Monday, July 27, 2009

Big Piney Float July 2, 2009

We packed up the "Joe Whiz" canoe and headed back to the Big Piney river for Terrie's birthday float. We decided to run the river a little differently this time so we put in at the end of the dirt road that runs along the Big Piney, near the Elbow Inn, and decided to take out at Piney Beach Resort near the "New Old Route 66 Bridge". Jeff had brought along a portable CD player this time so we listened to some old country music as we floated towards Bussmann's Resort. I can only handle so much of the classic country so Jeff surprised me with a mix CD of mine that I had misplaced. The setting was not quite right to hear 50 Cent and Eminem, but I hadn't heard that disc in a long time and I was stoked.

We spotted the hard to find piece of concrete that signified Bussman's and did some nifty paddle work to cut back across the river and banked. From the bank we could see the old footbridge but not much else than trees and landscape that made me think of snakes, ticks, and mosquitoes. We decided to trek through the underbrush even though we were in shorts and sandals. I am thankful that we did. It was a scenic spot and the growth made us feel like we were the first humans in the area for 20 years even though we weren't. We found the picnic area and decided to take a breather and dump all the rocks from our shoes. Near the picnic area were two old logs that someone had fashioned into "toilets". We decided to skip more in-depth exploration of those items and headed back further into the resort towards the two brick chimneys that are still standing. For me, it was easy to imagine "men of means" smoking cigars and drinking bootleg moonshine in this spot in the 1920's. We found the cabin, or the roof line of the cabin that Connor Watkin's describes and photographed in 2002 in his article titled "All Trips To The Beautiful Big Piney River Of The Missouri Ozarks" Other than Conor's description of the abandoned resort I can not find much history of the place. When was the place built? Who visited there? Why was it abandoned? Did it have ties to organized crime in St Louis? Do any pictures of it during it's glory days still exist? If you have any information or pictures of this place, please email me at We hung out at Bussmann's for a bit, gobbled down some sandwiches and did some swimming before we shoved off.

Our next stop was a gravel bar on the left just past Blue Springs. The sound of the spring rushing into the water would make you think that there is one heck of a stretch of rapids ahead if you do not know the river. There are some obstacles that could make this stretch tricky if you opt out of spending some time on the gravel bar.

Our next stop was the gravel bar underneath the Railroad Bridge. We spent quite a bit of time exploring the bridge. We partially climbed the ladder access to the top of the bridge but I am scared of heights so the mission was incomplete. We did walk back to the end of the trestle and got some great shots of the bridge. All the climbing, and hiking made us thirsty, and it was Terrie's birthday float so we floated to the Elbow Inn and climbed the stairs for a cold beer. The owner, Terry Roberson, was there so we chatted with him for a moment before he started preparing for that nights Bike Night. Bike Night is a tradition at the Elbow and is on Thursday nights. Free food and cold beer make this a popular place for most of our two wheeled friends in the area. After paying our tab we hiked back down to the canoe and shoved off, we figured we had another 30 minutes max, before reaching our take out spot. After the curve past the Elbow we noticed a very shallow area to our right so we headed left to skirt around it. We did not see the ridge line of rocks that popped up high enough from the water to swamp us. I was on the cooler in the middle and fared better than Terrie and Jeff. I did not even get my head wet, but saw Terrie completely underwater with the canoe coming straight down for her head. I reached out and grabbed her just before the canoe came down and started filling with water. Terrie was quick to react and started grabbing the canoe so we could flip the water out before it completely filled and Jeff made his way after the cooler. Giving up on the cooler he returned and we took stock of our supplies that had gone missing. Two coolers, various items of clothing and towels, a paddle, and the CD player. With my newly found "thuggin" CD. Soon after we remembered that Terrie's car keys were in the cooler. Luckily for us the cooler did not dump and we were able to retrieve it.

After beaching the canoe at Piney Beach only 10 miniutes after we had left the Elbow, Terrie and Jeff were able to swim out and retrieve the paddle as it bobbed lazily by. While they returned upriver to collect the Jeep, I chatted with a guy who knew Jeff. I can not recall his name but he told me that he had flipped his canoe in the exact same spot two days before and had just retrieved his car keys from the riverbed a few hours before we capsized. All in all it was another great day on the river and Terrie sported a huge bruise for a few weeks to remind her of that day. If you float the stretch of the big Piney between Elbow Inn and Piney Beach and see a shiny square box on the bottom of the river, grab it. The CD player will not work anymore, but I hope you enjoy that "thuggin mix" as much as I have. And beware of that rock!

