Buffalo River, 13 Day Canoe Trip... May 2010
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The Buffalo River Adventure is now complete!!!!! I officially started at the Ponca low water
Outdoor Center", Ponca, Arkansas. One flood, many beautiful views, lots of new friends, lots of photos, 130 miles and 13
days later, it was complete when the owner of BOC, Mike Mills, met me with a big "Mike Smile" and a congratulations
handshake at the Buffalo City takeout on the White River at around 12:15 PM, May 30, 2010. It was an awesome
................. Below are a few fast memory photos. The detailed story will be added as I get the time to put all the info
together, but there is one person that has to be mentioned here because she actually made it happen. Terri Bernard is
someone you should meet. For years I have been looking forward to doing this float trip. Approximately two months ago
when I made the decision to go, I called BOC. Terri was the friendly voice on the other end of the line and was my
constant point of contact through the whole planning process. Then, she was my eyes on the ground to monitor the river
and weather so I would know when to go. She felt like my constant companion until I shoved off. She constantly stayed in
touch, provided me with river and weather reports, and then she was the one who sent me the email on May 16 that said
the river is looking perfect, its time for you to start!!!!!!!!! I loaded my car on May 17 and drove to Ponca. On the 18th, I
actually got to meet this awesome lady who had gotten me here. I was very impressed. Then I got to meet Mike Mills, the
owner and a legend in his own time, plus I met other office staff. Everyone was super friendly and eager to be a part of this
fun adventure. If anyone is ever looking to play on the Buffalo River, call Terri. Mike is also someone everyone should get
to know, but catching him might be trick, he is as busy as a cat on a hot tin roof, to use a country term.. Not only is he a
renter of canoes, but he has cabins for rent that have million dollar views!!!!!! Please check out his website,
www.buffaloriver.com. It is very impressive and is managed and updated by his beautiful wife, Rhonda. Mike, Rhonda,
Terri, and the rest of the staff are outstanding people, you will love doing business with then. They love people, and they
even have a Cockatoo, named Lemon Drop, that loves people, loves to be petted, and will be there waiting to greet you
when you arrive...
This photo was taken
on the Buffalo River,
just before the Buffalo
connected with the
White River. I used a
tripod and timer to take
This photo was taken
on the White River, just
up stream from the
takeout point. I used a
tripod and timer to take
This photo was taken
on the White River, at
the takeout point, by
the famous Mike Mills,
owner of BOC and my
outfitter for this
completed the float trip. That was in May of 2010. It is now the early part of 2011, and I am just now getting back to this project.. I will be working on, and adding
to this adventure as time allows. I have a lot of notes and a lot of images to share. People who know me, know I take and share a lot of images from each of my
adventures.. So, be warned.. Actually, this presentation, and others like it on my site, is for people who cannot, or will not get to go see what I saw and what I
experienced when I went. For people who are planning to go, I hope they find the information here to be usable research material as they plan their adventure..
Just so you know, this adventure is only part of an adventure!! In February of 2010, I drove to Florida, flew to San Juan, cruised for a week, flew back to
Florida, got my car, and toured the Everglades and south Florida for a few weeks. Drove back to St. Louis, and drove to Oklahoma, where I spent a few weeks.
Upon my return to St. Louis, I repacked the car and headed for Alaska. I drove the Alaska Highway to Fairbanks, stopping at Skagway and Haines as I went,
then took a bus to the Arctic Circle. From Fairbanks, I went to Denali, took the longest bus tour there, then headed for Homer on the Kenai. From there I toured
the coast as I returned. I visited Seward, and Valdez, on my way back to Skagway. In Skagway, I put my car on the ferry and went to Juneau for a few days,
then on to Sitka and Ketchikan, then Prince Rupert, where I started the drive across Canada, going south.
I had friends in Washington state, so I stopped off there for a day to be social. Then headed for Salem, Oregon, where I visited with a man I had met in Juneau.
From there I headed south, continuing to drive the coastal highway. I toured the Redwood National Park, which was a biggie with me. Then I stopped off at the
Hearst Castle for a tour. Back on the road again, I drove to the border of Mexico. There I turned back east and headed for the Grand Canyon, where I did the
famous overnight mule ride into the canyon. From the canyon, I went to Zion, Bryce, Capital Reef, then to Mesa Verde. Somewhere in all this, I saw that I had
visited the three of the four corners of the USA.. If I kept heading east, I could do the fourth, and would have completed a criss-cross of the USA in one year. So,
in St. Louis, I changed tires and headed for Matawaska, Maine. One my way there, someone suggested I expand my trip to include Nova Scotia. I did. I arrived
in Matawaska, took my photos, did the tourist thing, camped for the night, outside of town. The next day, I headed for NS. About two days later, I was at the
northern most end of Nova Scotia.. In the next couple of days or so, I would see most of the rest of the area. From there I headed south, and stopped at the Bay
of Fundy to see the Rockwell Rocks, before heading on to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, Maine. As the sun was setting, I left there an headed to St.
