can be about their political beliefs.
     The other book I'm reading is Agony and Eloquence: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and a World of Revolution by Daniel L. Mallock. Jefferson before he became president was Adams' vice president. Back then, the vice president was the losing presidential candidate in the election; Adams in 1797 won the presidency by a couple more votes than Jefferson. They were at odds politically (particularly about each State's powers and the French Revolution), yet had been good friends socially for many years. They prove that it's possible for political opponents to be respectful and friendly toward each other. An excellent book for our present political candidates to read!
     Soon I'll have to put aside this life of leisure and leave this room with a view. Lots of responsibilities and maintenance issues await me in Texas . . . .

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ozark National Scenic Riverways

     I'm fresh off the Current River, having paddled 14 miles yesterday. I suspect few Americans have heard of Missouri's Current River (Class I, II sporadically). I'm almost hesitant to brag about this river for fear this pristine beautiful river will become inundated with too many paddlers and lose its charm.
     Do you see the color of the river in photo below? That color ribbons through the crystal clear river because ten springs feed into that river. Fortunately, I wore my wetsuit, as I suspect even mid-August the water temp is cold.

     I could see everything in the water, all those pebbles, rocks and fish, some flopping out of the water. The clarity is amazing. Paul, the fly fisherman I met on the river, is but one of the dozen fly fishermen I saw on the river (three were women). I think ribbon trout is their fish of choice.

     And when I looked up from the crystal clear waters, rock outcroppings everywhere. Sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right, some dripping water over ferns.

     And steeply-sloped forests on both sides. I was never bored. In fact, the river twisted and turned frequently. Every 15 seconds throughout the 14 miles, I had to judge the deepest un-obstructed route (to avoid shallow shoals and shoreline fallen trees), choose the approach and line-up for it. 

     No nearby roads, no hum of traffic, no noise except three irritated Great Blue Herons that squawked at me. Occasionally, there was chatter of Kingfishers whose fishing spots I had probably disturbed. It was a lovely weekday paddling adventure in an isolated area of the Ozarks.  I suspect weekends are busier; I paddled on a Tuesday.

     The "other" river of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways is the Jacks Fork River.  I drove on a bridge over the Jacks Fork River and it's just as pretty as the Current although only three springs gush into it.

It was a splendid day paddling 14 miles of the Current River!

PS: One little spill but recovered quickly :)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sherman's March to the River

     This past Sunday morning's sunrise looked promising for a good day to go paddling with Sherman's Gang on a river in Missouri.

     A bit of history about Sherman's Gang. Last May, while paddling down the Buffalo National River in Arkansas, I met a group of paddlers, all men. They were from the St. Louis, Missouri area and were employees and retirees of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. I posted about it (click here to read post). Sherman seemed to be the man in charge so that's why I called the group "Sherman's Gang". 

     Sunday's float however included wives, girlfriends, visiting Germans and two youngsters.

     The initial plan was to meet at the Current River but due to recent rains throughout Missouri, and since some in the group had never paddled before, Sherman switched the plan to the Meramec River.  

     We paddled from near Meramec Spring Park to Scotts Ford Access (click here for float map). The river was running faster than normal, but that made it all the more enjoyable. Yellow and red flowers dotted the river banks (Sherman's photos).

    Saw a green heron, a bald eagle, a noisy kingfisher, little piper-looking birds on the shoreline, and a rat snake on the river. Tak (the reptilian lover in our group) amused us all by handling the twisting agitated snake for about ten minutes. Sorry, no photos!

     Along the way was Maramec Springs, an underground spring that gushes about 150 cubic feet per second, fifth largest spring in Missouri. That's me playing in the gushing spring (Sherman's photo).

     We met another paddler on the Meramac; Shane, a guy who custom-builds standing paddle boards of redwood, cedar and other beautiful wood inlaid. I'd hate to drag something that pretty on a rocky gravelly shoreline!

     It was an enjoyable day on the river, not just because of the beautiful river and weather. Being with folks who work and play well together is a special treat for me. And Sherman (he's on the right, David's on the left in photo below) seems to bring it all together. By the way Sherman's homemade roof rack is holding seven kayaks and my ski!

     While waiting that morning at the river access for Sherman's Gang to show, I met a local paddler, Henry, at the river. When I mentioned I was waiting for Sherman's Gang, he told me about another Sherman, General William Sherman, and his famous "March to the Sea". He shared stories about the logistics and leadership skills of this legendary general during the Civil War, including "Sherman's Neckties". Yes, a history lesson from a total stranger (who rolled his own homemade cigarette while he talked) at a boat access in rural Missouri!  Click here for story of why General Sherman is an American legend. Sherman has military tanks named after him, and there's a large Sequoia Tree in California named after General Sherman, too.

     So from a brief tête-à-tête with Henry the local fisherman, that's why I will fondly remember this day as he humorously called it, "Sherman's March to the River".

