State 6 of 50 (Second Paddle) Wyoming: Shoshone River

A wonderful paddle on a desert river not far from busy Yellowstone but with a real feeling of isolation.
Date Paddled: Wed. August 17, 2016
Nearest City:  between Cody and Powell, WY
Put-In:  below Corbett Dam
Take-Out:  above Willwood Dam
Duration:  4 hours
River Miles: ~11
Shuttle:  9 mile bike shuttle on fairly level county roads and US                              Hwy 14A
Weather:  mid- to upper-80s, mostly sunny and calm
Difficulty: mostly swift current with class I and II rapids spread over first 9 miles
Cfs: 460

(By Peter) This was a truly delightful trip on a section of river about a dozen miles downstream from the popular gateway city to Yellowstone, Cody, Wyoming. It is rarely used – we saw no one at the put-in or take-out, nor anywhere in between.  Nor was there any real sign of civilization, save for the ubiquitous power poles visible where transmission lines crossed the Shoshone.   After camping at the put-in, we were ready to go first thing in the morning. I left Diana and made the bike shuttle in a bit over an hour, so we were on the water by 10ish.

Diana  noticed the water in the Shoshone rising significantly and fairly quickly.  The flow in this section of the river, below the junction of the North and South forks and the Buffalo Bill Reservoir is controlled for irrigating 100,000 acres in the larger region.  Though the water had started to drop by the time I returned, there was plenty of flow to propel us through and over all the obstacles that followed.

DSCN2321Right from the put-in the current carried us swiftly along through riffles and small waves – easy class I rapids and nice quickwater.  But the river seemed strong and Diana and I both had a feeling that we might be better to put on our spray skirts.  Finally Diana insisted, and  – just in time! Around the next bend was one of the toughest drops, a wavy class II rapid that was fun and easy to negotiate, but left me with a wet shirt (would have been a lapful of cold water).   Diana earned herself an extra slice of blueberry pie for that prescient decision!DSCN2351From here the rapids continued intermittently as the river cut back and forth next to ever-rising bluffs of eroded sandstone that eventually reached several hundred feet high on our right bank.  The morning sun illuminated the beautiful rock formations with wonderful light creating a magical setting in which to drift along and dodged the rocks and waves of the splashy rapids.

DSCN2341Our early start meant that we avoided the heat of the afternoon, but the sun was still very strong whenever the scattered clouds parted, and there was little breeze to provide cooling as the temperatures rose into the afternoon.  We were glad to find occasional shade under the Russian Olive trees (a highly invasive but attractive species that dominates the riverbanks here), and the water was a chilly 68 degrees or so, and a delightful dark greenish hue.  So we remained comfortable with the occasional splash of water from the rapids to help cool our bodies.DSCN2336As the journey progressed, we left the highest bluffs and the canyon opened up, providing gentler banks and the opportunity to see more wildlife.  As we were not disappointed!  Numerous hawks plied the air currents above the bluffs or sat on the ledges watching us approach.  Great Blue Herons also perched on cliff edges or fished the shallows that became more plentiful along the gentler river banks.  We were blessed to see a large pronghorn antelope, poised on a high bank, come sauntering down to the water’s edge for a drink – he allowed us to come quite close before scurrying back up the bank.  He continued to eye us for a few minutes before ambling away. DSCN2389We also saw a kingfisher, many mergansers and a cormorant, sandpipers, pigeons, and a good number of sage grouse on the banks and in the cliffs along the river.  Probably also heard a pheasant – I saw one on my bike shuttle – and we saw what were likely some pelicans in the distance as we neared the take-out.

We came to a section where there were numerous seeps or springs trickling water out of various spots on the bluff on our left.  There were bands in the cliffs where enough water seeped out to support thick stripes of green vegetation that contrasted remarkably with the reddish and tan sandstone rock layers.  This was an especially magical spot, as the calm river allowed us to hear nothing but the dripping water from above and the chirping of birds all around us.DSCN2396The last mile or so became flatwater with little or no current as the river widened and slowed behind the Willwood Dam, which diverts a large portion of the Shoshone’s flow into an irrigation canal.  The flow below the dam was noticeably lower and a paddle on the ensuing section might be quite scratchy!