Louis, and maybe the end of the adventure. But, no. I arrived in STL, repacked the car and went back to Oklahoma for a few more weeks, before returning to
St. Louis. Once back here, I arranged for an 11 night cruise out of San Juan, the complete the year. I flew to San Juan, got on board the Celebrity Millennium,
cruised for 11 nights, then flew back home.
I started this whole adventure thing in February 2010, as I headed to Florida in my car.. I arrived back home after my last trip on Christmas Day, December 25. It
was one heck of a year!!!!!!!
Now I can tell you about my float trip on the Buffalo River. Actually, to really appreciate it, you should first visit and read the introduction I have for my Current
River trip, in 2009. In that introduction, you will learn how I got started with this canoeing thing. As for the Buffalo River trip, I had been thinking about it for at
least 20 years, maybe longer. I heard about it from friends, who had been there. Unfortunately, I seem to miss all the group trips that went there.. Was working
or something. But, I kept the desire to go in my mind, and I kept the name on my "do-list". Finally, all things started falling into place and it looked like 2010 was
going to be the year that I would "getter-done"... And, I did. I hope you will enjoy the story and the photos.. I met some really neat people while I was on this
adventure, and as you might expect, I will remember the people longer than I will remember the river. The people really made the trip special.
This adventure was only 13 days of floating, but many days of planning and packing.. I will share some of the details for this, then get to the actual river story. I
will only be able to work on this in segments, but as I develop the presentation, I will publish what I have.. If it is not complete when you see it, please check
back to continue with me until I get it finished..
I forget which year it was that I make my first visit to the Buffalo River, but I am guessing it was around 2000. As I recall, there was a three day weekend in the
early part of the year, so I talked a friend into driving down to the Buffalo River with me, so I could do a little looking around, from the banks of the river, and the
bridges above the river, etc. Was a good trip. Water was high, and looked a bit challenging. I even crossed a low water bridge down there somewhere, that had
a lot of water going over it. I should have not done that, but I survived.. I would not do it again!.
On that trip, I was able to get a mental picture in my mind as to how the river was laid out. Then, in November of 2006, after I retired, another friend and I drove
back to the river to look at it again. This time the weather was really cold. And, I think it rained for the three or so days we were there.. I was either wet or frozen
all time I was there. Oh, and, I had cold that was killing me. But, that was not all of the bad stuff, I had a crown fall out the day after I arrived. I was going to a
really bad dentist at the time. Mike Reheme, in St. Louis.. Stay away from the man... Most of his work has to be redone.. I am surprised the legal people have
not taken his permit away from him and closed his office.. Be warned.. Do not go to this man.. You will regret it...
OK, back to the story. The weather is super cold, I have a cold, it rains a lot, and I have a crown missing now. But, do I write this place off, no. More to do. I
have to find an outfitter. So, with info I have been able to get, and referrals, I start my search. At some point, I arrive at a little town named Ponca. In Ponca,
there are a couple of outfitters. I may have visited both. Don't remember now, but I do remember that I one of the outfitter's office had a white bird in it, which I
found unusual, for a canoe place in the country.. And, I met the owner. Some guy named Mike. Seemed like a pretty cool guy that knew what he was doing. I a
short visit with him, I explained that I wanted to do a long float on this river and could he help me. He indicated he could. And told me that when I got ready to
go, let him know. I guess that stuck with me. Because as time went by, while I was doing other adventure trips, I still remembered this fellow with this white bird..
As I recalled, he had some cabins for rent, and I think I toured around one of them, just for information and reference.
I am not sure that on January 01, 2010, that I knew I was going to do the Buffalo River trip. I just knew the year was pretty much open. I had one commitment for
the year, a mule ride with a buddy, in the Grand Canyon, in September. NO problem. Then, things started to happen. A friend wanted to do a cruise, and
needed a cruise mate. I can do that, and did. While I was on that trip, I had a lot of time to think, and started planning the Buffalo River trip in my head. Once
back home, and access to my computer, I got serious about the trip. How bad were the rapids, how high up on the river could I go, how many miles would I be
doing per day, where would I camp, were there enough gravel bars, who would be outfitter, where would I put in, where would I take out, would an outfitter be
willing to do a trip as long as I had wanted to do? And the list goes on.. Sadly enough, there was not a lot of information about the river that I could get my
hands on.. Lots of people had been there. Most were there for a three to five day trip, and almost none had been above the Ponca putin, no had they taken out
way down on the White River. Thank the stars for Google Maps, etc. With satellite images available, I could do some pretty good planning, but being able to
see the gravel bars and the long pools of water. So, I started a plan.
