Monday, December 28, 2009

May fly hatch in late October

I did not identify, but there was a very large hatch on October 24 near the falls. As the evening went on towards dark, the hatch increased to the point where breathing became hard and my eyes where filled with may flys.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Chickadee in snow shower

A Carolina Chickadee in a light snow shower on Dec 19, 2009.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The gravel road and old wooden bridge at Patrick

This picture is of the old gravel County Road H with the wooden bridge crossing in 1964. and one taken in 2008.

River of Life Farm; river valley on an October morning

First a gorgeous sunrise on the North Fork of the White River, then the fog rolls down the valley.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Topaz in Late October 2009

The gorgeous village of Topaz, on the North Fork of the White River on October 25, 2009. Once a ghost town on the river bank, with a mill and general store, a few families have moved back into the valley. The pictures are of the mill and a look upstream and downstream from the Topaz low-water crossing just upstream from the old mill. Taken with a Canon 5D MKII.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rare Winter Wren in Missouri

He is here and has been for days and sassy as he looks. He is much smaller than a Carolina or House Wren. He has been here for about a week now.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Part 4 Topaz to Twin Bridges

(Indian Creek above)

Part 4

We camped in a small field just below Topaz on the east bank of the North Fork on the 3rd night. The river was markedly larger at this point; with increased volume form the many smaller springs that poured in since we started 2 days ago. We also noticed that the affect the violent storm and torrential rain had on the water level and clarity was gone. The river was very clear once again; in fact so clear that it was nearly impossible to gauge the depth now. Ten feet deep looked like two feet deep. A slight blueing or greening of the water occurred only in the deepest spots but only if the sun angle was right. Twice the depth was misjudged the evening before which is a cold and wet mistake.

These mistakes reminded me of the same mistakes made by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, an explorer who first saw this country, at the same location in the winter of 1818:

Thursday Nov. 5, 1818: “I begin my tour where other travelers have ended theirs, on the confines of wilderness…”

Schoolcraft called the North Fork “the Limestone River” because of all the limestone in the river valley. He wrote that the river was “wholly composed of springs” flowing pure, cold, and clear water. Schoolcraft visited Topaz Spring, which feeds the North Fork River and later became the site of a water mill for settlers. Schoolcraft called it Elkhorn Spring because he found an elk horn there.

Saturday, Nov 21, in the valley of the North Fork: "The bottom-lands continue to improve both in quality and extent, and growth of cane is more vigorous and green, and affords a nutritious food our horse. The bluffs on each side of the valley continue, and are covered by the yellow pine." Schoolcraft and his companion saw flocks of turkey and ducks, as well as a great many deer, squirrels, and beaver. Bear and elk were also common. And the rivers were deep.

Once, they found a place to cross the North Fork that they thought was only two or three feet deep. The water was so clear that what looked easy to wade turned out to be so deep that their pack-horse fell in and had to swim across. The water spoiled or damaged much of their provisions of meal, salt, sugar, tea, and powder for their guns. Soon after they were lucky to find a trail that led to a cabin where a settler family gave them food. The diet of the settlers they found was composed of meat from wild animals and meal ground from corn grown by their cabins.

And so it went nearly 150 years later. That night we slept soundly except once again about 3 AM this time lightening began to the Northwest again. This time I was really wired and ready for another giant storm, but even though the wind blew hard and the hail fell, that seemed to be the extent of it. Of course, that meant in the morning we would have to take time for tent drying to take place; as it still smelled damp when we threw the tent this evening.

The next morning it was much cooler and the sky fair, almost cold for June. I pulled on a sweater that I brought in case, and was glad to have it until about 9-10 AM. We cleaned up the site and policed the camp, loaded the canoe, and started day three. The fly rod and the maps and charts were readied again for the days journey. The first few turns and twists of the North Fork were beautiful with plenty of deep holes, and loaded the bedrock and ledges; also some large rocks were in the center of the river here and there reminding us that they had fallen into the river a long time ago (in geological terms). We scared a female Wood Duck with her large brood of ducklings. She did exactly what we had seen so many time; acting wounded, spacing, and making as much commotion as she could to direct our attention from her babies, which we saw lined up in a row under some saplings on the left bank.

Just after the wood duck entertainment, we saw a very sizable creek entering the river from the left. It was very clear, and was beautiful and looked floatable. We stopped at the mouth, and identified it as Indian Creek. Indian Creek has a sizable drainage from near Cabool, 20 miles to the north, to its confluence with the North Fork. A decision was made to pull the Old Town by a painter rope up Indian Creek, until we could go no further and spend the fourth night up stream somewhere. This was a chance for us to explore a tributary of the North Fork.