As usual, Vincent was awaiting our return, and we quickly loaded the boat and gear and made our way into the heat of the afternoon thankful for some air conditioning – but far more thankful for the wonderful paddle we had just experienced!

State 6 of 50 Wyoming: North Platte River

River of surprises – high cliffs, solitude even though an established fishing/floating river, much and varied wild and bird life
Date Paddled: August 15, 2016
Nearest City: Saratoga
Put-In: Don Johnson Park, Saratoga, WY
Take-Out: Pick’s Bridge
Duration: 4.5 hours
River Miles: ~10
Shuttle: via Hick’s Tackle Shop
Weather: Sunny, 82 degrees, light clouds, northerly winds
Difficulty: Swift to slow current, quickwater, riffles and  numerous                            class I rapids, scratchy at times, nothing difficult
Cfs: 9 (this seems impossible, but was obtained on USGS site – gauge           height 2.18

The North Platte almost didn’t happen for us.

We look at the river from the small town of Saratoga and aren’t particularly inspired. It’s broad, probably scratchy, and what few trees there are seem to peter out quickly. Over breakfast, we read about the river and are interested enough to head over to Hick’s Tackle Shop where we set up a shuttle. Within minutes we see badgers near their dens playing while a family of ducks eyes us from a concrete slab – hopeful signs.DSCN3281I’m feeling a bit better as we are whooshed to the right in the fast moving current over colorful rocks, some decorated in beautiful green plants. I hear the sound of bells and see a cow coming down to the water to drink. While not a wild animal, I’m interested in seeing for how long a drink it would take.  After all, this is a dry and demanding environment. A full minute of drinking and she joins the herd milling about in the trees that have been assailed by beaver. They’re rather ambitious in their attempts at the cottonwoods, a good 30-36 inches in diameter!


A merganser family of at least a dozen, swims off upstream as three red-tailed hawks ride thermals over the river. The river picks up some steam as we head towards beautiful white rock canyon walls. The walls are a study in wildlife, just a small part of which we can see as we glide by in some quickwater and class I rapids.DSCN2245Swallows did a stellar job of making homes for their babes, a bird that looks like a grouse flies off the wall at regular intervals, while a few hawks, including a kestrel, and great blue herons perch high up at the top of the cliff. A deer is having a drink in the middle of the day, as greater yellowlegs ply the shore for insects. Kingfisher, killdeer, sand pipers, finches, and warblers all add their song and movement along the shores.DSCN2206

DSCN2218I notice clematis almost covering some smaller trees with their fluffy seed heads, that always somehow make me feel at home wherever I might be. Another plant that is in the eurphorbia family is abundant. Euphorbia’s are like that strange aunt that you see on family occasions that is a bit “different.” She’s a flower like the rest, but green, and well, shaped a bit oddly.

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The distant sound of water captures our attention as we round a bend and come upon a fascinating, hanging forest. Trees, shrubs, and all manner of undergrowth have been undercut, the dense root systems holding it all together. The birds freely travel under them and drink from the mini waterfalls that create a moist environment so out of context with the arid environs.

The pelican lands just ahead of us and is our guide for the last two miles of the paddle.  A most impressive bird with gray tipped wings and a very rectangular body profile on the water, it seems to enjoy our company, never shying away and occasionally giving a backward glance to see if we’re coming along. He flows easily over the rapids, bobbing and bouncing much like the kayaks.DSCN2313We thought this was going to be a paddle more in keeping with “the slog.” We couldn’t have been further from the truth!

State 5 of 50 Colorado: Colorado River

Dramatic, Challenging, Iconic River
Date Paddled: August 13, 2016
Nearest City: Kremmling
Put-In: Pumphouse
Take-Out: Rancho del Rio
Duration: 4 hours
River Miles: 10.5
Shuttle: Via Highway #1, not easily bikeable
Weather: Partly Sunny, mid 80’s
Difficulty: Swift current with many class I and mostly class II rapids, with two class III’s, big waves, pushy at times
Cfs: 1120

An aura of excitement bathed our day as we paddled one of the most iconic American rivers – the Colorado.  We hoped the section we chose would be within our abilities. Whitewater designations are supposed to be consistent throughout the US however, we’re told that often the states out west have a more liberal interpretation.

