4/18/2014 0 comments

Milespaddled.com Stickers

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4/15/2014 2 comments

Pecatonica River: East Branch IV

Argyle to Blackhawk Memorial County Park
☆ ☆ ☆

Another tranquil, slow-paced trip past oak trees, a couple gentle bluffs and tallgrass in southwestern Wisconsin.


Pretty section with tallgrass and rolling bluff.

By Timothy Corcoran Bauer
A Miles Paddled contributor

Date:
April 11, 2014

Class Difficulty:
Riffles

Gauge:
Blanchardville: ht/ft: 4.6 | cfs: 152

Put-In:
River Road, Argyle, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
Blackhawk Memorial County Park

Time: Put in at 1:10p. Out at 3:45p.
Total Time: 2h 35m
Miles Paddled: 7.5

Wildlife: A bald eagle, sandhill cranes, lots of muskrats, a couple turtles, many handsome wood ducks, unidentifiable fish flopping about (probably carp) and one intrepid pheasant.
Time worth driving to: 1 hour

The next in the seemingly endless series of east branch Pecatonica daytrips, this actually was my first exposure to the Pec about four years ago. I wanted to do it again because I didn’t have a camera with me at the time.

What I liked:
About two miles downstream from the put-in a very lovely gentle bluff slopes to the water and the river then curves around this bluff for a good mile or so. It’s nothing terribly dramatic but it’s quite nice. We spotted very probably the biggest eagle’s nest I ever saw. I couldn’t see if anyone was roosting with my naked eye but I took a couple pictures anyway, since its size alone was impressive (yes, I know – that’s what she said.) But upon uploading the pics onto my computer I discerned an adult eagle in the nest, there the whole time. All the wildlife (listed above) was quite pleasant, up to and including a totally fearless pheasant just loitering around the put-in as if nothing could be more normal than this gorgeous bird all by its lonesome so close to downtown.

Also, special mention must go to Blackhawk Memorial County Park. It’s a lovely little park nestled in the gentle hills and one of the better kept “secrets” for inexpensive and secluded campsites. The name of the park is telling, too, for it is on these grounds where a “battle” in the Black Hawk “War” was fought (really just a skirmish amongst a dozen or so such skirmishes that last two-and-a-half months long in 1832). Led by Col. Henry Dodge (who would later become governor and have lots of places named after him), the U.S. militia outnumbered Chief Black Hawk’s men by a 3:1 ratio. All eleven Kickapoo warriors were killed and then scalped, because that’s what white men did to prove that Indians were savages. It’s no coincidence that the oxbow pond in the park is named “Bloody Lake.” Sorry for the historical tangent but the story of Black Hawk and the so-called war is endlessly fascinating for me and so close to home.

What I didn't like:
As I said above, there’s nothing terribly dramatic on this trip, unlike some of the more memorable segments upstream. The accesses are pretty good but as with everywhere on the Pecatonica River, they’re muddy.

Then there was another wierd encounter. Toward the end of the trip lay a pretty recent bull-cow carcass in the middle of the river kind of hung up on a downed tree. I’d never really seen anything quite like that and wondered just how on earth that happened. Did the poor animal die upstream but floated down and got snagged? Did it commit a bovine kind of hara-kiri on the tree? Just weird.

If I did this trip again:
I’d go an additional mile further downstream to a well-marked take-out off County Road M in Woodford.

***************
Related Information
Pecatonica River East Branch I: Blanchardville to Argyle
Pecatonica River East Branch II: Hollandale to Blanchardville
Pecatonica River East Branch III: Highway HK to Hollandale
Pecatonica River I: Calamine to Darlington
Pecatonica River II: Darlington to Red Rock
Miles Paddled Video: Pecatonica River: Calamine to Darlington
Camp: Pecatonica River Trails Park
General: Lafayette Development Corp
General: Rock River Sweep
Good People: Friends of the Pecatonica River
Guide: Paddling Southern Wisconsin
Map: Pecatonica River
Overview: Wisconsin Guides
Video: Canoeing the Pecatonica River in Darlington, Wisconsin
Wikipedia:Pecatonica River


Map:


View Pecatonica River: East Branch IV in a larger map


Shuttle Information:
This is one of those rare occasions when the shuttle distance is almost exactly the same as the river mileage. The primary reason for this is that you'll not pass under or even see a single road during this entire trip.