Indian Creek is beautiful and was in our minds worthy of a Missouri Nature Area, but at that time no such designation existed. The stream was even clearer than the North Fork. It ran cold and fast over gravel and bedrock. Large rocks dotted the lower mile or two as if they had tumbled down the surrounding hillsides. The creek valley was narrow with no noticeable alluvial land. The stream was large enough that smaller sized smallmouth bass and goggle-eyes were spawning and the beds were noticeable wherever the depth reached 3-4 feet. Shortleaf pines frequently grew down to waters edge, which gave the impression to us that this was not like Missouri as we knew it. The sweet smell of blooming wild roses permeated the entire valley. We so no evidence of farms, homes, lodges, or river cabins. At one point, in a high spot off to our right, we saw a nice stone foundation from a very early homestead, however, no wood or logs were visible, so it was undoubtedly abandoned 40-50 years earlier. The topographic map showed no path or dirt road to the spot where the cabin sat.

We found a small gravel bar high enough above the water to pitch a tent and with good drainage too. A decision was made to beach the Old Town we were dragging, and make camp, then continue exploring upstream with a fly rod and some maps only. The more we explored the more obvious it was how special Indian Creek was. We caught and kept four nice goggle-eye's and a few pretty smallmouths were caught and released. They were all under 12" in length. The goggle-eye were nice and sported a gold-black coloration that I had never seen before. They looked so black in the water; but when they were beached the black fish where beautifully accented with horizontal gold bars; and of course a piercing red eye. The fours of them would make a nice dinner for us in a few hours, so they were placed on a stringer.

Our exploration ended about two hours later when the decision was made to return to the canoe and relax. A sycamore tree lay perpendicular to the bank at this point, and backed the river up into a small pond. I saw the first beaver of my life working this pond; including witnessing several tail slaps and seeing the huge pile of willow, maple, and sycamore sticks he had assembled on the left bank. He did not want us to cross over the downed sycamore possibly because of cubs or kits. These animals were trapped to near extinction in Missouri by 1920 and through releases in the late 1940's and 1950's they were making a comeback across the Ozarks.

On our way back down to the Old Town we flushed 2 young wild turkeys which are also making a comeback across the Ozarks. Forgot how startling they can be when you least expect them. That night after dark and before midnight, after the whippoorwills stopped singing in chorus; I head all three common Missouri owls belting out their unique calls. Just after darkness fell, I heard a Screech Owl clamming territory, not far from the tent. Then about and hour later I was treated to a chorus of Barred Owls in a group chorus with included cackling, laughing, and hooting. It seemed to be contagious with them. Finally nearer to midnight under a large moon I hear the big hunter of the midnight woods; the Great Horned Owl, which is out note repetition. Before dawn, the whippoorwills where singing from every corner of the old homestead field behind us.

By 7:30 in the morning we were dragging the Old Town down Indian Creek and back to the main river. A smallmouth bass chasing a crawfish, darted out in front of me. Large schools of minnows appeared everywhere; what a beautiful day.

The float trip from Indian Creek downstream is beautiful. The river has more volume and plenty of small springs spill their cold water in along the way, increasing the size of the river. In less than a mile we coming to a ford across the river and a late1940'S vintage Ford 8N tractor rushes across in front of us. The ford is gravel compacted fairly tightly but somewhat loosened today, due the the 8" rise in the river. I would not attempt to cross at this point in a car. The water is a little too deep and fast and the gravel too loose. But by late summer into fall and winter, when the river is lower, this would be a nice crossing spot. Sometime between the m id 1960's and 2008, a concrete slab was laid down but is frequently covered with water.

Two more fords are crossed on the way downstream; Osborne and Hale, both with very low concrete slabs, which, again, do not provide a good crossing spot during a raise in the river level. The bird life on this section of the river appears exceptionally abundant. Warblers of many types a vireos appear everywhere. Their song echo through the valley during this nesting season. We closely watch a pair of American Redstarts either building a nest or feeding hatchlings. They are curious about the noises we make and quickly fly over and land close to us to investigate the intrusion into their territory, but they also appear curious about us, with their tails fanned they watch our every move.

