Current/Black River Canoe Trip - Oct. 2005
Below is a brief day-by-day description of our recent trip down the Current and Black Rivers. A bunch of photographs are here. A special thank-you goes to the other trip participants for letting me use some of their pictures.
Dates: October 16 28, 2005
Start Location: Van Buren, MO on the Current River
End Location: Jacksonport State Park, Jacksonport, AR, on the Black River (just before it enters the White River)
Participants: Beth Johnson and me in tandem canoe, Mark McClain and Diana Christopulos in a tandem canoe, Jim and Mary Beth Carey in tandem canoe, Jim and Jane Nelson in a tandem canoe, Walter and Beverly Sonneborn in a tandem canoe, Raul Llamas in a kayak, David Taylor in a kayak, and Dale Edelbaum in a kayak (George Campbell planned to go but hurt his shoulder). Also, a young man named Spenser (don't know his last name), who is a funeral director in Doniphan, joined us for the first day. The trip was organized by Mark McClain.
Weather: See below, but generally excellent.
Saturday, October 15 - Beth and I left Dallas and drove to Van Buren, arriving about 8 pm. On the way we stopped for dinner in Mammoth Springs. At our motel, the Big Springs Inn, we found the rest of our party.
Sunday, October 16 - Got up and went for breakfast at the Float Stream Restaurant in Van Buren and then and unloaded at the Hawthorn Campground. This is the same campground where we took out a couple of years ago when we did our Akers Ferry to Van Buren trip (the one with the tornado - here are pictures of that trip). At 9 am, our shuttle driver arrived and we caravanned 135 miles to our take-out at Jacksonport State Park. At the park, the superintendent let us park our cars next to the park maintenance yard. We checked out the take-out and then got in the van for the drive back. The driver brought back his dog Amber, a chocolate lab. After we got back we hung around camp and then went to dinner at the Float Stream. The campground owner had a dog named Deeogee (d-o-g). Beverly asked if that was an Indian name.
Monday, October 17 Day 1 Packed up and got on the river a little after 9 am. Stopped at Big Spring landing number 1 and walked up to the spring, which is the largest single orifice spring in the US. Got to camp on a nice gravel bar at 2 pm. Spenser, the funeral director from Doniphan, decided to continue on down the river as he needed to be back in Doniphan by Tuesday afternoon and we were not planning on getting there until Wednesday. Saw several eagles during the day. Water very clear and cool. One of our tent poles broke after we put up the tent - same as happened on the last trip. Also, Beth's chair lost a screw and requires careful attention. After dark, a boat with lights came by, spear-fishing. We have seen these boats on previous trips on the Current River. The weather is unseasonably warm.
Tuesday, October 18 Day 2 On the river at 9 am. Saw several more eagles. We stopped at a cave just after camp and went back in about 150 feet. Cave went on for an unknown distance. We could also see that there was a second level above where we were. On the map this was across from Panther Springs. We got to camp on a big gravel bar on river right at 2:30. Weather continues hot. Several people went for a swim.
Wednesday, October 19 Day 3 Heavy dew. On river at 9 am again. We stopped at a couple of forest service river access sites to look for water and trash cans. We did not find any water but were able to dump our trash. Paddled on down to a city boat ramp in Doniphan and walked the 3 or 4 blocks to downtown. On the way we ran into Spenser (the funeral director who started the trip with us). Spenser told us to go to a restaurant called The Annex. It was very good. We had the blue plate special for $4.99 and cherry pie a la mode. After lunch we walked back to the boat ramp. Spenser met us with a 12 pack of beer as a going away present. Continue on down river to a camp about 2 miles short of our planned camp a bit after 3 pm. Saw one eagle and an osprey.
Thursday, October 20 Day 4 Another warm night. While I was taking down the tent, another pole segment broke. After breakfast, the skies to the north started looking very threatening. Not very long after we put in, it started to lightning and thunder. We stopped to put on our rain gear and then got back on the river. A little while later, we stopped on a gravel bar as a heavy but brief thunderstorm went by. After that, the weather generally improved, but it was windy. About 1:30, Jim and Mary Beth hit a snag and swamped their canoe. Fortunately, they were in shallow water, and after bailing their boat everything was fine. We made camp on a sand bar about a mile short of the Little Black River at about 2:45. We found our repair kit and fixed our tent pole for a second time. The skies cleared and Beth and I had a shower using our solar shower. We could see lightning off in the distance and it continued to be windy. Saw an osprey early in the day, but no eagles. The weather promises to be much cooler tomorrow.