Photo Gallery:


Put-in downstream from dam in Argyle, off River Road.


Fearless pheasant right at the put-in.


Pretty sloping bluff about 2 miles down from put-in.


He may look cool but he's wincing in pain trying to fit inside my skinny-hips kayak!


If you squint, you can make out the eagle's head just left of middle.


Bizarro scene, talk about deadfall!


Yes, buds on the trees!


Unusually outgoing muskrat near takeout.


West boat launch in Blackhawk Memorial County Park.


History lesson 1...


...and History lesson 2 (accounts of total killed vary).
4/11/2014 1 comments

Old Pearl River: Louisianna

Crawford Landing Road to Indian Village Road
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

A very short segment of the river that marks the natural border between southeastern Louisiana and southwestern Mississippi that is developed but still offers diversions into side channels, sloughs and alluring bayous.


Backwaters of the bayou.

By Timothy Corcoran Bauer
A Miles Paddled contributor

Date:
April 3, 2014

Class Difficulty:
Flatwater/Swamp/Bayou

Gauge:
Pearl River: ht/ft: 15.3 | cfs: n/a

Put-In:
Crawford Landing Road, (boat launch/parking lot for Honey Island Swamp tours) Slidell, Louisiana
Take-Out:
Indian Village Road

Time: Put in at 2:00p. Out at 4:30p.
Total Time: 2h 30m
Miles Paddled: 7.75

Wildlife: Several prothonotary warblers, lots of turtles, pileated woodpeckers, two water snakes, one diamond back (!), a great blue heron, a yellow-crowned night heron and a little blue heron (yes, there is such a thing!), several ospreys, many turkey vultures and yes, alligators (!!) – babies, one juvenile and one mama!
Time worth driving to: 1 hour

An anomaly insofar as upper Midwest paddling goes, I was in New Orleans for a week and took a daytrip diversion outside of the city to paddle in bayous and cypress swamps, a fantasy of mine for years. The trouble was finding an outfitter and a location that matched my one-day window of time and paddling parameters. That and, well, there’s water everywhere in southeastern Louisiana, I mean everywhere.

The options are overwhelming, especially for a wonder-eyed outsider like myself. North, east, south, west, there are beguiling bayous at all cardinal directions. But I wanted to go north, mainly because that’s where the Abita Brewing Company is located, in the town of Abita Springs (what could be more natural for a Wisconsinite whilst in Louisiana, staying in New Orleans to boot, than to combine a brewery with kayaking? It’s possible that, if there is one single place - at least in the United States if not the world at large - that can rival Wisconsin in consuming copious amounts of alcohol, it’s New Orleans).

That, and I wanted to drive across Lake Pontchartrain on the 24-mile-long bridge that spans the whole huge lake (until three years ago, when China built something longer, it had been the longest bridge on the planet. Thanks a lot China!)

Trouble was, I really wanted to paddle in bayous and cypress swamps, less so a flowing river. Ordinarily, I’d feel the exact opposite but I’m not ordinarily in New Orleans. There are no exact bayous and such in Abita Springs, so in the end, I opted for finding something nearby but still some 25 miles east of the brewery. In retrospect, I’d do something differently but I’ll get to that in a bit. The river was high and above flood stage so I thought it prudent, being my first time in this kind of setting, not to get too bogged down in the swamp, so to speak. There are gators and snakes and I’m just a Yankee after all.

What I liked:
Bayous, baby, bayous! It’s funny too, because a bayou by definition simply means slow-moving or stagnant water, which normally wouldn't interest me whatsoever. But down in the Gulf states, the flora and fauna in these backwaters are exotically mesmerizing! I felt equally enthralled by the trees as much as the myriad wildlife (it also felt pretty awesome to wear shorts and a t-shirt on the third day of April when it got to 81 degrees).

There's something absolutely enchanting about such landscapes. They’re just so lush and thick, mysterious, beguiling and hold just the right amount of danger to keep it all interesting. It’s a positively haunting experience, the deeper you enter it. Even the shoreline development captured my attention, as the magnolia and oak trees just make you gawk and take your breath away. And the fishing/crabbing houses on the river itself were fascinating emblems of the unique culture down there that makes its living on the water.