The river below Osborne has many deep holes and fast runs and several larger spring to investigate. There is a pretty good number of tricky canoe runs too. Some are very rocky and full of wicked snags. We spent two full days on this stretch of the river and possibly caught over one hundred smallmouth bass, one topping 3 1/2 pounds. We finally come around the bend and see the old and tall Hebron iron bridge. According to our map we have about 7 miles to go until we reach Twin Bridges. We spend out fifth night just below Hebron on a nice gravel bar.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hummingbird, NO; Moth, YES

This hummingbird moth is fascinating. He is feeding on the nectar of Wild Bee Balm or Oswego Tea (Monarda). I have seen several at River of Life Farm in 2008 and 2009. Since I am always watching for hummingbirds, these always catch me by surprise. They are fairly common, however.

Next time you see a hummingbird working some flowers at ROLF, look again and see if it is a Hummingbird moth.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pictures at Kelly Ford on October 24th, 2009

A few pictures of the North Fork at and below the old Kelly Ford this past October, just as the colors were dramatically changing. Kelly Ford is about 1.5 miles upstream from River of Life Farm. River flow was 1400 CFS.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fall at River of Life Farm; October 23, 2009

From the Treetop Hideaway porch; pictures says it all; do not miss fall 2010. Click to enlarge.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The beauty of Vera Cruz access on the Bryant Creek

In the Bryant Creek headwaters, about 30 minutes from River of Life Farm, is the Vera Cruz access. The Bryant cuts a surprisingly deep valley at this point, the bottom is bedrock and the bluffs are beautiful. Try this as side trip sometime. Pictures below are from October 24, 2009.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Golden Hour at River of Life Farm

The pictures taken near the falls at dusk (5:30 PM - 6:30 PM CDT) show magnificent reflections of the autumn color change on the surface of the water. This only lasts about 5-10 minutes with golden hues changing the entire time. Click to enlarge.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mayfly hatch on 10/22/09 near the falls 5 PM

This hatch began about 5 PM and by dark was so thick that you could not keep them out of your mouth and nose.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The bridge over the North Fork at Hebron 10/23

The colors are coming out late in October on the beautiful North Fork River.

Autumn on Double Springs (aka. Rainbow Springs)

I spent an afternoon (towards dusk) at Double Spring last week (Oct 20) during the beginning of the peak of fall colors in the southern Ozarks. It was breezy and there was a high blue ski, just as October was meant to be. The two or three weeks prior to my day there, were cold and rainy, and had appeared to ruin the fall color fest across the Ozarks. This day marked a quick turn of events color-wise and the change that was on hold, began again. This is a picture of the south branch looking down stream (or spring branch) towards the North Fork River.

In the coming weeks, I will post about 25 pictures of the spring branch; a few at a time, so please check back in.

Friday, October 23, 2009

October 20th 2009 Dawn and River of Life Farm

This pictures taken on 10/20/2009 as a view across the North Fork River valley from the Tree Top Loft front porch.

October morning at River of Life Farm

Taken at dawn from the top of the hill leading to the entrance. Canon 5D Mark II and 200 mm f2.8 L series lens. This is just before dawn on October 21, 2009 (6:40 AM).

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Floating the North Fork in the mid-1960's PART Three of Five

Full Day 2

The second day of our trip started at 1:30 AM with a very scary thunderstorm; with hail and vicious winds. It started with continuous lightening in the western sky about 11:00 PM, by midnight, there was rolling thunder in the distance. By 1:00 AM the lightening became so continuous that it appeared to be only one long lightening flash over the next 20 minutes. I have to admit that I was scared. I had never seen a storm like this one. Storms always appear worse in the country because there is no other noise to grown them out, no lights to minimize the brightness of the lightening, and no radio or TV from which to get updates. Actually, there was no accurate radar in the early 1960's and even if there was, it would be in Springfield and too far away to see this storm. This storm only got worse. We both became nervous when we heard a swishing and whistling sound off to our south and east; that only lasted a few minutes. The cloud to ground lightening became constant just after the weird noise and then the rain hit. It rained very hard, with hail at times, for the next twenty minutes sand was over. At 4 AM, I could still see the bright lightening in the distant southeast, probably more than one hundred miles away. There a dark star filled sky over us running in all directions but the southeast, where lightening still flickered continuously. I went back to sleep again and did not wake until long after dawn. Steve K was not in the tent but I could smell his cooking from the Coleman stove. I was hungry but hated the cleanup duty that I was about the get.

