Wednesday, August 23, 2017

ECLIPSE EXPEDITION!!

For almost a year, a group of ladies I kayak with, have had August 21, 2017, marked on their calendars, as the date for a float trip in Missouri, on the Meramec River.  As the number of "yes" RSVP's to the invitation continued to grow, it was determined that a "larger than normal" overnight rental property was going to be needed.  And that explains this photo of a small sign, attached to a fence post, indicating this is the "Meramec Hideaway" ( www.RiverHillsRetreats.com ).   And, may I assure you, it earns its name as a "hideaway"!  Even though I had two different GPS systems in operation as I tried to locate the property, neither one of them would accurately direct me to it!  Fortunately, part of the group had arrived a few hours earlier, and sent smart phone messages with photographs of a certain tree and locked gate, that I should be looking for, in order to know where to turn off the pavement.  However, the search was worth it, as the Meramec Hideaway was the perfect location for 19 ladies, and 19 kayaks, to have ample space to enjoy this two night/three day adventure!

The date and location for this adventure all centered around getting to the "Band of Totality" for the August 21, 2017, Total Solar Eclipse.  In honor of the occasion, those who wanted to, could purchase one of the custom-designed tee shirts, as a souvenir.  This photo shows how the tee shirts have the added feature of glowing in the dark, under the red fluorescent lights we all had to pass through, as we started the cave tour!  As an explanation of the design, "WHO" stands for "Women Hiking the Ozarks".  This group has a "subgroup" of women who kayak, as well as hike, and that group is known as the "WHO YAKERS".  Since the Meramec River area, just south of St. Louis, Missouri, was in the band of totality, and is about a three hour drive from where most of us live, it seemed to perfect location to view the eclipse!

After the gals arrived at the HideAway, and put on our special tee shirts, we headed over to Onondaga State Park ( www.mostateparks.com/park/Onondaga-cave-state-park ), to tour the cave.  This photo shows one of the largest rooms in the cave, with its switchback metal and concrete trail, leading up to the ceiling of the room.  We all enjoyed the cool temperatures of the caverns, as well as the stunning examples of almost every kind of underground cave formation known.  Then, when the tour ended, we drove back to the HideAway for a potluck taco supper.  As we swallowed the last bites of that delicious meals, it was back into the cars to drive to the park's amphitheater for a special presentation by a park astronomer, who gave us a WONDERFUL lesson (complete with images projected onto a large screen at the front of the amphitheater) about the significance of tomorrow's Total Solar Eclipse, and what we could expect to see, hear, and feel,  as we experienced it.




Next door to the Onondaga State Park, a visitor will find the main headquarters of the massive outdoors concessionary, known as the "Ozark Outdoors Riverfront Resort", in Leasburg, Missouri  ( www.ozarkoutdoors.net ).  By renting the Hideaway through their reservation system, it gave us the needed "permission slip parking passes", that enabled us to use their river launch and parking facilities.  This is significant because floaters cannot put in and take out, anywhere along the Meramec River, that they choose.  The river flows through hundreds of acres of privately owned property.  Although using the river through that private property is not against the law, trespassing on a private landowners property beyond the river, is against the law. 

This
photo shows the kayaks lined up and ready to launch from the expansive gravel beach area, owned by Ozark Outdoors Riverfront Resort.

This group has several excellent photographers, and the one named Cindy improvised a camera stand on the railing of the kayak trailer, to get this group photo before we started down the river.  It is always good to have a "beginning" group photo, so we will know if we ended up with the same number at the end of the float, as what we started with!  We call ourselves a "leaderless group of adventurers", and we all sign a liability release before we start.  However, so far we have been blessed to say there has been "no gal left behind" on the river outings!


It was a BEAUTIFUL sunny day in the Ozarks, as we prepared our boats and bodies to enter the water!  Most of the ladies stayed behind at the launch site, while another group--called the shuttle drivers--headed off to take vehicles to the part of the river where we would disembark.

As the shuttle drivers were passing through Onondaga State Park, we encountered Chris, the Park Ranger we had met the night before at the astronomy program in the amphitheater.  He had told the group, that we could find him after wards to get our very own "Missouri Junior Ranger Badge".  So when the shuttle drivers saw him the morning of August 21, we eagerly approached him, reminding him of his promise!  I took this photo of the ladies who were part of the shuttle crew.