Friday, October 21 Day 5 We had a windy night. This was the first morning that we did not have heavy dew. At about 8:30, a bunch of equipment started up at the sand / gravel works behind our camp but we were on the river by 8:45 so it wasnt too bad. We soon left the last of the mountains / foothills and the river was now out on the flats. There are quite a few houses along the river - same as yesterday. Many of the houses have large cantilevered decks that I think are made from old single-wide mobile home frames. Windy and cool and overcast all day, but no rain. We made about 20 miles today and should be in Pocahontas tomorrow by noon. Saw a large flock of turkeys and a couple of ospreys today. We also continue to see quite a few great blue herons. Our campsite was on a nice sandbar. We have left all of the gravel behind - only sand now. There are a lot of irrigation pumps (fortunately, not operating this time of year) along the river, and behind our campsite we found out why. There are rice fields along the river. After we made camp, the landowner drove down and said hello. That is the second night in a row that landowners have done so, so we wonder if they somehow know we are on the river.
Saturday, October 22 Day 6 We got up to a clear, cool, windless morning with a heavy dew. On river at 9 am again. An eagle flew over us, heading down-river. A large flock of red-wing black birds made a huge ruckus as it passed. After about 6 miles, at 10:30 we came to the Black River. The Black is much smaller than the Current, but the Current takes the name of the Black at the junction. Beth and I have now paddled all of the Current River (over many years), from the beginning at Montauk State Park to the very end. At about 12:30 we got to Pocahontas. We walked to downtown and found that they were having their Fall Festival, with booths all around the old courthouse and a veterans memorial ceremony (including reading the names of all the residents of the county who had served in the armed forces) at the new courthouse. We stuffed ourselves on hotdogs, chili, cheeseburger, cake and coke float. A reporter came and took pictures of some of our group (we were not there) for an article in the paper. We seemed to be well known. We then canoed a short distance down to the town park where we set up camp, emptied our trash into trash cans, refilled our water containers and relaxed. In the campground, a group of locals were crushing sugarcane - boiling down the syrup to make cane molasses. We bought a pint for $5 and put it in the yellow food box for safe-keeping. I walked a short way over to the Dollar General to get some more AAA batteries. For dinner we walked back to downtown in time to see them roll up the sidewalks. Camp is quite noisy as it is right next to the highway bridge over the Black River - ear plugs tonight.
Sunday, October 23 Day 7 We all got up early and went to the Price Chopper supermarket deli for breakfast (eggs, sausage, hash browns, and biscuit - $1.99). A cold front had come through during the night and it was overcast, breezy and cool. We got on the river by 8:35. Canoeing was cold and a bit hard due to the wind, but fortunately, we only got a small spit of rain. Stopped at Davidsonville State Park, and we would have camped there but the campground was too far away from the boat ramp. We looked around at the interpretive signs. This was the oldest settlement with a post office in Arkansas. We continued on downstream looking for a campsite. Passed the mouth of the Spring River, which begins at Mammoth Springs (where we had dinner on the way to the put-in). The Eleven Point River flows into the Spring River. We finally found a good sandbar campsite just before the town of Black Rock. After we set up camp, we had a visit from a couple of locals who said that we were camped on Arkansas Fish and Game land. They left, but in a little while, one of them retuned and talked to us for quite a while. His name was Robert and he had an auto collision repair business in Black Rock. After he left, we had a birthday party for Walter (68). Beverly decorated their tent and had cake and glow sticks for the party. The skies were clear and there were lots of stars, but it was cold and everyone went to their tents a little after 8. There is a main line train track very near camp and there are lots of trains going by.
Monday, October 24 Day 8 Actually Sunday night.... Right after I went to the tent, a motor boat went by, creating a large wake. Some of our group got up and pulled boats up to higher ground. I went to sleep. I woke to the sound of some commotion outside at about 11:30. I got up to find just about everyone up. Two of our boats were missing - Dale's kayak and Walter's canoe. Walter was very upset because the paddles that he was using were given to him by his old friend Hans Weischel. I also learned that something (or someone) had fallen into Jim and Mary Beth's tent and broken one of the poles. The police were called and we decided to go to bed and deal with it in the morning.
Monday morning... We got up early and packed without breakfast. The plan was to paddle the 1/2 mile to the boat ramp and regroup there. Dale and Walter walked into the town of Black Rock to fill out a police report and to get some help. Beth and I were the first boat down and we spotted Walter's canoe on river left just past the river right boat ramp. We could not see the kayak.
After the rest of our party canoed down to the ramp, Mark and I canoed over to the head of an island across from where the canoe was caught upright in brush in the fast outside-bend current. We walked over to look at the situation. We thought that a motor boat would be needed to free the canoe. We canoed back to the ramp. Raul paddled over to look things over. When he came back he reported that he thought he could get a line on the canoe.