While I cleaned up up the greasy skillet and utensils; Steve K packed everything up, but we left the tent up until the morning sun did a little drying; but we had to pack it up damp, which is not good. the Old Town was loaded up, this time, with our gear for up to 10 days. We spent about ten minutes cleaning up and policing the campsite and planning the day as we walked and talked to each other. We had hoped to make it to the ghost town of Topaz, with a map wheel on a 1934 contour map, it appeared to be about 5-6 miles, but honestly, we did not know what to expect. I could not find anyone to talk with that had ever floated this stretch of river. It was 9 AM and time to shove off. The river was still clear after the night time storm, but not as clear as yesterday and appeared to have risen about 6 inches. This was only a guess, because we had not placed a marker at streams edge; something that we knew to do, and would do every night in the future. Not surprisingly, the river was full of leaves and twigs; enough to make fishing impossible for now, so we concentrated on the river itself. In the morning sunlight, the rivers beauty began to show in full force. Huge sycamores, appeared to be up to 5-6 feet in diameter and the trunks were bright white in the morning sun. The sycamore leaves were still coming out from bud in many places in the canopy; probably due to the rainy, cold spring weather. There were several very large back walnut trees, still showing very small leaves too. I remaindered from years past that they always get their leaves last in the spring and shed them first in the late summer and fall. Behind the tree line the country was still farm country with lots of hayfields and an occasional corns field. we made a slow left hand bend that moved us to a more eastward direction into from the bright morning sun and saw a doe and very young fawn standing in the stream.

WOW, white-tail deer were hard to see in the Ozark highlands as they were still fairly scarce from over harvesting and dog-running. I had seen several in the early 1960's, but given today'a abundance, it is hard to imagine that I had probably only seen 5 or 6 in my entire life; Steve K a few more. She was nervous and did not stand long for us and rooted her baby back off into the woods. Almost immediately after the deer, we came to a low water crossing, which we did not expect. It did not show up on the old Topographic map or on the arial photo. The bridge was made from wood planks crossed by some braced pilings, and was not the typical hog-trough that we saw in eastern Missouri, but a crude plank bridge, which had be cobbled back together after high water on several occasions. You could tell by the different aged wood spiked into the bridge and the replaced footings and pilings on one side. We stopped there to take a few photos of the crossing and to sit for a while. I determined that we had only floated about half a mile and that was about right; it was 10:30 AM and we were moving slow. There was a very deep hole just downstream from the bridge with two or three large smallmouth bass patrolling the bottom. One appeared to be approximately four pounds or more. Soon, we saw what was going on we were watching the male, fanning a large nest with his tail fin and chasing everything that came near, including other small mouth bass, goggly and sunfish. Our guess was a late spawn or re-spawn due to high water in May. Either way, this fish was serious about protecting his nest, and appeared gaunt and beat up for all his hard work. They are amazing fish.

After about fifteen minutes at he bridge we pushed off again. Now we entered and area of continuous "S" curves with some logs across the river, we new we had to unload and portage but as we begin the unload the canoe we did notice that there were at least 2 dozen living trees down in the river, and splintered and broken all over the next stretch of river, there was asbestos insulation the the tree tops, shingles everywhere, books, check-stubs, and clothing. Then we both got a sick feeling and the same time, this was from 1:30 in the morning, it was a tornado, and it was not far from us. We wondered if anyone was hurt, what we could do, so we stopped and looked at he map and saw there were only two farmhouses west of the damage path and one we could see. Trees were down in the yard but people were milling around. We yelled at them and asked what happened and was anyone was hurt. They waved us on, after saying "twister" and "everyone is alright". The portage was a long one; maybe 1/4 to 1/2 miles though a muddy hayfield, but we turned it into an double trip and took turns carrying the canoe. In the end, it took about an hour, maybe more, to put the canoe back in a repack it. This was a scene of absolute devastation, nothing left standing for a hundred yards or more and more damage was evident, the further we got from the storm path, but this was less severe damage. I still remember today the incredible number of killed songbirds of all species in that hayfield. Several Great Blue Herons lay dead in the field also, also killed the night before. A very sad sight.

After we put in again after completing the portage, and started paddling, we spent much time talking about the tornado, but both had to admit that we were equally captivated by the incredible beauty of this stream. The "S" curves continued, but now we were in an area of dense forest, low bluffs, narrow bottoms, and very dark shade. A Green Heron jumped from the left bank and curved his flight downstream and landed on a snag just above the next bend. Near an area where the sun broke through the tree-cover we saw a large Northern Water Snake and stopped to watch him for a while. He was stalking frogs. We started to see lots of large soft-shell turtles on nearly every log in the river; some over twenty four inches in diameter. This is in the days way before canoeing and shooting turtles with a .22 rifle or pistol was popular. There was also a fair number of Sliders on the logs, sometimes what appeared to be entire families from grandparents to newborns lined up according to age. The water was definitely becoming murky compared to the day before. Ozark terminology for levels of stream clarity have always been funny; muddy, dingy, murky, cloudy, clearing, clear. These are the Actual terms used the the St. Louis Globe Democrat to describe river conditions across the state in every Fridays fishing report. They are in order of least clear to most clear.

