OFF THE CUFF

No two float trips on Ozarks rivers are alike, but they do have one thing in common: They’re all great.

Last Sunday, me, my wife Wendy and our Welsh Corgi, Gertie (the Permapup), got on the Big Piney River for several hours, taking our kayaks from Dogs Bluff to Mineral Spring. It turned out to be just another wonderful day of paddling.

We started by putting in at the nice temporary dirt and gravel boat ramp the Missouri Department of Conservation has built at the Dogs Bluff Access to replace the concrete version that was destroyed by the unreal flooding event in May. As soon as we entered the short rapids below the access, it became apparent that the water level was just right – not too much, not too little.

As we continued downstream, it was hard not to take notice of the widespread evidence of devastation caused by what was deemed by many experts as a “1,000-year flood.” There were huge trees lying down all over the place with their root systems still attached, and brush, sticks and other objects stuck high above us in trees that didn’t get unearthed (I’m talking 25 feet and more over our heads).

I imagined how much water must have been flowing to lodge stuff way up in the trees like that, but it was really hard to comprehend.

And while the level of the Big Piney’s was ideal on this day, we (not surprisingly) did have to play a little “float trip limbo,” lying back as far as we could to slip underneath trees and logs that spanned the river from one side to the other. But I must say, that was kind of fun – mainly because we didn’t have to drag our boats around any of them.

That might have been different if not for a couple of helpful men who were also out on the river that day. We didn’t get their names or where they were from, but they were doing some fishing in a powered johnboat and had come equipped with a chainsaw.

In more than one location, they opened up a space where no passage would otherwise have been possible. Fortunately, we did get a chance to thank them, as they were trailering their boat at the same time we were loading ours into the F-150 bed at the MDC’s Mineral Spring Access.

Big Piney pup

Gertie surveys the territory from the bow of her 11-foot Perception Tribe kayak during a float trip last Sunday on the Big Piney River.

Anyway, as we made our way through the virtually perfect conditions, we – of course – saw plenty of wildlife. There were dozens of species of birds coming, going and standing around here and there, and we were particularly delighted by a pair of kingfishers that were hanging out in the same vicinity, their long beaks seemingly ready to snatch or poke appropriately-sized prey at a moment’s notice.

We also saw several great blue herons, one of which squawked and flew right overhead in an upstream direction, as if on some sort of avian reconnaissance mission. And of course, we observed countless fish of various sizes and species in the Big Piney’s clear, clean water. I saw a couple of true lunkers about two-thirds of the way through. I think one was a really big smallmouth bass and I’m pretty sure the other was a granddaddy sauger (whatever it was, I was definitely a bottom fish).

Big Piney ruins

The route from Dogs Bluff to Mineral Spring on the Big Piney River takes floaters past ruins of the old Lone Star Mill and Highway 17 bridge.

As we cruised along in the first half of the trip, we were fascinated by the ruins of the old Lone Star Mill and the now dormant bridge stanchions from where the lengthy Highway 17 bridge formerly crossed the river. I didn’t get a look at it, but Wendy saw a nice-sized copperhead lying among the old stones that make up retaining wall that still juts out into the river.

As usual, we didn’t come across very many people through most of the trip, but thanks to the presence fishermen’s powerboat, we did get to smell outboard motor exhaust for the first time on the Big Piney. Toward the end of the run, however, we passed a large group of people who had stopped to swim, snack and drink at Horseshoe Bend.

As is often the case when we paddle past someone and they see Gertie standing or sitting on the bow of one of our boats, somebody asked, “What kind of dog is that?”

I just answer, “It’s a Welsh Corgi.”

They often reply (as was the case again on this trip), “Oh, those are smart dogs.”

I just say, “That’s very true, and they’re full of personality.”

And Gertie usually says, “Why yes, we are smart. Good looking, too.”

And then I’ll say quietly to her, “That’s not all you’re full of.”

Pup on the bow

Gertie (the Permapup) sits on the front of a kayak being piloted by Houston resident Wendy Davison.

Incidentally, the Permapup entered the river five times by my count – three by falling in from her precarious “captain’s perch” on the bow of a kayak, and twice by choice when we all stopped to rest. Either way she goes in, she loves to swim to the shore, shake hard and get back on board for more.

By the time we got out at Mineral Spring, we were tired and glad to be back on land (including Gertie). But we were also beginning the discussion for our next float trip.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: How cool is it that we who live in this area can enjoy such natural beauty without traveling more than a few miles? What a blessing.

Big Piney bluff

A colorful rock bluff on the Big Piney River not far upstream from Horseshoe Bend.

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