Big Piney Float June 28, 2009

It was a gorgeous Sunday morning in the Ozarks. We loaded up the fiberglass "Joe Whiz" canoe on the Jeep Cherokee and fought our way through all the church traffic to meet up with Terrie and Mike in the Price Cutter parking lot in Waynesville. Today's float was special because it was my nephew, Kyle's, first river adventure. A week shy of his second birthday, he was ready to start following in his Daddy's footsteps to become a river rat.

Terrie's fiance, Mike, is originally from Arizona, but he is a very outgoing guy and probably knows more people in my hometown than I do. He also knew a back way to a place that we used to go mudding at near the Big Piney River known as Mayfield Crossing. The dirt road beside Spur Cleaners leads to this area but after September 11, 2001 Fort Leonard Wood has closed access to most of the dirt roads that lead onto the installation. Mike was able to reroute us through a newer housing area off of Texas Road and back into the Mayfield area. Finding a way back into one of his favorite haunts made Jeff grin from ear to ear and he happily splashed and threw mud as he followed Mike through the puddles.

Kyle was excited to finally be out of his car seat but was not as excited when we then strapped him into a lifejacket. He and Terrie and Jeff splashed in the water a bit as we did final preps of getting the canoe off the Jeep, the two man kayak off the Surbarban, coolers loaded and the wrapping of valuables in ziploc baggies. We plopped Kyle into the very front of the canoe, in front of me and shoved off. He was content the first few minutes, taking in the water and Terrie and Mike in the yellow kayak beside us. Then he realized that Daddy was in the very back of the canoe and he wanted to be back there with him. I distracted him with a piece of ice from the cooler. This turned into an all day game of open the cooler, get a piece of ice, throw it in the river. I must have 70 pictures of that kid from that day and in 60 of them he is opening a cooler. He floated part of the way up front with me and after our first gravel bar swimming party he got in the back with Daddy. Daddy lets him move around more in the canoe than I did so he was a happy camper. He also enjoyed having easier access to the cooler for ice.

We stopped twice on this trip to let Kyle play in the water. Kyle got a kick out of seeing Popeye, hip deep, in the water with his fishing rod near the "old old Route 66 bridge". We floated to the Elbow Inn but we hadn't planned our trip very well. We didn't realize that the gate was locked so we portaged the canoes and supplies up from the river, and through the narrow stairwell that cuts through the buildings of the bar. Terrie, Kyle, and I camped out on coolers in the parking lot while Mike and Jeff went back to Mayfield to retrive the Jeep. We were unofficial greeters for the Elbow several times as we explained to people that yes, they were closed, but they should definitely come back when they are open because the food is excellent and the beer is cold. Jeff and Mike returned, with the Jeep splashed in mud all the way to the roof. We had everything loaded in a few minutes and Kyle was sound asleep in his car seat before we even reached the Devil's Elbow Bridge.

Gasconade Float June 29, 2009

Snoop, Terrie, Jeff Gasconade Float

Woot! Woot! Our first float of the year! We grabbed the "Joe Whiz" fiberglass canoe off of Jeff's carport and loaded up on Shorty's truck. Shorty dropped me, Terrie, and Jeff off at the Barlow access of the Gasconade River and we floated to Hazelgreen Bridge. Hazelgreen Bridge is a stretch of original Route 66 pavement and I was excited about floating underneath it. The Gasconade is one of the crookedest rivers in the world and we have floated sections of it several times before, but this was a new stretch for all 3 of us. Not a lot of pictures from this float because we only had one cell phone with us and it didn't come out of the ziploc bags unless we were on dry land. This was a nice peaceful float even though we had 3 canoes behind us that were floating to Gasconade Hills Resort.

Thanks to my incredibly small bladder, and the help of three or four Busch Lights, we stopped at a gravel bar just in time to see a "chest high, knock your ass out of the boat" tree across the right channel of the river. After much debate and scouting downstream we decided to walk the canoe through the much narrower left channel. We waited for the first canoe of the other group, flagged them down, alerted them to the danger, and took off splashing through the rough water. We stopped at a gravel bar before the last eddy before the Hazelgreen Bridge and the sound of text messages coming in on Jeff's phone let us know that we were close to civiliization. The text message was about the death of Michael Jackson. We spent the last eddy debating among ourselves as to if the text was a hoax. The last eddy before Hazelgreen is LONG! With the recent flood waters receding the river was actually running backwards up the eddy so Terrie and Jeff got their paddles wet so we could get back to the truck and load up. On the drive home we learned that the King of Pop had indeed died and that everyones favorite "Angel", Farrah Fawcett had also passed. Sad news to end a beautiful day getting back to nature.