As a former Girl Scout, with the "merit badge mentality" firmly entrenched in my psyche, I persisted until I could ALSO get a photo made of ME with my "Missouri Junior Ranger Badge"!  I would not be surprised if Ranger Chris later filled out a report, saying everything was calm in the park on "Total Solar Eclipse" day, with the possible exception of being run down by a car full of older ladies from Arkansas, wanting a souvenir sticker!

When the shuttle drivers finally returned to the launch area, as we always do before a float, we "Circle Up", to say our name, and "number off".  This was also when Diana----official "co-RC" (River Coordinator)----made the "presentation" to each of them, of their Missouri Junior Ranger Badge---no doubt, a highlight of their morning!!)  Usually, many of us pray silently, asking for God's blessing of a safe float.  But on this day, I was VERY THANKFUL that one of the gals (who is the wife of a retired pastor), offered to say a group prayer out loud.  After all, we were about to witness one of the most spectacular events that occurs in God's celestial heavens, so it seemed appropriate to acknowledge the immensity of it!

The first part of our "paddle pathway" took us down a stretch of river known as "Tubing area".  This means that the guests of the Ozark Outdoors Riverfront Retreat can enjoy their floating circles down the gently flowing river, and be assured there is a shuttle waiting at the end, to return them to their vehicle or campsite.  I was amused at this father using his smart phone to take photos of his young son.  Apparently the young son was NOT amused, because he later gave his father (and the phone) a thorough splashing!

Visitors enjoying the tubing section of the river can stop as they wish, to play, picnic, or just sit in a chair in the water, and watch the world go by! Since this was my first time to float the Meramec, I do not know if it is always so popular, but on this Monday of the Solar Eclipse, it was wonderful to see families with their children, enjoying the outdoors!

Although the phrase "whitewater", usually indicates a rougher, more difficult section of a river, in the case of this image, the band of "whitewater" is simply a reflection of the sun on a section of the river with a few ripples.  Personally, I was thankful that it was such a "peaceful" river.  Some people like lots of rapids, but "rapids" is what happens to my heart beat when I encounter a scary section of flowing water!

I am always on the lookout for a photo opportunity to post on a public page on Facebook called "Look at the Front of My Kayak" ( www.facebook.com ).  It gives viewers the ability to see the world, as it is seen by kayakers across the globe---there are no language barriers to separate various nations, in pictures that just show the front of a kayak!  The only requirement is that the photo must have the front tip of your kayak in it.  To me, a photo is more interesting if the space ABOVE the water has a subject of interest, as well as the space of water,in front of the kayak.  This sycamore tree growing at a near- ninety degree angle to the river, fascinated me as it defied gravity to stretch out across the river, and provided the "photo prop" I was looking for!

There were numerous other photo opportunities along the river, with some very tall limestone bluffs lining numerous sections we passed. 

I was intrigued by the appearance of the openings in one of the bluffs, as they reminded me of man-made Roman arches, liked those made to support the water viaducts of an ancient empire .

We were all in agreement that we wanted to be stopped on the bank (rather than floating down the river) at the time the eclipse reached totality, so the ever-helpful co-RC, Peggy V., who was the lead kayak, scouted out a perfect location.  It was a very long gravel bar, that even had a "protected harbor", where the kayakers could get out of their boats, without the interference of the current.  Likewise, it was big enough that all 20 kayaks could find a "mooring" for the approximately two hours we would be stopped for lunch and eclipse viewing.  It was a wide section of the river, not covered with overhanging trees, so we were afforded a 360 degree view of the path of the sun---it was PERFECT!

While we waited for the big event, I used the little tripod I brought to try to get set up to take another group photo.  If you count heads, you will see that we started with twenty ladies and we still had twenty, midway through the trip!  Yippee!!

Another "staged" group photo shows us wearing our eclipse shirts, and eclipse glasses, and pointing heavenward, toward to the "big show in the sky", on August 21, 2017!

Ellen is all smiles as she settles in to watch the "First Contact", as the moon "takes a bite out of the sun", in its slow journey to make a rounded disc, that will completely cover the center of the sun. 