Friday, September 16, 2016

Rainy Days in Missouri

     The weather has me cooped up inside La Lair or at a library. And I'm short on good photos to share (cracked my camera screen).  I've been waiting out thunderstorms, rain off and on, 90 percent humidity, 90 degree heat, and no cold front behind the line of storms, triple-ugh :(
My bike looks pretty forlorn doesn't it?

    My original plan was to bike to Sedalia's Railroad Depot from Pilot Grove. It's one of Missouri's many depot stops on its 225-mile Katy Bike Trail. My sister and her hubby biked the entire Katy Trail twice about 10 years ago! They took this photo at Sedalia. It's one of our favorite photos because everytime we look at it, we laugh. It's her Stevie Wonder imitation.

     So instead of biking on a hot muggy day with a good chance of more rain, I drove to the Sedalia Railroad Depot to see if that piano was still there. There it was, the same piano, but faded and weathered over the last decade. The townsfolk put the piano there to honor Scott Joplin who spent about a decade in Sedalia teaching piano lessons to future ragtime composers. Just for fun, I did a Stevie Wonder imitation, too.

Near Sedalia, I found several pleasant dirt roads.

I enjoy going 15 mph with no one behind me.

These cows were miserably hot, too. I commoooserated with them in fluent cow language.

Shade under a tree is nice, too.

Coming up (hopefully), a day floating down the Current River with Sherman's Gang.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ten Percent of Missouri's Katy Trail

     Yesterday afternoon and this morning, I biked only ten percent, 25 of the 225 miles-long Katy Trail. And yes, it's a great trail. Not only is the hard-packed gravel surface excellent, but the views are excellent, too. Since it gets hot in the afternoon, I began today's ride at sunrise.

     Combining the two rides, I rode from the cute little historic hamlet of Rocheport to another little hamlet of Hartsburg, a 25 mile section of the trail which loosely parallels the Missouri River.

     That slow-moving tugboat pushing a barge upstream was running at full throttle. I had noticed the current was pretty swift, too swift for my little kayak. Found out later from two fellow bicyclists and local citizens, that all the rain in the northern plains states in the past week has raised the river level a good foot. On the trail, I saw nearby cornfields in a couple feet of water.
     And on the other side of the shady tree-lined Katy Trail . . . . . .

. . . . . lots of rock outcroppings and bluffs . . .

from forty to perhaps 80 feet high.

The railroad built this bunker into the rocks to store dynamite. 

     Captains Lewis and Clark, in 1804 on their expedition up the Missouri River, struggled to land and camp near the riverbanks south of what would later be the hamlet of Rocheport. Their story is interesting because back then, the river had also risen a foot and was moving swiftly; the tree-lined banks were falling into the river.

    Unbeknownst to me until yesterday, there is a "Rail-Trail Hall of Fame" started by the Rails to Trails organization. The Katy Trail is number two on that list.
     My plan is to visit another section of the Katy Trail (click here for interesting story about how this old railroad bed was converted for recreational use) near Pilot Grove, Missouri which is my destination tonight.
     Unfortunately, I cracked the screen on my camera today. My bike with its kickstand down, fell over on the trail. My camera, in a padded pouch, was in the back pannier and obviously the pouch wasn't padded enough :(  I was planning to get a new camera this winter . . . .
     I'll experiment with the little itsy bitsy viewfinder and let you all know how it goes.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Crossing the Mississippi from Illinois to Missouri

     Galesburg, Illinois is an impressive historic "big town" (doesn't have a city-feel about it).  Carl Sandburg was born here in 1878. There's a great YMCA in this town, so that's why I made a stop there. After a swim, I heard deep-sounding motors in the air; the annual Stearman Fly-In was being held just down the road at the municipal airport.

This is "Spanky". See the hand crank on the prop?

This red one is pretty.

     One crazy pilot was flying upside-down. The announcer informed us his aircraft had no modifications for stunts like this. His loops looked like death-defying near-stalls to me.

The open cockpit looks like fun.

This being corn country, there was a row of colorful antique tractors at the fly-in.

     Antique tractors don't interest me, but this red Farmall tractor stopped me in my tracks!

     A flood of memories came back to me! When I was about seven years old (1958), our family went to the Pennsylvania State Fairgrounds near Harrisburg for an agriculture-related show (we had a poultry farm). One exhibit was new tractors. About every couple hours or so, there was a kiddy race on little trikes that looked like miniature tractors. A bunch of boys were hopping on the trikes for the race, no girls. My parents asked if I wanted to join them. Sure I did! And the little girl in the flowery dress wins!
     For a prize, I got a metal (nothing was plastic back then) miniature replica of this red Farmall tractor with movable levers and wheels and rubber tires, the whole nine yards of a working-parts tractor. I played with it a lot; I got farm implements to attach to the rear tow bar. Still have it, one of the few sentimental things I've kept throughout life.
     Continuing south across the Mississippi River into Missouri, the view didn't change much . . .  more cornfields. This beautiful field enhanced by a sunset looks like it's dried out enough to harvest.