Beside our whitewater considerations, we were also renting an inflatable kayak for the first time. It was for Peter’s (grown) son, Parker who was joining us for this adventure.  The inflatable was a bit difficult to paddle in flatter water, lots of fun, and definitely wetter as it’s self-bailing. Parker had a blast!

This was far from our usual solitary, out of the way paddle, with hordes of rafts, drift boats, kayaks, tubers, and amazingly SUP’s in evidence. It was a beautiful Saturday and everyone was out on the river! We were forewarned so at least we weren’t surprised.

DSCN2141The only real difficulty was when the river narrowed down and the rapids picked up. There was a line-up to go through, and since kayaks love forward motion, it was hard to keep them back while the lumbering rafts picked there way through.

We put in to very swift water and some class II rapids. Soon, the first class III rapid was upon us. I eddied out afterward and told Peter that this river was definitely beyond my abilities. He calmly assured me that I did fine and that there was only one more class III rapid to worry about. What – I had run the class III? Whew – confidence restored, I pulled myself together and off we paddled.

The run was roughly divided in two with two canyon areas making up that larger sections, and flatter, wider areas in between. The second of the two canyons was my favorite with stunning rough, red rock soaring above us.

DSCN3228It also contained the second class III rapid. Surprisingly, I again didn’t recognize it. Suddenly, I was being swept toward a very solid looking wall reaching out into the river at about a 40 degree angle. In the turbulence of the down flowing water, I was facing a ridge line of wave bouncing off the wall. I heard the internal scream, “Don’t hit the WALL!” The outfitter saying the exact same thing combined in a eureka moment – ah, the wall! Success is so sweet when it means you’re not taking a swim in 60 degree water!

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State 4 of 50 South Dakota: Redwater River

Fun rapids, swift current, clean water – one portage
Date Paddled:  August 5, 2016
Nearest City: Belle Fourche
Put-In:   Old Belle Road Bridge
Take-Out: Wyatt Campground
Duration: 3 hours
River Miles: 6.5
Shuttle: 6 miles
Weather: low 80’s, low humidity
Difficulty:   .75 flatwater, quickwater, Class I, Class II
Cfs: 130

As we looked for rivers to paddle in South Dakota and especially in the Black Hills area, it soon became clear that there is very little water in this part of the state after the spring freshet. We did note on the American Whitewater website, that the Redwater River was running. The Redwater River was created long ago by flood waters that were instrumental in forming the western part of South Dakota and especially the Black Hills.

We were excited to be paddling whitewater, but had fairly low expectations for scenery since the Belle Fourche area is on the northern side of the Black Hills. We were however, pleasantly surprised.  The scenery was quite intriguing even in those locations skirting farmlands. The banks were everywhere decorated in wildflowers and the distant views were engaging.

The first couple of miles were quite challenging. There were some class II rapids that normally would be plain old fun, but the river was very narrow and filled with meanders. Since we had no idea if a strainer was ahead or if the water we were hearing was riffles or class II, it lead to some adrenaline filled moments!DSCN2109 (2)

DSCN2110 (2)Fortunately, there was always a way around the few strainers. As the paddle continued, the meanders weren’t quite as tight and the river was a bit wider, so we relaxed.DSCN3043Occasional distant views stretched far and away.DSCN2115Even the farmlands were made more interesting by our bovine neighbors.DSCN3033Our least favorite part was a nearly mile-long stretch where the river backed up behind a dam. The dam is quite a drop so we  took the easy portage path around it.  Since this dam was built to divert water into the local irrigation ditches, the river below the dam, robbed of some of its flow, became a bit scratchy.DSCN3059There was not much more left of the paddle after that as we beached at the campground and packed up to head to Colorado with the Colorado River on our minds…..IMG_2556

State 3 of 50 North Dakota: Pembina River

This post written by Peter:  “A remote  winding river set in a broad forested valley cut into the open plains of northeastern North Dakota – with a touch of Scandinavia thrown in!”
Date Paddled:  August 3, 2016
Nearest Town:  Walhalla, ND
Put-In:  Vang Bridge (canoe launch site)
Take-Out:  ND Rt. 32 bridge (canoe launch site)
Duration:  4.5 hours
River Miles:  10+
Shuttle:  about 8 miles on county Rt. 55 (got a ride)
Weather:   sunny, low 80s
Difficulty:  swift current up to class 1.5 rapids; no significant obstacles (save one strainer – see text)
Cfs:  800