With
over an hour to wait in the hot August temperatures, the group "kept their cool" by relaxing in the pleasantly flowing waters of the the Meramec River. 

Some of the ladies brought folding chairs in their kayaks, and some just used a beach towel to stretch out, for viewing the skies---either way worked just fine!

This is a photo I took during the approximately two minutes of Totality we had, where it was safe to look at the sun without our special light-blocking eclipse glasses.  You can see it was darker, but yet not so dark that one could not see their surroundings. 

The river took on a glow during Totality, that reminded me of the title of the popular Andy Williams song, Moon River.  This photo shows a river not glowing from moon light, but rather, glowing from what happens when the moon's SHADOW covers the sun!  It was an awesome sight!


When Totality was over, and we started back down the river, we were surprised to see that on the far end of the same gravel bar where we were located, other "eclipse chasers" from DOWNSTREAM, had used their gigantic boat motors to travel several miles upstream to find a suitable riverside location for viewing.  One might think that because there are trucks parked on the gravel bar, that this is a pubic access.  However, we found out from chatting with the drivers of the vehicles, while waiting on the eclipse, that it was not public access, and that these vehicles belonged to the landowners.  They assured us that as long as we had accessed the gravel bar via the river, and not the locked gate that protects their property from the highway, we were in a "legal zone".  (It would have been embarrassing to have to see Missouri Park Ranger Chris again, under the unpleasant circumstances of charges for criminal trespassing!)

Even though seasoned "river folk" recommend AGAINST tying large rafts together, (because they create such a large, un-maneuverable floating barge down the river), we saw a few groups "rafting up" for a lazy, unsteerable float on the Meramec!

When you see how tiny the kayaks look at the base of these tall cliffs, it gives you a sense of scale of how tall they were!

We knew we were nearing the end of our float when we went under the Highway N Bridge, which we had crossed over in our vehicles, earlier in the day. 


And, after several hours of floating and paddling and laughing and picnicking and solar eclipse viewing, we reached our take-out point!  Yippee!! This group of experienced ladies, has done the job so many times, of packing kayaks into trucks, then tying them down, that we average less than one minute per kayak!  Even with twenty kayaks to empty of gear, load into the trucks/trailers, tie down, and head out---we were back on the highway in record time!


Everyone works together, to carry the appropriate kayak to the appropriate truck in the appropriate transit position, in an efficient manner that would boggle the mind of onlookers (who may be thinking such a feat was impossible for a ladies-only group!)
Our group used an access open to the public, called Blue Springs, to be the takeout for our float trip.
The public access area that we used for our take-out was called the "Blue Springs Creek Conservation Area".  For information on their services and regulations, one can phone the local office at 1-636-441-4554. 

After we were all back to our "Hideaway", we used the gigantic table there to share a meal, and then share some laughs, as we played the game of Farkle.   All of us talked about our wonderful eclipse experience, and started making plans for a "reunion float" on April 8, 2024!  That is the date that the Total Solar Eclipse band of TOTALITY will be directly over the Twin Lakes area of Arkansas where we live!!  Yippee!!
Some of the most thorough coverage/photographs of the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse was provided by NASA, and is still available on their website at www.eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov   An interesting (and very significant to me) "tidbit" I learned about NASA aerospace engineer/space rocket pioneer, Dr. Wernher von Braun, was that he has a reference to a Bible verse inscribed on his tombstone.  It is Psalm 19:1. 
Psalm 19:1 says, "The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork."  I am SO VERY THANKFUL I had the opportunity to see that declaration of God's handiwork, in the form of the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, and SO VERY THANKFUL to have the viewing experience with a fantastic group of friends, in GOD'S GREAT OUTDOORS!!  It gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!!   Tricia

ADDENDUM:  Those who participated owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to our River-Coordinators, Peggy V and Diana.  THANK YOU!!  THANK YOU!!  THANK YOU!!  THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, July 14, 2017

"CURRENT EVENTS" EXPEDITION!

www.mostateparks.com/
I used the phrase "Current Events" in the title of this blog post, because it is all about a trip I made with a group of friends, to float the Current River, which has its headwaters in Montauk State Park  (  www.mostateparks.com/ )
  in southeast Missouri. 