When I first started sketching out my wants, I wanted to be able to brag about doing the "full' length of the Buffalo. This would mean putting in upstream from
Ponca. I could find almost nothing on this area. I assumed it was kinda challenging, but by the satellite images, I expected I could do it. Then, there was the take
out.. Where to take out? The logical place would be where the Buffalo meets the White. But, there is not a direct road from Ponca to a takeout point in that
area.. Will be a long drive to be picked up. So, I looked at traveling downstream on the White for a few days. According to the map, this would be bringing me
back towards Ponca. Not a lot, but I could get closer to a highway that would be easier to be picked up. Then, I start looking at the satellite images. Things do
not look so good on there, for going downstream on the White.. On the map, it looks great, but on the images, I see a lot of buildings and few if any gravel bars.
From experience, I know I am not comfortable camping in someone's yard. It looks like people have a lot of houses built along the river banks. If I took the option
of going downstream, I might be sleeping in my canoe, while anchored in the river! Maybe I better shorten things a bit. The best part of the trip will be in the
National Park, so I best stop when the park does. This means getting off the river where the Buffalo and the White come together. OK, can do. Will have to find
someone to make the long drive to get me. There is a place called Buffalo City, that has a boat ramp symbol on the map. I will assume I can get out here, but
will have to paddle upstream for about 1/3 mile to reach the ramp. This will be okay, unless the White is swift water!!!
Now for the part about where to put in. I decide I can deal with the water upstream of Ponca, but, am not 100 percent sure it is the smart choice. I still have a
few months or so to think about it, at this time, its only March. Ok, its time to call an outfitter and see what can be done. I search the internet and find this place
I have been to several years earlier. It is know as the BOC, or Buffalo Outdoor Center.. You might have thought it would be the BRC, Buffalo River Center, but
no, it is the BOC. Later I will learn why.
I make the call to the BOC, and I am expecting a big ole man voice to be on the line when the phone is answered.. Wrong again. I get the cutest voice I have
heard in a long time. Don't know who this person is, but she sure sounds good. I have to assume I got the right number, I think she said the name of the place
when she answered!!! I was distracted, for a bit. She introduces herself as Terri, and asks if she can help me. I say I hope so. I tell here I want to do a float trip
on the Buffalo River and need a super good outfitter to help me make it happen. She assured me I had called the right place. Turns out she was right. I think
she ask what I had in mind, and I told her I was interested in canoing the full length of the Buffalo River, all in one trip. I wanted to start at the top and go the
bottom, so to speak. I tell her I have all the gear I need, and that all I want from the outfitter is a big canoe, a good one, and hauling service to the putin and back
from the takeout. She assures me again that I have called the right place, but wants to know if I have canoed on the Buffalo River before. I tell her no, but I have
looked at it for the road, etc. She seems to be hesitating about something here. Then she asks about my paddling skills and will I be alone. I say I am pretty
good, and yes, I will be doing this as a solo trip. She then tells me she thinks I should talk to her boss. This is when I get the man voice!!
The man voice belongs to Mike Mills, the owner of the BOC. He wants to know if I know what I am doing! And, do I know what the water is like above the low
water bridge at Ponca. I tell him I am confident in my canoe skills, but I do not know what is above the bridge. He tells me it is not for beginners. It can be nasty.
And we continue to talk. He says he will be most happy to provide me with a canoe, a big one, and he will be most happy to have me picked up at Buffalo City
when I arrive there. So, we are talking. We do not have a price, since we do not know where I will start or how long I will be gone. He tells me more about the
nasty water above the bridge, etc.. I agree to think about it.. And soon, we have said goodbye. Then, it strikes me, I know someone that knows my skill set, and
most likely knows the water above the bridge, because he has led trips on this river for years. Colin Maag, has been canoing since he started to walk, I think.
And, he is in a couple of my outdoor groups.. And I have canoed with him on several trips over the years. So, I fire off an email to him. I tell him what I am up to
and need his advice. Luck is on my side. He answers back right away. The news is not really what I wanted to hear. He tells me he thinks I should not do the
water above the bridge for this adventure. He tells me that if I were in a smaller canoe, and with our group, it would be an fun thing to do, but for me to take a
big canoe by myself would not be advised. He strongly recommended I pass on this and start at the bridge.