The Pembina valley is somewhat of an anomaly in this remote part of North Dakota.  Only miles from the Canadian border, the Pembina Valley is certainly the most interesting large geologic feature in the eastern part of the state.  Within broad, jagged-edged valley eroded several hundred feet into the surrounding plains that were once the bottom of prehistoric Lake Agazziz flows a surprisingly lively river that flows SE down out of Canada for a few dozen miles before turning back north to join the Red River of the North just at the international border.  The section we chose to run passes through the most “canyon”-like part of the Pembina Valley – which we hoped would be the most isolated and scenic.  We were not disappointed!

That this part of our nation was originally settled by folks from Northern Europe was evidenced by the place names.  The previous night we camped in Icelandic State Park, a few miles from the put-in — unspectacular and quite mosquito-infested, but very well designed and maintained for such a remote park.  Next morning we looked for breakfast in the village of Walhalla – it took a while to locate the only place in town but the food was good and inexpensive and we were stoked and ready to paddle.  [Next day we would visit the Scandanavian Heritage Center and Stove Church a few hours west in Minot.]

Only problem was we were unable to contact the forest service guy, Matt, who we hoped would give us a shuttle ride.  After visiting the local forest service office in town and making a few calls with no success, we decided to head towards the put-in.  Either we’d locate or get in touch with Matt beforehand and make the necessary arrangements, or we’d just put in and start paddling and hope that a ride would be available when we arrived at the take-out just south of town that afternoon.  Unable to contact Matt, we were assured by some locals (who happened to know Matt well) that either he’d get in touch with us, or we’d get a ride once we got to town.  So we headed for the put-in at Vang Bridge and got on the water before 11 o’clock.

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The Pembina is not a small river – it’s significantly larger in both width and flow than both the Platte and Otter Tail.  And this part of North Dakota had plenty of rain in the previous weeks, so the Pembina was running well above the minimum recommended flow of 350 cfm.  Right from the put-in the current was swift and unrelenting, the cloudy, clay-laden water rushing by at 3 to 5 mph with no pools and few eddys in which to stop and rest.  And while not continuous, the class I and I+ rapids came in rapid succession for the first 3/4 of the trip.

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While there were occasional signs of ranching and other human activities, the river valley felt remote and barely inhabited; we passed a steel bridge skeleton, long-since abandoned, but no other structures along the immediate river corridor.  The bluffs on the north side of the valley rose steeply at least 200 to 300 feet in places; on the south side the slopes were less steep and more forested.  We heard what sounded like braying cattle not far back from the riverbank, but never saw any cattle, nor for that matter even any barbed wire.

About midway through the journey, as I was beginning a side-trip up a small feeder stream, I heard Diana yell, “Otter!”  As I reversed back into the main channel I saw what she saw – the little furry critter was on the bank right next to the inlet for a small backwater slough, in which he immediately sought shelter when he saw us coming.  We followed him into this shallow pond, where he continually scolded us away, while diving and resurfacing a number of times.  We managed only a few blurry pics and one video but the experience was memorable for both of us.

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Though the water was very cloudy (less than a foot visibility), obstacles were few and easily avoidable.  I say that but must mention that there was one particular tree-strainer and Diana managed not only to find it, but get her paddle lost in the branches as she tried to negotiate passage through.  Unfortunately I was at the same time traveling through a parallel channel and didn’t see what happened until I arrived at the confluence a couple hundred yards downstream.  Fortunately the water was shallow and the current not so strong, so Diana was able to exit her kayak and wade back up to retrieve her paddle.  But the incident, though not too troublesome, reminded us of our need for waterproof 2-way radios for those times when we might become separated.  The rapids were all easily negotiated and fun to run, though they petered out toward the end as they valley opened up in front of us.