Even though we were not staying within the park boundaries, we stopped at the Montauk Lodge and Cafe ( www.MontaukLodge.com ), to get refreshed and look around their gift shop.  On their wall, was a large map of the Current River, which helped us get our bearings, as to where we would be floating our kayaks in a few hours. 

Long before it was a state park, the village of Montauk was a destination for area farmers to bring their corn and wheat for milling.  The original village was settled about 1829, and a Civil War battle was fought near the area.  (I could not figure out why that name "Montauk" sounded so familiar to me, until I read that the Missouri Montauk was named after a location in New York state---the eastern most point of Long Island, where I had visited via sailboat with my husband and his family, back in the last century---mystery solved!).  The old mill ceased operation in 1926, at the time when the area was opened as Missouri's fourth state park.  The old mill was rehabilitated by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in 1935.  It is a two and a half story frame building with a multi-gabled roof and stone foundations.  It has a central tower-like extension above the second story roof.  It is periodically open for tours---one of only four restored mills in the Missouri state park systems that still function, and allow visitors to see corn being ground. 


These days, Montauk is known more for its fishing than its milling.  We saw anglers fishing throughout the park, and we saw plenty of them reeling in a fish!

One reason for the high success rate of landing a trout here, is most likely the trout fish hatchery that is located at Montauk Springs.  The cool waters flowing from the spring are perfect for trout, and these spring waters combine with the water from Pigeon Creek, to form the headwaters of the Current River.  This photo shows Amy, Peggy, Penny, and A.J. taking the self-guided tour to observe the life cycle of the trout.  This tank had some really big fish in it, that were easy for Peggy to photograph!

The Nature Center at Montauk State Park provided a nice photo opportunity to point out that many of the ladies I kayak with have taken the training to become certified Arkansas Master Naturalists (www.wordpress.arkansasmasternaturalists.org ) .  The ladies in this photo are associated with the North Central Arkansas chapter of the organization.  It is an added bonus to be able to spend time in the outdoors with folks like Amy and Peggy, who spend hours photographing, identifying, labeling, and posting, the various plants that they encounter, so we can have a greater appreciation for what we are seeing!

After all 12 of us had assembled at our rendezvous point, we drove the short distance to the Cedar Grove low water bridge crossing, where we could relax beside the Current River. 

Because of its easy access and ample parking, Cedar Grove is a popular swimming hole for those who know about it.  There were several folks enjoying the refreshing waters that evening, including a young man snorkeling, and some teenage girls enjoying sunbathing inside their large floating yellow duckie.  (Since a "yellow duckie" is the mascot for our WHOyaker group, I had to overcome my desire to hijack their floating sanctuary, for the purpose of photographing the WHOyaker girls with it!)

When plans were being made for the Current River float trip earlier this year, the Montauk Lodge was already booked up, as were all other cabins in the area.  However, the very helpful folks at the Jadwin Store told about some new cabins that were in the process of being built.  They said there was a possibility they might be finished by July 10, so the River Co-ordinators (RC) for our trip researched that possibility, and made it happen!

Although the owner/builder of the cabins said he was not finished with the landscaping and marketing for his property, he allowed us to stay there, and take advantage of its close location to the section of the Current River where we would be floating.

The owner delighted us when he stopped by to give each one of us a "cozy" beverage can holder, that had been personalized with the WHO-YAKER name!  He said since we were the first group to be guests at his newly-built cabins, he wanted us to have a souvenir of our stay there.  The Current River Cabins have a page on Facebook ( www.facebook.com/CurrentRiverCabins ), where you can message them and see photos of the inside of their rentals.  Their phone number is 417-260-1976.  (By the way, the name "WHO-YAKER" is a spin-off from the name of our hiking group---WHO---which stands for "Women Hiking the Ozarks" )

In
1964, over 134 miles of the upper course of the Current River and its tributaries were federally protected as the Ozark National Scenic Riverways (shown within purple boundaries on the map).  This represented the first national park in America to protect an entire river SYSTEM.  Their website is www.nps.gov/ozar   .

We had a delicious supper of grilled burgers, plus a potluck of side dishes brought by each lady.  It was all delicious, so we lingered later outside, just letting our food digest, and telling tall tales about previous adventures the group has had!