I feel obliged to mention the wildlife. First off, yes, I did see a couple gators, including some newly hatched babies, called a “clutch” (and no, I wasn't worried about being attacked. First off, it’s way too early in the year and the water is still too cold to be worrying about gators; you’re lucky to encounter even an adolescent one. Secondly, they’re skittish by nature and generally wish to avoid you. That said, it’s wise to keep your hands and feet out of the water!).

But I saw what I naively didn’t even know existed in the first place: the little blue heron, the diminutive of the great blue heron. Plus, the flamboyantly named yellow-crowned night heron. Lastly, there were the snakes. Lots of them. Most were harmless water snakes but toward the end of the trip I saw a gigantic diamond back, at least 6’ long and poisonous as all hell. A little freaky, I won’t deny but pretty hardcore.

Quick shout-out to Massey's Outfitters. For a $25/day rental, these folks were awesome. And extra special thanks to the Honey Island Swamp Tour folks for letting me use their boat launch, answering my many questions and generously giving me lots of pointers and heads-up about things to look for and be aware of in the backwaters.

What I didn't like:
There were fewer bald cypress trees in this area than I’d hoped for. I’m shamelessly in love with this tree (which, incidentally, is directly related to the sequoia tree out west, another favorite of mine). They can be as old as 3,000 years! The one I did see was kind of hidden in the background and I was told it was at least 700 years old! Just as attractive are the dead ones and the husk stumps of them. This trip didn’t offer much of that – most of the trees in the bayou were actually gum trees, still cool but no cypress tree.

The river itself, at least this stretch, was fairly unremarkable. Due to it being above flood stage, you could paddle pretty much anywhere you fancied, but then again you don’t want to paddle too close to the low-hanging trees where there'll be snakes – don’t want no snakes, even non-lethal ones, falling onto my crotch and slithering down my legs, thank you very much!

Otherwise, it was just big and brown with a lot of debris coursing quickly downstream. There was a fair amount of shoreline houses, which certainly compromised the sense of escapism, however, it's perhaps ironic or at least counter-intuitive, that it was common in these environments where the odds of spotting alligators was the best. I’d say that’s plenty worth putting up with.

If I did this trip again:
Needless to say, this was a one-time deal. That said, I would recommend putting in way further upstream, say the Lock No. One north of Pearl River. From there to the Crawford Landing would be about 15 river-miles, not counting bayou excursions. A full day’s paddle to be sure but with sandy beaches and far less development.

Or put in further upstream in the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge to really experience the bayou wild. Or stay closer to New Orleans and explore the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. Or again still, if you’re just interested in a river paddle, both the Tchefuncte and Abita rivers look delightful.

In the spirit of lagniappe, I’ve mapped out an Abita River and bike path shuttle trip with a couple great spots to sample local beer on the same map for Old Pearl River. What’s a lagniappe? Surely, you jest. Lagniappe is a custom or way of being, really. At its most basic, it’s adding a little some’um-some’um. It’s the mint left on your pillow after the maid’s fixed the bed. It’s the six-pack you throw into the selling price of something. It’s the bonus disc of oddities and outtakes on a band’s limited edition new album release. It’s not unlike a paddling website that gives away all this stuff for free!

***************
Related Information
General: Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
Outfitter: Massey's Outfitters
Tours: Honey Island Swamp
Video: pearlriverkayaks


Map:


View Old Pearl River in a larger map


Photo Gallery:


Entering the bayou...


Modest cypress trees with glorious Spanish moss draping them.


Turtles everywhere, down there called "sliders."


The delightful prothonotary warbler, one of dozens.


The great blue heron.


One of a half-dozen water snakes (non-poisonous).


The absolutely awesome yellow-crowned night heron!


Juvenile alligator.


Another water snake.


Diamond back (poisonous all all hell)!


Yup, that's a house built around a young cypress!


River shacks forever ruined after Katrina.


A "sign" of just how high the water was.


When I first tried to shoot this picture there were 9 turtles total, but the others nervously plunged into the water (you can see one swimming behind the left one on the log).
4/09/2014 0 comments

Kayak Camping Gear & Packing Guide

Packing a kayak for an overnight (or two) can be a challenging endeavor. Here's a great little infographic from our friends at Austin Kayak to help inform the basic considered set of possible needs on your adventures.

We'd probably recommend a camp chair (specifically the REI Flex Lite Chair due to its weight and packing size) over a hammock (which assumes you'll be surrounded by trees) but other than that, it's a pretty solid overview. Click here for a pdf.