Now it is time to call the BOC back, tell them my decision, and get things rolling. But, I know I do not know the river or the weather in that area, so, I am going to
need help. I call the BOC number again.. That cute little voice answers again.. Life is good.. I tell Terri, who I am and that I now have a plan, and I am ready to
do a deal, but I need local help, etc. This gets the ball rolling. Terri talks to Mike and informs him that I will be leaving from Ponca, and that I want to be on the
river for 13 days. I think he and I talk again.. He tells me he thinks this is much too slow, because he and others have done the trip, which is 130 miles, in 8 days
or less. I tell him I am retired and will just be taking my time, so the extra days will be just fine with me. Even if I have to sleep through a few of them!!! He tells
me has large canoes, and he will put me in and take me out. He sets a price and tells me to let him know when I want to go. I say I will. And off I go.
For the next couple of days, I am packing like a mad man. It is most likely the first of April at this time. Might be considered a good time to go, if the water level
was at the right level. This is not a spring fed river, so doing this trip requires some rain to bring the level up to the desired level. Otherwise, I would have to
start way down stream, which I did not want to do. I had to start at the bridge to make this adventure work. So, first order of business is to get packed, then find
the right water level. I pack for two or three days. I get everything in dry bags, and dry buckets, etc. Since I did a similar trip last year, I know what I want to take
and have everything here to do it. Finally the packing is done. Next item, call BOC and see when I can go. Of course that little female voice is there when I call. I
say Terri, this is Tom and I am ready to go when you tell me conditions are right. We talk for awhile about the weather, the water levels, etc. At that time the
water level was way too low. I would have to wait for a rain. Terri promised me that she would monitor everything in her area for me, and when conditions were
right, she would let me know, off I would go.
For the next few days, nothing happened. No rain.. Then, it started.. Rain!!!! Lots of it. Too much of it. Terri and I were exchanging emails almost daily for over
a month. Her office constantly checks the water level in the river, and the weather coming in.. I sat here day after day after day, waiting. My bags were packed
and ready to go. I just needed to get the word from Terri. And then it came. I think it was Sunday, May 16, in the afternoon that I got word from Terri that the
water level was looking perfect. Weather was expected to hold for a few days. It was time to go. I told her I would leave the next morning with plans to be there
later in the day. She said the office closed at 5 PM. No problem, I can make it. I think.
I scramble to get things finished up here, but discover there are some chores I have to do in town before I can leave. I get up early on the 17th, start packing the
car, running my chores, etc. No matter how fast I moved, the time got away from me. It was 12:20 PM before I pulled away from home and headed towards
Ponca. I stopped in Sullivan and ate at Subway, then took off again. At 4:10 PM I have made it to the turn off going to Branson, and I can tell I am not going to
make it to Ponca before the office closes.. Bummer. I wanted to meet everyone and get things set up for the next day!! At about 4:45 PM, I am in Branson, and I
call the office. Mike answers. I tell him that I am headed that way, but will not be there before he closes. He says that is not an issue, just drive safe and we
would be meet tomorrow. I asked for a campground referral. He suggested Steel Creek, then we said goodbye.. I headed on down the road.. My route will be
taking me through Jasper, and this might be where I stopped again for another Subway sandwich! Good eating!! At 7:14 PM, I pull up in front of the BOC office.
Its still daylight out, but the office is closed and everyone is gone. I look around and then start taking some memory photos, which I always do.. Once I had this
done, I dove up the road to the next place that was open. It was another canoe outfitter, and they had a general store. I went in, bought a soda, and asked
where the low water bridge was, the one that people start their canoe trips from. I was given directions and off I went. I found it, drove across it, checked out the
take off place. I am in luck. The water level is great. I don't think I ever saw a smaller take off place, but it was okay, just smaller than anything I had seen.. Ok,
now I have a visual on the office, the river, so now it is time to go find my campground. Turns out that was rather easy too. Followed Mike's directions, and soon
I was there. And, there was lots of open campsites. I think mine was number 20, for which I paid 10 dollars, I think. I sat up my tent, then started looking around.
Since I had already had dinner, I did not need to cook anything. But, as I was walking around, my neighbors, two young people, about 30 years old, invited me
over to be social. Next thing you know, I have a beer in my hand and I am sitting down being a social butterfly. And even though I had already eaten, when they
go their food cooked, they insisted I at least try a few bites of it.. Was steak and Mexican style rice.. Was really good! They were having the best of fun. We
visited till kinda late, then I sneaked off to get some sleep.. Day 00 is finished. Tomorrow, Day 01 of 13 will start. To see the memory shots from my travel day to
Ponca, Arkansas and the Buffalo River, click the highlighted link.