Dot brought her ukulele, so it was fun to sing "campfire" songs, even though it was much too warm for an actual campfire!

Even more musical talent was unveiled the next morning, when thanks to Shelley, "the hills were alive, with the sound of music"!

This photo shows the boats are loaded, and we are ready to head out to the river.  We did our own "river shuttle", which means that once the pickup trucks dropped off the kayaks at the starting point, the empty pickup trucks were driven to the take out point and left there.  Then the shuttle driver (Peggy K) brought the pickup drivers back to the starting point, where the rest of us waited with their kayaks.

While we waited at the Cedar Grove starting point, it seemed there was non-stop launching of canoes and kayaks, with one yellow bus after another yellow bus, dropping off dozens of visitors onto the gravel bar launch area.

I took this photo of a young woman starting down the river, because I heard her yell out to her companions, "How do I get this thing to turn around??!!"  (She was headed into the rapids going backwards!)  This would be funny, except that none of them are wearing a life jacket.  It is a RULE in our group---life jackets must be worn when on the water!!


We stopped at Medlock Waterfall to have our lunch.  Lucky for us, a man and woman were there who did not mind to take photos, so several of us handed them our cameras, and they happily obliged!  (You can see the small waterfall in the background)

Where the Medlock Falls flow into the Current River, is a very small little creek, and our 12 kayaks just about took up the entire "floatable" space!

Another stop we made along the way was Welch Spring.  This photo shows the remains of an old hospital that used to be on this site.  (Even though the bars on the openings make you think it was a jail! The bars are there to keep humans from accessing the cave, where endangered bats live).

Welch Spring is accessible by a dirt road, so you do not have to arrive via boat.  The girl in this photo is headed out the path leading to a parking area for cars.


A placard at the site has a sketch of what the hospital used to look like.  This particular location was chosen, because it was believed that the cool air coming out of the cave was beneficial for asthma patients. 

In this photo, Ellen and Peggy K. are peering through the bars, looking at those of us standing up at the back of the old hospital.

Shelley did her best to try to see the cave, but the park service has done a good job of blocking the access!

Beneath this bluff is where Welch Spring gushes out so much water, that it nearly doubles the flow of the Current River where it enters.

Welch Spring is 14 miles from the headwaters of the Current River in Montauk State Park.  The mouth ( or "end") of the Current River flows into the Black River at Pocahontas, Arkansas.  (I just learned through my Master Naturalist training, that from 1899-1902, the Black River was the leading supplier of fresh-water mussels for all of the USA!  The mussel shells were used to make pearl buttons.)  The Black River then flows into the White River, which eventually flows into the Mississippi River, which then flows into the Gulf of Mexico, thereby connecting it with all the oceans of the earth!  This realization, along with a Project Learning Tree training exercise I did about drops of water ( www.plt.org ) made me realize once again the wisdom of Solomon, when he wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:2  "All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; To the place from which the rivers come, there they return again." 

This photo shows our group arriving at our take-out point---all doing well!  We started with 12 kayakers and ended with 12 kayakers!

It is of interest that one can see the actual ferry at Akers Ferry.  It is a cable ferry, also called a "reaction ferry".  There were several reaction ferries used to cross rivers in the Ozark Mountains, during the first half of the 20th century.  This one is a 48 ft by 18 ft wooden ferry.  There is a bell to ring to signal the ferryman, that someone wants to cross.  The ferry is built with an oar board to use the current power.  Then to make the job easier, the Akers Ferry had an electric motor to scoot the ferry across the river, and another to pump out water from the hull.  Sadly, it was not in operation when we were there, and recent epic flooding earlier in the year, may preclude its re-opening for quite some time.  However, it could be thought of as an "educational demonstration", for future generations to see how things were done in the "olden days"!  So hopefully, the federal administrators of Ozark National Scenic Riverways will facilitate its use sometime in the future. (A full explanation of the structural and operational issues with the ferry, are listed on the NPS website)

As we loaded up the kayaks, and gathered our gear, I was giving thanks to God for a safe float trip, and I had a heart full of gratitude to be able to spend time with such a fine group of ladies----this expedition gave me "MILES OF (river!) SMILES"!!  Tricia