Mark and Jim N., Jim C. and I, and Raul paddled over to the island and got ready to try to recover the boat. Mark's boat went down-stream for safety, while Jim C. and I manned the rope on shore. Raul paddled over with the other end of the rope to attach to the canoe, but as he hit the canoe he leaned the wrong direction (slightly upstream) and was swamped. He managed to get out of his swamped boat and into Walter's canoe and ferry over to the island. In the meantime, some of his gear came loose, and Mark and Jim N. retrieved most of it. After a few minutes his kayak came loose and Mark and Jim retrieved it while I got in Walter's canoe with Raul and we went after the rest of his floating gear. We got everything except his paddle and a glove. We paddled back upstream to where Mark and Jim were (on river left) and dumped the water out of the boats. We then ferried over to the island with Raul in his boat, me in Walter's, and Mark and Jim in Mark's boat. We tied a line to the bow because I was not sure I could ferry it by myself. We got to the downstream end of the island and walked the boat up to the head. Jim C and I then towed Walter's boat back to the ramp. All of Walter's gear that had been in his canoe, including Han's paddles, was still there.
In the meantime, a guy named Dale, who had brought his motorboat to help, get his outboard motor started after cleaning out some dirt dobber nests. He took Dale and Raul over to the island and retrieved Rauls spray skirt, which stuck to the snag when his boat washed free. He then took our Dale downstream to look for his boat while the rest of us paddled on down behind him to the next boat ramp - about 2 miles down at Pawhatan. On the way, the motorboat came back upstream and gave us the thumbs up. Dale's boat was found on river right stuck on a small snag. All the gear that had been in it was still secured in the latched hatches and all was well. The only things lost were Raul's paddle (he had a spare) and a couple of small items - glove, sponge, although his GPS and cell phone get very wet.
We had lunch at the ramp and walked a block into town to look at a small State Historical Park. After lunch, we had an uneventful paddle on down to our campsite, about a mile past where we had planned to camp. Weather: cool, cloudy and windy. Wildlife - immature bald eagle, beaver and bobcat tracks. In camp, at dinner, we all decided on river names for everyone.
Arthur - Lone Star
Tuesday, October 25 Day 9 Cold this morning with frost. Temp is 33 on my thermometer. We had an uneventful day, unlike yesterday. Weather: cool, partly cloudy and breezy. We made about 18 miles and camped at 3 pm on a nice sand bar with no road access. Saw osprey. Forecast is for a freeze tonight and it was already 38 degrees when we went to our tents at 8 pm.
Wednesday, October 26 Day 10 Cold this morning - 28 degrees. We had heavy frost on everything and some frozen water in our pots. As a result, we got on the river a little late - 9:15. We heard all kinds of good things during the night - coyote, beaver, and owls. Easy, uneventful day with warm sunny skies and very little wind. We passed the mouth of the Strawberry River. The Black continues to flow past agricultural fields (rice), but there are fewer of them and there are more lands belonging to Arkansas Game and Fish. We made camp early - about 1:15 - at a great sand bar just a few hundred yards from our target. There was nothing unusual today except for several fish crows and a beaver swimming with a stick in its mouth.
Thursday, October 27 Day 11 Not as cold this morning - 35 degrees. Beaver, coyotes and owls serenaded us during the night. Beth's voice was getting very hoarse yesterday, and today it is gone completely (After we got off the river, it turned into a full blown case of bronchitis). On the river at 9 for an uneventful paddle down to camp. Beautiful warm weather - clear all morning and partly cloudy in the afternoon with very light winds. Saw some ospreys, hawks and the usual large number of great blue herons. For the last few days, we have seen very few houses along the river. We camped at about 2:30 one bend down from our target on a nice sand bar. After everyone made camp, we had a birthday party for Mark, his 60th. Beth and I had snacks of cheese, crackers, hummus, buffalo jerky (in honor of Mark's Oklahoma birthplace), and smoked salmon for everyone. We also fixed cherry cheesecake after dinner. Everyone presented Mark with the gifts they'd carried down the river for him. Mark said that this had been one of his best ever river trips. Several people saw what they thought was red light on top of an antenna off in the distance, but it turned out to be Mars rising into a beautiful clear night sky. This is our last night on the river.
Friday, October 28 Day 12 We woke up for our last day on the river to a light frost and 35 degree temperature. We were on the river right at 9:00 am and had an uneventful paddle under clear skies and warm temperatures. We got to the take-out a few minutes after 1:00 pm. Raul paddled on ahead of us and took video of all of us landing. George was there and took Mary Beth and me to get our cars (that is all who could fit in his car). We then took the others to get their cars. After loading up, we said our goodbyes and went for a quick look around Jacksonport State Park. We ran into the park superintendent and thanked him again for looking after our cars. We then headed back to Dallas, stopping at the Motel 6 in Texarkana for a much needed shower. We then tracked down the nearest Pizza Hut for a pizza fix.