Day 01. It is now Tuesday, May 18, 2010. This is the first official day of this float trip. I think I
had an alarm in my tent set for 0700, but by 0600 I was awake and ready to get this day started!!
Speaking of getting the day started, you might notice in some of the images, I am wearing two
watches!! There is a logical reason for that, from my point of view. My older Casio G-Shock is just
about shocked out. It is still working, but for how much longer is anyone's guess. I have patched it
up a couple of times already. I think it is on its second or third battery, and its third or fourth band.
I only wore two watches at a time, but I had three with me.. There was a third one in a waterproof
box, stored in the canoe. It was a 30 dollar Timex. Also waterproof, but with a lot of miles on it, so it
was to be trusted as a single source of records. And then, there was the GPS, which has a clock
is accurate to a nano-second, or something like that.. But, leaving a GPS on all the time is not a
good practice because it uses batteries really fast!!!!! Those facts caused me to be looking for
another waterproof watch, which turned out to be a Berenger that will stay waterproof to 1000 foot
below the water. I am a scuba diver, but I rarely go below 100 foot. I think 120 foot is the deepest
I have been. The Berenger would have been the perfect watch, but, it only gives the day of the
month, and not the day of the week, which I needed for my notes as the days went by. For my note
keeping, which is what I am referring to write this story, I used a Sony pocket size digital recorded.
Could not get by without it, assuming I wanted to share these stories later.. My memory is not that great!!! So, there you have the story of the watches.. I still
wear two watches on most of my adventures. The Berenger has hands and gives days of the month, the Casio is digital and gives the day, the month, the
year, I think, AM/PM, etc.. So, to get the story told, it takes several time pieces and a pocket recorder.
At 0725, I am sitting in my car sending out a SPOT message to left people back home know I am up for the day and that I am okay!! I was going to get some
really early morning photos, but when I started taking photos, the camera died. I had left it in a Pelican waterproof case overnight, and apparently the foam
in the lid of the case turned the camera on and drained the batteries. My camera for this trip is a Canon SX1-IS. I had tried to find a better case for the
camera before I left, but none was to be had in the area, so.... I made do with one I had. I had a charger with me, so I put the batteries, 4 AA, in the charger
and headed to the restroom, which many times has an electrical outlet. But, this one did not, so, it was back to the car. I do carry inverters with me, so I
started the car, hooked up the inverter, plugged in the charger, and left the car to idle while I took care of breakfast, took down the tent, and did the final
packing for the canoe trip. Now I am guessing you would think that a real adventure person like me would dive into a big healthy breakfast before sitting off
on a trip like this, and that would be nice, but all my good meals were packed in waterproof bags which were loaded in the car. This morning was neither
the time nor place to spread everything out, do breakfast, repack, then head to the outfitter's office.. What to do? I had some leftover diet Coke in the car,
and I found a food bar in the back seat. Perfect!! A half can of diet Coke and a food bar to start the big day!!! I do get to take a few memory shots of the
campground and my new friends, which I went to say goodbye to. They are really fun people. David, Hope and their dog name Blue!!
Its 0830 now and I am headed out of the campground.
It is probably less than three miles from the Steel Creek Campground to the Buffalo Outdoor Center. I am there before 0900. I park near the front, and head
into the office. Just as I walk in, I look up and see this beautiful brunette standing behind the counter. She has a big smile on her face and before I can say
anything, she says "you must be Tom Ballard?", to which I laughed and replied with a big smile and "And, you must be Terri?" She said, "Yes, I am"!!! She
was as beautiful as her telephone voice, which I had gotten to know well as I prepared for this adventure. Within seconds, it would seem, we were joined by
the famous Mike Mills, the owner of BOC. We did the big handshake and smiles, general greeting, etc. He was quite excited that I was going to this super
trip on the river he loves so much. I would learn later that Mike is famous in this area for many good things, one of which is his expert skills with canoes of all
types and sizes of canoes. As you would expect, I met more of the staff people, did a lot smiling, hugs, and memory photos. Was great fun to meet everyone
and to be so well received. After all the fun stuff, we had to get down to work, we were burning daylight.. Mike and I first took care of the money issues, then
we had a good man to man talk. Mike, being a very good canoe person, and not knowing me, but knowing I had never been on the Buffalo River, took the
time to give me some very valuable information on the river. We talked about the basics, but the most serious part of all was the proper place to can and
how to handle flood water. This would come in very handy later. In Mikes presentation, he told me to camp at least 5 feet above the waterline each night,
assuming normal weather conditions. If heavy rains came or anything happened to indicate flood level water was on the way, camp at least 12 foot above
current water level. We will talk more about this later.