Though there wasn’t a great amount of wildlife, we did see another eagle (that’s three in three paddles so far!), as well as the usual herons, kingfishers, goldfinches, and three mule deer.  And we saw no real signs of human activity on the Pembina, save for the access sites.  At the take-out Diana was able to fairly quickly get a ride from a lifelong Walhalla resident to retrieve Vincent from the put-in, and with thunderstorms threatening, we headed west toward Minot.

 

 

 

 

State 2 of 50 Minnesota: Otter Tail River

Blog entry written by Peter:    An easy and rustic paddle in western Minnesota that ended with some excitement – and heavy industry!
Date Paddled: August 2, 2016
Nearest City: Fergus Falls
Put-In:  County Route #1 (canoe access site)
Take-Out:  Mt. Faith Ave.   (canoe access site)
Duration: 5 hours
River Miles:  11.5
Shuttle:  easy 4.2 mile bike ride
Weather:  sunny, 80+ degrees
Difficulty: flat water, class I & (easy) class II; toughest rapid at power plant (class II+) can be easily portaged.
CFS:  We ran it at 780 cfs with no scraping; could probably be run at lower levels.

The Otter Tail River provides a canoe/kayak route of over 150 miles in rural western Minnesota, coursing through many lakes and reservoirs on its way to joining the Red River at the North Dakota border. Though not the most beautiful or wild part, this section of the Otter Tail offers a lot of bang for the buck, especially if you’re doing a bike shuttle, as we were.  It’s also convenient to I-94 and the small city of Fergus Falls, where we found a delightful campground (albeit lacking in showers) in the city park at Pebble Lake.

After dropping the kayaks at the put-in on county route #1,  I moved Vincent to the take-out on Mt. Faith Ave. on the outskirts of Fergus Falls and pedaled the easy 4 miles back to where Diana was waiting, and by mid-morning we were on the water!

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The first part of the river corridor meandered between tree-covered banks with the occasional home set back but still, unfortunately, fairly visible.  But as the paddle progressed, the meanderings took us to more remote territory, though the trappings of civilization were never far away.  At times  river’s meanders brought us to open corn fields, only to lead us back into the woods at the next turn.

The Otter Tail moved us along swiftly the entire way; nowhere did we encounter stillwater that forced us to paddle to make progress.  However, as the day progressed, the river became more interesting, with easy class I and class II rapids and the occasional tree or strainer to avoid.  While most of the rapids were mere riffles or small, easy drops, with the occasional wave train, there were a few that required focus and some maneuvering.

The day started out clear and warm, and by mid-afternoon the hot sun and warm water made for ideal swimming conditions.  Diana picked a spot with what seemed like moderate current for a cooling dip, but soon found that the current made it impossible to swim in one place, so I towed her kayak along while she drifted in the swirling waters.  Later, she also found a painted turtle which allowed itself to be captured, examined, and photographed.

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The first significant obstacle we encountered was the remnant of a dam that seemed to require scouting, so we got out of our boats to take a look.  The foot-high drop turned out to be easy to run. From downstream, the broken concrete structure resembled a wrecked locomotive or tugboat – a rather odd sight in this setting!

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The biggest obstacle came near the end of our paddle, when we came upon the large industrial site of a coal-fired power plant located alongside the Otter Tail.  It was here that we found the toughest rapid, a drop, in two stages, of several feet in a narrow channel constrained on the right by a retaining wall next to the power plant.  Careful scouting seemed in order, and we decided not to run this one as we had neglected to bring our spray skirts and it seemed likely that we’d get quite wet if we ran this class II+ drop with open cockpits.  So we hauled out and carried our boats up some steps, across the railroad tracks, and in 200 yards or so we found a put-in right below the rapids.

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From here it was an easy half-mile to the take-out, where it was my turn to cool off in the refreshing but still-swift water.

Though it certainly was not a “wilderness” paddle, nor even really very remote or wild-feeling at any point, the Otter Tail was an easy and generally peaceful paddle with nice, if not spectacular, scenery and some wildlife, which included many birds.  We saw the usual kingfishers and blue herons, as well as egrets, cedar waxwings, an osprey, and an immature bald eagle.  And while the banks were mostly blanketed in grasses, there were wildflowers such as fireweed and a yellow-dandelion-like flower on a long stem.   All-in-all it was a lovely and leisurely 5 hours on the water.