Despite our earlier feelings about fishing today, we stopped and put the F.E. Thomas together and lined it up and tied on a red fly with a pearl spinner, tipped with a small fly strip. Steve K would fish, while I worked the charts and looked for the two small creeks we had hoped to explore today, while guiding from the stern. The canoe bounced around a steep "S" curve bend over some big rocks and we had to make an immediate left turn into a fast log filled eddy; small but very deep and with quickly moving water the entire length. Some of the logs were huge and must have been on the bottom for 20 years or more; there was not much left of them. Fish were darting in every direction. We knew we had to find a place to turn the canoe out so Steve K could cast. As soon as I could I found a large rock and eddied out behind it. The bow floated up stream against the moss covered boulder, so that all Steve K had to do was place his foot on top to hold us in place. He made several false casts, to straighten and dry the stiff silk line we were using. I could hear every line nub sliding through the steel guides; finally, when slightly wet, it all worked better. This line would need to be dressed (or greased) tonight after we pitched camp. Three casts later and Steve K had a good fish on; possibly a very good smallmouth bass. After a tough five minute fight, he landed a nice four to five pound channel catfish. Yes, channel catfish, on the North Fork on a fly rod. What a surprise ! Never saw or head of a channel catfish taking a fly but since that day I have seen that happen about a half dozen times more; always a surprise. We gave a short thought to keeping the catfish for dinner; but decided it was too big and we admitted to each other that neither like to clean or eat catfish. During the next half mile, Steve K caught and released about 6 nice bass up to fifteen inches, and 2 dozen big and fat sunfish and goggle-eye; and one black perch (green sunfish) that tipped the hand scale a one pound and seven ounces. We checked our ice supply and kept only two more goggle-eye for future meals. I did not get to fish at all this day, even though I wanted to, but I was really busy with charts and maps and my journal; each time we stopped. Both spring creeks we were supposed to hike, turned out not to be much; other than really intimate and pretty.

After 5:00 PM we made a final right turn and the flume from the old mill at Topaz came into view. We puled left and got out to look at the mill. What a neat place; picture this. An old town with no inhabitants; a main street, still in in fair condition made of Ozark stream gravel. An old barn to the left next to a large spring that is dammed up near the road, the dam makes an impoundment of about a acre of clear water. the water plunges over a wood closure into a long flume spillway, whitewater racing down towards on old red mill wheel. The mill is three stories tall and in fairly good shape but has not been used for probably 50 years, maybe more. One hundred yards down the road is a cool old country store with old style glass topped "fill and flow" gas pumps. Next to the store, another building, which might have been the Topaz post office. Across the old roads are several abandoned homes. The town was simply left as it was 30 or so years ago. A newspaper from 1931 lay in the general store window. No one lives here anymore. Why ? It is so beautiful with stands of shortleaf pines scattered throughout. We spent over an hour looking around town as if in the past century, then decided to push on a mile or so and find a small gravel bar or field to camp in; even though this would have been a great place to stay, we felt a little funny about staying in a ghost town overnight. The mosquitoes were especially nasty this evening and I was looking forward to a tent.

(Note; the town of Topaz still exists in 2009, infect, it is no longer a ghost town. There appears to be about 3-4 families in the valley now and they do take very good care of the old town and have been doing so for some time now.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Red Tail Hawk this morning

A quick picture I took earlier today.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Floating the North Fork in the mid-1960's PART Two of Five

Tuesday and Wed. June 16th and June 17th

We were wakened at dawn by birds signing everywhere; got up quickly, checked the time and had a small breakfast, and impatiently waited for the farmer to arrive. Sure enough a 6:30 AM, exactly, we heard a gate swing open and there he was.

Then ride to the put-in point a little under five miles upstream was, even to my thinking at the time, through some real Ozark back country, There were still a dozen log cabins along the road, many from prior to the tune of the century; some neatly dovetailed; and some falling down. The road the narrow and only qualified as an improved dirt road running through hayfields. Only a few stands of tress could be seen here and there. In what seemed like an hour, the farmer got out and opened a farm gate on the right and we turned in, I jumped out and closed the gate. We rambled through the pasture and down to a clump of trees in a fairly shallow valley. The clump of trees was like and oasis with a large spring issuing from under a ledge rock and dumping into a small, clear stream. The stream was no more than 6-8 feet wide but ran clear and swift. This was the headwaters of the North Fork River. Upstream, was clearly visible, a large hayfield, with a low mudbank on the left, and a small ledge on the right; a barbed wire fence was stretched tightly across it.