After the river talk with Mike, we were off to the canoe area to select a canoe for me. I had told the office earlier that I needed a large canoe. I had a lot of
gear and was used to paddling an Old Town that is 16 foot and 9 inches in length, I think. Even at that, my stuff barely fits. For a two week trip, I take a lot of
supplies and toys. The first canoe Mike took me to was leaned up against a bunch of other canoes. Even in this position, it looked short, and I mentioned
this to Mike. He flipped it to an upright position and I could see this would never work. I would have to have two of these little things for the trip. One to ride
in and one pull behind me with my gear in it, like a trailer. When I told Mike this just would not do, he turned to his canoe man, and said, "Aaron, go get one
of the new 17 footers off the rack". He did. He loaded it on the company truck, and headed for the river. Mike and I followed in our autos. We arrived at the
Ponca Low Water bridge just as Aaron was setting the new canoe down my the river. I went to look at it.. PERFECT!! Just my size, and it was new. This
would be its first trip on the river.. How fun is that!!! Mike chatted with us for a bit and waited to see what I was going to drag out of the car and out in this
long boat. Once he saw how I was packed, he smiled, shook my hand, wished be well, and off he went to take care of business at the office. I continued to
load the canoe with the waterproof bags and buckets that I had everything stored in. Once loaded, I got Aaron to help me with the memory shots, then I gave
him the keys to my car, so it could be moved back to the office later.
At 10:00 AM, I shoved off on my first trip down the Buffalo River. If everything went well, this was going to be an awesome trip. I had been wanting to do this
for years. I had been here at least twice doing the research for it, and now, it was starting. Was a GREAT feeling.. As I write this, nearly a year later, I can
tell you that everything fell into place for me. Terri, Mike, the canoe, the water level, the people I met, it all came together for me. As I shoved off, I was
thinking, this water level is just perfect, and it was... And, in no time at all, I was starting to see the famous bluffs I had heard so much about.. Beautiful...!
Then came the next item that would make for some of the best memories, the people I was to meet on the river. I think it was at my first stop, below some
small rapids, I got out, started taking some memory shots of the river and bluffs, when I man named Daniel, and woman came up to me and offered me ten
dollars to take a few memory shots for them of their church group as they came through the rapids. I said sure, took his money and his email address etc,
then I started taking photos of the people as they came through. Many of the images turned out okay, but nothing that would make me famous. I explained
this issue to the young man, but he said it was better than they could do. This camera that I am using on this trip is not for action photos, just memory shots..
I got some for them, and later I emailed them. The man was quite pleased with the results. This happened at around 11:20 AM.. It is not even noon yet on
my first day and already I have made ten dollars. I may be rich before this float trip is over!!!
I followed the church group downriver for aways and watch with smile as some of them flipped over in some of the rapids. Nobody was hurt and the people
seemed to be having fun, even if they were swimming and dragging the kayaks and canoes to the bank. Just for the record, there were a lot of people on
the river this day, in both canoes and kayaks. Also, on the way down river, I run on to some young men who were down by the river edge from where they
had camped last night. They were filtering water for the day ahead. While talking to them, I learned they had put in above the low water, at a point where I
wanted to start. They told me it was a good thing I did not try it, it was hard going. There were four men, preachers it turns out, and they were in two canoes.
Both canoes had flipped several times before they arrived at the low water bridge. Good thing I did not try it, though I would like to do it at another time with
a group, so I could get help, if needed. Later I would meet these men again, and at that time, they would ask me to take their photo as they posed at Jim's
Bluff. I did, and I emailed the photos to them later. As a side note here on April 29, 2011, it was just a few weeks ago that I was in Southeast Oklahoma
taking care of some business, when I was asked to meet a woman and her husband for an early dinner. The woman is now 37 years old and beautiful. I met
her family about the time she was born, and I photographed her until her family moved away about 6 years later. I helped her take her first photograph. She
was four. She still has that photograph and keeps it in a firesafe for safe keeping. She was a beautiful girl, now she is a beautiful woman. Was great to see
here again after all these years, plus I got to meet her husband, who was a great looking guy.. They made a super couple. So, what is the tie in? When I
pulled into the parking lot at the dinner place, I grabbed my camera, and headed in, as I was a bit early for the meeting. Just as I was crossing the parking
lot, a man who was carrying a diaper bag and trying to lead a small child, shouted to me and said, "Hey, are you Tom Ballard?". I looked up, laughed and
said, I was. Then, this man came over to me with a big smile on his face and said his name was Derek and he was one of the four preachers I had taken a
photo on at Jim's Bluff!!! Who would have thought that he would remember me, and who would have thought that we would meet in Oklahoma, since neither
of us live there!! Small world.. I took more photos of him, his wife, and I think it was his son.. Just days ago, I emailed those photos to this man.
one of the nearby towns. I did not record her name or the name of the town where she works, but she liked to kayak, had the day off, and so away she went.