     While headed to the Mark Twain Lake early one morning, the road ahead of me looked like I was driving into a foggy abyss.

     Now that autumn's air temperature is cooler than rivers and lakes that have been heated all summer long, thick patches of fog are common during morning drives.
     Guess what, Missouri has those lettered county roads too! I wonder who started this odd practice, Missouri or Wisconsin?

     Took a short cut to the Mark Twain Lake; Mark Twain was raised nearby in the town of Hannibal, Missouri. This short cut to the lake was one of the more quaint dirt roads I've been on for awhile.

     Since I'm in central Missouri near Columbia, my sister and others say I must bike the very popular Katy Bike Trail.  This afternoon I'm going to see for myself why bicyclists rave about this trail . . .

     Addendum, October 13, 2016, photo of my Farmall Tractor which is nine inches long (and missing it's exhaust pipe on top).

Friday, September 9, 2016

Following the White Pelicans to Texas for the Winter

     Rarely am I content to remain at a campsite for more than a few days. But I have found one. Just over the Wisconsin border, on the Mississippi River, is the Thomson Causeway Recreation Area campground (click here for map).
     Because there are many islands in the middle of the river, the river is diversified, spreading over a mile wide across the terrain. On the Iowa side, the river is a shipping channel, but on the Illinois side, it's a wetlands area called Potters Marsh. 

     Potters Marsh is a haven for wading birds such as the Great White Egret (in the Heron family). Many huge frogs and turtles live here, too. At night, about three dozen large frogs hop around the campground road.

     My camp site (see La Lair, center left) is located at the very end of a little peninsula. The main river is to the west (Iowa side) and Potters Marsh is to the east (Illinois side). In other words, my front yard is 270 degrees of a beautiful diversified river.

     Since I arrived mid-week after the busy Labor Day Weekend, there were few camp mates nearby. Just big beautiful trees behind me and water, water everywhere in front of me.

     My favorite bird, the Great White Pelican, migrates from the Montana and Canada corridors down through the Mississippi, enroute to Texas and Louisiana's Gulf coast for the winter. In photo below, the Pelicans are in front. Behind the pelicans is a flock of Great White Egrets. They're both white and large and eat fish, but have nothing else in common. Pelicans have webbed feet and swim, herons don't. See how the Pelican on the right spreads its webbed feet before it lands on the water? Egrets land on logs, posts, or shallow waters; they are similar to cranes which also can't swim.

     Herons are solo fish catchers. They stalk fish like a cat stalks a mouse. They slowly pick up each leg and place it in front of them, as if "You didn't see me get closer to that little fish, did you?" See how the heron rotates it black leg back and then lifts it up out of the water and gently places it forward?

     But the White Pelicans prefer to herd a school of fish. They need each other in a flock swimming on the water with a bit of speed, like cowboys herding cattle. The bigger the flock the better, to get their school of fish going. They scoop fish with their baggy beaks and eat them up, eating on the run! Sometimes the whole flock will change direction 180 degrees because the school of fish have turned around to evade the flock! I love everything about the White Pelican, the way it flies gracefully, barely flapping its wings, in a flight pattern similar to geese. I love the way it feeds, and the way it lands on the water by spreading and then gently braking with its webbed feet on the surface of the water for a smooth landing.
     Most folks are familiar with the Brown Pelican at seashore locations, but there are huge differences between these pelicans. With a few rare exceptions, brown pelicans don't migrate. The brown ones are more year-round residential birds and they've become opportunistic feeders near humans, looking for free meals from boaters who are cleaning their fish. White Pelicans wouldn't accept hand-outs or even approach boats or humans. They're truly wild birds. I learned years ago not to paddle near them, to respect their privacy. They fly away if I get too close, and I've wrecked their chance to feed and relax on their migration route.

     So with this panoramic view of water, water everywhere, and a flock of Great White Pelicans and White Egrets, now comes the grand finale, the sunset to the west.

     And behind me to the east, the reflections of the setting sun over Potters Marsh.

     This particular night, the sunset's ever-changing colors and clouds lasted about one hour which is exceptionally long for a sunset.

     But the Chinese proverb of yin and yang plays out here. A strong rain storm swept through the northern central plains while I camped here. I'm feeling the angst crop farmers must be experiencing right now. Watching healthy crops (sort of like watching an 8-month pregnant woman) being wrecked in a couple hours of torrential rains and then having nothing to show, nothing to harvest, after a year of endless work days and paying interest on loans, is heart-wrenching. For a couple days, this was my view from La Lair's front window.

     Today I leave this beautiful camp site. I'll be loosely following the White Pelicans to my winter home in Texas.