We carefully took the canoe from the car and placed it bow downstream, in the fast clear water; then unloaded the little gear we decided to bring with us on day one; looking at the stream that was a good decision. We bid farewell to the farmer, heard the our car ramble up the pasture and all was quiet. We looked at each other and said in unison "here we go". Steve K started in the stern and I climbed into the bow; with the charts and maps in a waterproof bag inside an ammunition box with a gasket. The TOPO maps did not help much since we were floating 30 years after the (1934) version we had, except to give us directions, landmarks, and total distances. I could also see they we had a lot of farm country to transverse. The TOPO showed not too much tree cover, but that can change in 30 years. Next I looked at the arial map and had a hard time locating exactly where we were. With a little work and a magnifying glass, I found the put-in oasis. I could even see the upstream fence on the photograph. The first few turns in the river were tight and fast and took extreme coordination to carve to out, then we came into a fairly long straight away with a few patches of whitewater bubbling in front of us. We soon noticed that there was almost no gravel deposits in the river as both of us were used to seeing. No large gravel fields or gravel bars. The bottom was simple black, gray, and brown bedrock with a good smattering of brown and green algae. At this early point on this day there were no trees to provide shade either, just clusters of junipers growing out of rocks, dotting the river banks.

The scenery was so foreign when compared to the Black, Current, Jacks Fork, Meramec, Huzzah, or Big Piney; which we were used to. Steve K thought we must be in Oklahoma, except the clear water. The number of minnows was absolutely staggering. There was sections of the river now that were so full of minnows of many species, that it was impossible not to crush them with your shoes or with the canoe bottom. In one section of whitewater running over small ledge there were possibly 100,000, maybe 200,000 shiners; probably many more. This count was done fairly carefully by close inspection of 1 cu. foot of water and counting the number of shiners. Then estimating the number of cubic feet of water in the area where the minnows were located. The scene was like one hundred thousand mirrors, under the riffle, reflecting up into our faces. It was so astounding that we spent about 45 minutes at that point sitting on a rock, drinking water from our glass bottles and watching. At one point a 14 inch smallmouth chased at least 100 minnows up onto the shore. We could also see that the river was making a slow gradual turn to the west toward a low hill in the distance and were both hoping for some shade. The day was hot and becoming sultry too and it was only about 10:00 - 11:00 AM AM. Before passing a herd of cows below by, watering in the river, we took a refreshing swim in the icy cold water. There were lots of springs but they were all small in size; their combined waters did make the water extremely cold. Looking at the structure of the bottom of this stretch of water, we could easily see it would be nearly dry in August.

According to the location of the hill in front of us, on the contour map, I estimated that we were approaching the half-way point of this short trip. Soon we turned further west toward the treelined hill and then made a sharp left hand tune to the south against a low bluff and finally abundant shade. There were several beautiful and fairly deep holes separated by fast runs around jagged boulders running from the near bank on the east all the way to the bluff line. What an amazing stretch of river. We broke out the fly rod and rigged with a Hildebrant Pearl spinner; an Art Varner streamer fly (made in Salem, MO.) of black hackle with the barb filed off, and tipped it with a short piece of fly-strip (which is hard to keep on without the barb present). With very little backcast room, Steve K went first and immediately hooked and nice fish which made 2 fast runs downstream, then upstream against the fast current. In a few minutes he was releasing, without touching, a nice 14 inch smallmouth bass. His coloration was perfect for the shadows and shade; he was as jet black and copper. The most beautiful smallmouth I had ever seen. Three casts later, he had another nice fish on; this one possibly larger but the bass snapped the leader agains a root wad in the middle of the run, and was gone.

I took the rod and tied on a new spinner and fly (same color and same pork rind); made two casts and quickly hooked another good fish, this time about 30 feet downstream. This fish made at least four runs and about 6-8 jumps. I was able to land him and he was over 14 inches and probably about 2 pounds plus. He was quickly released. One of the toughest fish I ever fought. He was a dark black color also. We continued to fish this location for another hour and landed a few more smallmouths, mostly smaller than the first three hooked. Finally, at the downstream side of the run, where the water was reversing, we caught four large black and gold colored goggle-eyes and placed them on the stringer for dinner. I believe we could have caught about thirty in the small hole, but only needed the four. It was still sultry hot but the shade and breeze actually raised goosebumps on my arm. The sky was still blue but wispy high clouds had begun to move in from the north and west. The wind at 2 PM was very brisk out of the south and east, and sometimes very gusty. We wondered about rain chances, but mostly focused on the gorgeous river we were exploring. We did take time to explore a very cold spring fed creek coming from the east; but were disappointed that it was only one hundred yards long and the spring basin was not particularly pretty.