She had made arrangements for someone to help here come back later for her car. After meeting her, I met and visited with a man about my age who is a
corporate jet pilot for Walmart I think it is. I did not record his name, but he lives and works in Arkansas, so.. I asked him about his flying career and he said
he had been flying since he was about 4 years old. His dad was a pilot and had a plane, so this man got to start flying when he was born, and when he was
about 4, his dad would sit him on a stack of phone books and let him guide the plane!!! What fun.. Then of course, he continued flying as he grew older and
eventually did for a career. Said it was a lot of fun... This pilot fellow was doing a day trip with his wife. Both were using sit-on kayaks.
At around 12:30 PM, I have stopped for lunch at one of the most beautiful spots on the river.. I had to pass up a lot of gravel bars because they were loaded
with people, but it paid off, this place was great. Sitting a nice gravel bar, eating lunch an studying the beautiful bluff on the other side of the river. If anyone
is interested, I recorded the GPS location to be, N36-03-01, W093-20-11.3. The GPS suggest the elevation to be 1016 feet.. I never checked to see if that
was near accurate.
At around 12:40 PM, I am passed by a canoe that has a couple of guys in it. These two guys have some rather large tattoos on their back and arms, etc. Lot
of thoughts when through my mind, many of them related to stories from friends about what they expect their kids to do as they grow up. Some of these
parents are rather frustrated. I had to wonder as I saw these young men go by, what thoughts their parents had about these tattoos. I have made note of the
fact that many, of not most parents seem to want their children to be carbon copies of themselves, or better. So, when the kids take a course in life that is far
from the parents way of thinking, how do the parents deal with it. Something to think about.
I drift down the river, enjoying the view, when at around 2:40 PM, I come to a place with a lot of people and canoes parked around.. Must be the place to
stop. So, I did. The sign said Hemmed-In Hollow. I had not read up on this, so I had to ask what there was to see. People there told me that up the trail
aways was a neat waterfall, in a canyon area. So, I covered up the canoe with space blankets and tried to hide things as best I could, then headed up the
trail. The trail was just a fun walk, and took about 25 minutes to hike in, but OMG, the waterfall was just the best.. It was awesome. I saw people going over
and standing under it, even though is was just a mist by the time it reached the ground, I wanted to really bad, and might some day, but there was a lot of
spray coming off the fall and I had a camera that I did not want to get wet, so I stayed back a safe distance and just admired, plus took photos.. And, as
usual, I found people to talk to. This time I met a couple of neat young men who had just graduated from college and were getting ready to start their
careers. One was going into some kind of science work, then other planned to be a police officer. I think was named Justin and the other was Jacoby. They
had backpacked in, and would do the same to get out.
I had a snack then headed back down the trail. I met more young backpackers as I returned to my canoe. They were from Springfield, Missouri. And guess
what, about half way back, I met David, Hope, and Blue, from my night in Steel Creek Campground. We had a short visit before each moved on.. That would
be the last I ever saw them or heard from them. But, back at the boat, at 4:20 PM, I found more fun people to talk to. One was a new nurse from Kansas
City, one, named Aaron, was a waiter at a high end dinner theater in Branson, and he had his girlfriend from Chicago with him. I cannot remember what the
other two did. Aaron helped me launch my canoe after our visit.
6:30 PM. I have found a gravel bar, a small one, barely out of the water, which I will call home for the night. I left Hemmed-In Hollow just after 4:30 I think it
was, and I started looking for a campsite. This is when reality set in, finding a place to camp on the Buffalo River is going to be one of my biggest
challenges. There aren't very many gravel bars, and the bigger and better ones have been invaded early by large church groups, etc. What I was finding
was lots of brush, trees, cane or something, steep banks, and very low gravel bars. As I came down river, I ran into some serious rapids just above Kyle's
Landing, I think it was. Surviving that, and finding not places to camp, I was preparing to sleep in the canoe this night. If I could find a good place to tie off
the nose, I could eat some food bars, then sleep on top of my gear. But, at the last minute, I spotted a very small gravel bar on the river right. I would not
pass Mike's test for being 5 foot above water line, but then none of them would. You would have to be in a tree house to get five feet about water level..
And, I had been looking for places to go, to get 12 foot above water level. In an emergency, I could get my body 12 foot high, but none of my gear would be
able to go with me. The rules were going to have to be broken, there was no way around it.