4/04/2014 0 comments

Duck Creek

County Road G to Duck Creek Road
☆ ☆ ☆

If you like paddling through marsh, this is your ticket, especially in early spring, where there's lots of birds coming and going. Ultimately it's a very pleasant, pretty stretch that often feels intimate and it's a good short trip for beginners or kids.


Generally wide, glass-like and pretty.

By Timothy Corcoran Bauer
A Miles Paddled contributor

Date:
March 23, 2014

Class Difficulty:
Riffles

Gauge:
n/a

Put-In:
County Road G, Wyocena, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
Duck Creek Road, Pacifica, Wisconsin

Time: Put in at 2:00p. Out at 3:50p.
Total Time: 1h 50m
Miles Paddled: 6

Wildlife: More sandhill cranes than I think I have ever seen on a single paddling outing, plus a gazillion Canada geese and dozens of mergansers.
Time worth driving to: 1 hour

A marsh in March is much like an airport, a hub of various migrations coming from hither and yon. That’s the best that I can say for a trip like this but take my impression with a grain of salt because paddling in marshes just isn’t my thing. But this is a nice stream, very close to home, with no serious obstructions and a ton of wildlife to watch. Adding a leg to this trip, down- or upstream, would be a nice addition too. Marshes have their own time and place and the turn of the equinoxes make for great occasions.

What I liked:
The cranes! The cranes! I stopped counting after forty. They were everywhere. The many mergansers were a welcome touch too. This was my first time on Duck Creek, so I can’t say whether the water level was high, normal or low but the current was always good.

The bottom is generally sandy (muddy in some parts) and the levels ranged from 18” of water to deep enough where my paddle blade couldn't reach the floor. There are a couple downed trees in the water but the fun kind that require some thoughtful maneuvering (nothing complicated or technical). While flat, which I ordinarily dislike, the sense of vastness sprawling in all directions is a nice effect. The setting feels mostly isolated, just you and a gazillion birds.

What I didn't like:
It was crazy windy! I had checked the weather just before I left and while the temperature was only going to reach a high of 28 (but sunny), the wind was clocked at 5-10 mph, which is practically nothing in Wisconsin. But I was dead against it for almost the entire trip and since marshes are essentially flat, there’s nothing blocking that sweep of wind. So that was, ahem, a drag, the more so since I was fighting off a sinus infection.

There is some development along this short 6-mile trip but not much (a couple houses midway, a campground and then Highway 51). There’s no stunning scenery either but I suppose there doesn’t always have to be.

The takeout's a little tricky. To begin with, Duck Creek Road is only a road for a hundred yards or so, it's mostly a snowmobile trail. You can drive down it, at least, I did (and later on, I saw two trucks full of teenagers drive down it, scoping out their fishing holes) but it's a very rough road and your car will scrape quite a bit if it's low clearance (plus gauging whether something can or should be done based on teenage boys is probably a bad premise!). Should you wish to avoid this, you can either leave your bike or vehicle where a sign says “Do Not Enter” or “Road Ends” (I forget which) and walk to/fro the bridge (probably a 75-yard walk at that) and if you have a kayak caddy, this would be a great use for it. Or, in warmer weather, you can paddle up the back channels towards where Duck Creek Road becomes a snowmobile trail (it was still ice when I paddled this) but it looked like a potentially muddy takeout.

If I did this trip again:
I would do one of two things: Put-in at the official boat launch in Wyocena and add 2.7 miles to this trip (there’s a dam you must portage) or put-in at Duck Creek “Road” and paddle through the floodplain bottomlands into the Wisconsin River, taking out in Dekorra.

There are other segments of Duck Creek further upstream but accesses are tough. There are other dams, some of it runs through public hunting grounds and water levels would probably be fickle.

***************
Related Information
General: Duck Creek Hunting Grounds


Map:


View Duck Creek in a larger map


Shuttle Information:
5.4 miles.


Photo Gallery:


Put-in at County Road G.


The cranes were everywhere!


While marshy, the creek twists and turns constantly.


Like I said, everywhere!


A couple honkers hanging out on the ice.


Not the "haystacks" I'd prefer while paddling but pretty all the same.


The power plant is regularly in view during this trip.


"Treeflection" #1


"Treeflection" #2


Freight train a'comin.


Rusted iron bridge by take-out.


Take-out on river-left on upstream side of bridge.


Yikes! (This is off a road on the shuttle route, not the creek!)