The rivers now turned slightly west of south again and entered more grassy farm country. the fields were of native grass and looked like old fields to us that had not been fertilized or farmed for a long time. There were many Ozark sundrops dotting the hillsides and they also with their startling yellow color. the Missouri Primrose (sumdrops) much larger than I had remembered and much more numerous than they were in eastern Missouri. There was a fair amount of Bluestem and Indian Grass with another covering of very tall pale purple coneflowers mixed with last years tall stand of rust colored indian grass. Prickly pears (a native Missouri cactus) were becoming more common in this section also and were in bloom too. The river itself was just a pretty as our put-in spot but was noticeably larger from the numerous springs. Very little if any gravel was present, and the bedrock was becoming blacker in color. We ran up against another low bluff, this time on the left, with an abandoned blacksmith shop on the top. The water under the bluff was so deep that we could not find the bottom, but we estimated it at fifteen feet or more. We tried to fish the hole but it was simple too deep for fly fishing. Finally at the lower end of the hole, where it began to shallow out again, I hooked a medium sized fish; and we shocked to see that it was a small walleye (know locally as Jack Salmon, or locally known as Jacks). I did not expect that at all. He too, was released unharmed to darted upstream for the bottom of the deep hole. Just below this spot, we ran across another very large school of shiners, again, maybe larger than the first. We stopped on the right (west) bank to make some map notes and correct the arial photograph as the river had moved much to the west of the location only one year ago. Also, from this point on, we began to see more creek chubs of good size and many suckers of all three types, flashing in the afternoon sun. We swam again to cool off, but the wind was not going to allow us to fly fish any more; so we put the rod away in it's sock and tube, to protect it's fragile tips sections and it's single mid section.

The wind out of the south and east, the direction we were moving had now, in our estimate exceeded 30 MPH with higher gusts, at times and it was impossible to do any more exploring, mapping, or fishing. For every 100 yards we floated downstream, we were blown back about 75 yards. It was now clear that we had to completely concentrate on paddling and moving downstream do risk going under the bridge much later in the evening that we wanted too. We finally rounded a short bend and came out of the wind, "what a relief". We both rested our arms for about ten minutes and then pushed on again through another stretch of loud white-water, this time scraping the canvas bottom badly, and that caused us really worry. No ribs were broken and no water appeared on the floor so we decided to wait to check it out when we landed for the night. Two ore quick turns to the left and then to the right and we saw the HH high bridge and new out first day was coming to an end. We had made the trip and arrived back at the car at 4:30 PM. The tent was blown down in the wind but everything else seemed in good shape. A close inspection of the canoe bottom showed a large but non-destructive scrap and several new deep scratches; but non required first aid with the patch kit. Steve K quickly cleaned the goggle-eye while I brought the Old Town up the bank, and laid in out of the wind next to the car.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A city girl goes to the North Fork

A city girl, accountant, controller, and mother of 2 college boys made her first trip to float and hike on 9/14. She came away loving it and is ready to go back. She made her first float trip in control of the canoe stern, and a fairly tough hike on the following day. The rain really came down hard during the canoe trip, but dressed in a well sealed Arcteryx Beta Gore-tex jacket, she made it through completely dry and cool.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Floating the North Fork in the mid-1960's PART One of Five

This will be a 5 part series about the changing face of the North Fork from the Summer of 1964 to the Summer of 2009 (45 years).


In was early spring 1964 and I had just finished a 18 mile float trip on the Current River with a friend, Steve Klicke, who was 2 years older than me. He had a wealth of river experience and was excellent at canoeing on rivers. I also admired his knowledge of the outdoors and his ability with a fishing rod. His family was from the Big Piney watershed, where they had a farm. The purpose was to get ready for the Current River tandem races in May. I met several people at the event on that day, that connected me to Oz Hawksley, who, at the time, was putting together Missouri Ozark Waterways, a publication that would map the Missouri Ozark Streams. I received an assignment prior to my first year of college. Map, chart, and explore, the North Fork or the White River and the Bryant Creek, during June and July 1965.