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A Visit with Aquabound/Bending Branches

After long and hard use for the past eight years or so, my Aquabound Carbon Fiber paddle showed up one day at the take out with a quarter moon cut-out.

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I emailed the company a picture and explaining that I’d like to come pick up the paddle in person since our Kayak 50 quest would be bringing us to the paddle-friendly state of Wisconsin. Representative, Brian B., was extremely helpful – yes, they’d gladly do the repair for a modest cost and would I be interested in a factory tour?

Would I ever! Boy oh boy – the thought of that tour really helped when the long miles stretched between NY and Wisconsin. Since I was a little girl I loved seeing my dad make and repair things. It seemed like so much magic – a few tools, so wire, nuts and bolts, and, viola, fixed!

Aquabound was acquired by Branches LLC some years back, a maker of wooden canoe, and later, kayak paddles. So we were in for a double treat!  We first learned about the Aquabound side of the factory.

IMG_2504Brian, our congenial guide, showing us paddle stock

The paddles are made as a pair since even with a high degree of automation, there is small variances in manufacture. The paddles are paired together though the whole process of shaping and forming the shaft, ferrule, inserting flotation, and putting on the blades.  I really liked that! Each paddle, no matter how much it looks like another, is actually an individual with it’s own variations – sounds like my definition of kayak paddlers!

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The neat and tidy factory was filled with machinery that was often made specifically for paddle manufacture or had been adapted from a previous use. The workers, who are more like artisans, have over the years tweaked the designs and functions to fit the job. This was especially true in the Bending Branches part of the factory where some machines use motors that have been around since WW I!

The Aquabound paddles are all made to order – from an order of one to thousands. I recently bought a new paddle with a small diameter shaft as my primary paddle. To think that it came in as an order of one is just SO cool! By the way, my hand is about seven and a quarter inch, palm to middle finger, but I find the smaller shaft much more comfortable and can’t wait to feel the difference when winter paddling in bulky gloves. I’m 5′ 6″ tall – not too small either!

The wooden paddles take much longer to make, so there is some stock on hand.  They are just a work of art!

Thanks to Brian and the Aquabound/Bending Branches team for their tour and amazing contribution to paddling fun and adventure!

State 1 of 50 Wisconsin: Platte River

Solitude and Wildlife
Date Paddled: July 31, 2016
Nearest City: Platteville
Put-In:  Baker Ford Road
Take-Out: Big Platte Road
Duration: 3.5 hours
River Miles: ~9
Shuttle in miles: 5.5
Weather: Sunny
Difficulty: flat-water, riffles, Class I/I+
Cfs: 250

Our first “official” paddle of Kayak 50! After many long and tiring hours of driving we finally arrive and are ready to put in. Peter biked an easy shuttle of 5.5 miles as I contemplated our adventure while sitting in my beached kayak. The long months of planning, ordering gear, organizing, and dreaming were finally paying off!

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I walk down the bank and check the Platte. It’s running well for this late in the season with sage green water alternating between quick, Class I and I+ rapids, and just a bit of flat water mixed in.

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DSCN1974The river was alive with wildlife (l to r): beaver (evidence), green heron (very secretive), bald eagle nest (eagle spotted beforehand), mystery mammal  (muskrat look alike), egret, and swallow nests.  We also saw great blue herons, cedar wax-wings, yellow finches, and many more!

While not normally a big fan of garbage, I’ll admit that this car was a bit of an exception. The fact that it was incorporated into the stream bank through long years of “flattening” surges, had me contemplating a topic that comes up every so often: When does graffiti become artifact/of archaeological interest? I actually hate to admit that the dates from the 1800’s at the top of Kaaterskills Falls in the Catskill Mountains of NY have (in my mind) actually passed into that realm. Oh, did I mention – they are chiseled into the rock. This car? What do you think?

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I should mention that we saw this sort of “bank stabilization” along other rivers. There is some lively discussion about chemicals leaching into the water, along with mounting evidence that this sort of hard surface actually creates small eddies that further erode banks. Natural riparian zone plant natives do a great job as do beavers in rivers that are slow enough for them to slow down even more, not the case here on the Platte.
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As we continued our paddle under big skies and fun rapids, we counted our blessings. One down, forty-nine much anticipated and mysterious paddles to go!