I agreed and begin to excitedly prepare for an June departure. My parents were nervous about all the things that could go wrong on a float that long. I grew up at the junction of the Meramec River and Huzzah Creek and they were all to familiar with flash floods, strainers (log jams that the river flows through that can easily trap you or your boat), venomous snakes, weather, heat exhaustion, etc., but in the end, it was their knowledge of these things that gave them the courage to let me go; in other words, I had already experienced all of that too.

The Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas was a different place the early 1960's than it is today. The rural way of life had not yet be sliced away. Small farms were marginally profitable, people were, almost always, friendly and honest and a little suspicious. There were still general stores in almost every community, where you could procure the goods you needed, and working farms still dotted the river valleys. The drive to the North Fork from St. Louis also took about 2-3 hours longer in 1964-1965 than it does today.

Monday June 15th, 1964

Our plan was to leave St. Louis Monday June 15th early in the morning and spend the day getting to the the takeout point; the Tecumseh bridge over Norfork Lake, leaving Steve's car there, then driving back up to the Highway HH bridge (Highway 76 today). We had permission to camp in a large hayfield just downstream from the bridge. By 7:00 PM we had our tent pitched; and left our gear packed up and the canoe still on top of my 1959 Buick, Steve's car was left at Tecumseh by the bridge. Our canoe was an Old Town Guide special order at 17' (the normal was 16'). I suspect they used a modified OTCA mold with less upsweep in the ends and no keel. My brother and I bought it from the Old Town Canoe Company in 1964 for 388.00. At the time that was my entire savings. Even though a Grumman Aluminum canoe would have cost us almost $205 less, it did not want one. The Old Town was beautiful and made with the most perfect white cedar ribs and planked with red cedar; and had a gorgeous canvas covering of green and have cane woven seats. We also had 3 fairly new, beautifully made, Old Town beavertail paddles and a canvas patch kit.

The trip from St. Louis to the lake and back up to the put in, point took 14 hours total. We ran through 2 heavy thundershowers before arriving at the camping spot. On the way back we stopped at the Crossroads Store (still there but closed and across the gravel road from the original store) as of May 2009 (45 years later). We bought enough food and ice for at least 3-4 days sand carefully packed it in a cooler and dry-box. Food in those days consisted of a few steaks, eggs, bacon, lunch meat, bread, lots of tomatoes, potatoes, beans, a head of lettuce, and onion, and a large jar of mayonnaise, matches, and a small can of crisco in case we were able to string some large goggle-eye. Even back then, neither of us had the heart to do anything but release smallmouth bass we caught, carefully unharmed back into the river. After the 3-4 day period we were not sure what we were going to do about food. Our expectation was to spend about 2 weeks on the North Fork; mapping, charting, and writing. Additionally we had a one year old canoe tent from Sears, not light, not convenient, but we figured it would keep us and our supplies dry. We carried onboard a fly-rod, a F.E. Thomas Special, 8' long and we took along with it a D and E weight, double tapered lines; and a box full of leaders, spinners, and streamers and a jar of pork rind fly-strip and of course a stringer.

In the spring and early summer of 1965 the area farmers enjoyed more than usual amounts of rain, which left the North Fork, in very nice floating condition into June, even as far up in the headwaters as we were. In fact, a decision was made by Steve K and I that evening, to go 5 miles further up and put in above Highway HH. A local farmer was to drive us up 5.5 miles (halfway back to Cabool) and put us in early the next morning, allowing us to float back to our parked car during Day One. We quickly found some dry firewood, cooked a steak and beans, eat and cleaned up. Steve K had a couple of cold Budweisers in the cooler that he taken from his Dad's refrigerator. But in the end, neither of us had a church-key, so they were left alone this evening. As darkness began to fall in the valley, we safely stored all our highway maps, arial photography taken the summer before, and 1:62,500 contour maps away; and climbed into out sleeping bags with a hanging flashlight, which allowed us to read and plan for morning. It was not hard to fall asleep that night and I still remember the vociferous whippoorwills; dozens of them singing right outside our tent until nearly midnight. I was awakened only once by a barred owl and finally the whippoorwills again at dawns first light. I do not think Steve K moved once all night.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Warbler nests I found this past spring 2009

Warblers are unusual nesters. There nests may be found on the ground, in low bushes along rivers, reeds, holes in trees (at least one species), and high in trees. All these from River of Life Farm. The last nest is occupied by a female American Redstart.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

American Goldfinches foraging on Coneflower heads

The Goldfinches, usually the last species to nest, waits for an abundant seed supply. Here are a few shots of both male and female picking seeds from spent purple coneflower heads.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ghosts of the past times in Ozark County Missouri

A few building clustered around the North Fork and Bryant headwaters; off of Highway 181.