8:30 PM. I am laying in my tent updating my notes. I set up my tent on my little gravel bar, I had a couple glasses of wine while I waited for my dinner to
cook, then I ate, plus had some coffee and some green tea!! My dinner tonight was one of my favorites, Chili Mac by Mountain House. This meal is freeze
dried and says it is for two people, but really it is for one.. It is simple to make, tastes great, gives needed energy. To prepare one of these meals, boil two
cups of water, open the bag, pour in the boiling water, stir, close bag, wait 10-15 minutes, then eat.. Its great stuff.. And, if you plan to eat a lot of these
things, as I do, I have eaten hundreds of these things, I strongly suggest you buy the long handle, shiny metal, spoon sold by REI. Cost 10 dollars and is
perfect for digging the food out of these Mountain House bags. Just before dark, the four preachers came by, looking for a campsite. I offered to share my,
even if it was small, it was better than nothing, and it was nearly dark.. Later, I would learn they found a little spot further down the river. But, camping spots
are super hard to come by. I would suggest that if anyone is planning to canoe this area of the river, they canoe from campground to campground.
Otherwise they might end up sleeping in their canoe. In my tent, I turned on my weather radio, which I bought just for this trip. It is one of those Eaton hand
crank types. No batteries needed. Last night at Steel Creek, I could not get any stations on it. But, tonight, I can get one weather station, and one country
and western FM station. The weather station is predicting some rain for this area, but nothing serious. I finally turn the radio off and go to sleep. It has been
a long day, even though it was fun. As an added note, I planned this trip for 10 miles per day, and my first ten miles would have put me at mile marker 39,
for a campsite, but per my maps, etc, I am at mile marker 40.5, at a place called Gar Hole Bluff, I think it is. The GPS reading for Camp site number one is,
N36-03-39, W093-16-05.6. To view the images I am sharing for this day, click on this link: Buffalo River Adventure, Day 01.
Day 02. Wednesday May 19, 2010. It must be after 0730, I am still in my tent and I am
still sleepy. I did not sleep very well last night, for some unknown reason. Just a few
minutes ago, I turned on my little weather radio and checked the latest weather for this
area. The people providing the reports are saying they are expecting flash flood warnings
to be issued later this day. The flash flooding might come later today or later tonight.
They are not very sure right now. Might even be tomorrow. I am thinking that with the
high bluffs, narrow canyons, etc, around me, I need to be thinking about getting further
down the river, hopefully into some flatter areas, so that if the floods come, they will
have more room to spread out, resulting in less deep water and slower moving water.
It is now 0800. I am back in my tent. I had to get out and go for a pee break. While I was
out there, I checked the water level. It would seem the river has gone down about
6 inches during the night. It is hard to tell with such a gradual slope to the beach area.
Yesterday, when I arrived here, I poked a couple of sticks into the beach, at the waterline.
Now the water has moved away from the sticks and gives me some idea how far down
the water level has dropped. At least it did not come up.. But, going down too far is not
good either. I still have a long way to go, and if the water level drops too much, I might
be hiking down the river instead of floating down the river.
This morning, I do not see anything that looks like rain. Across from me is a high bluff
and there is fog at the top of it, but there is no fog down here at river level. Not sure
what that means, but there is nothing yet to suggest rain, that I know of. I checked my maps again, after coming back in the tent, and the bluff across from
me is the Gar Hole Bluff. OK, time to get out of the tent and cook breakfast. Cooking breakfast means boiling water for my tea and coffee. I am not a big
coffee drinker, but I do like to drink it on camping trips. I normally drink green tea for breakfast, but on adventure trips, I drink both. I do the tea for my health,
and the coffee for my treat. For the food portion of my breakfast, I will be having freeze dried food. The meal of choice for me is the Mountain House
Granola, with blueberries. Comes in a foil pouch. You just open it, pour in a half cup of cool water, wait a few minutes for it to soften up, then eat. Its great.
The meals used to be called Blueberry Granola, when I first started eating them years ago, but now, they are just Granola. I think I am correct on that. But,
who cares. They are called Granola now, they are good, and I eat a lot of them in a year, as I do my canoe trips, backpacking trips, and road trips. They
generally cost about 4 dollars per pouch. One of these is about right for one person my size. I think they have about 550 calories in them. It is enough to last
until lunch. I generally catch them on sale at REI, and I buy about 50 to 75 of them at a time. So, for breakfast hot drinks, it will be green tea, plus, coffee
made using one of the Folgers coffee bags, which are pretty darn good. One other thing I have added to my day is almonds, and many times I have them for
breakfast. I find that I like to buy my almonds at Trader Joe's. By buying them there, I get them at a good price and they come in little pouches that are equal
to about one fourth of a cup, which is a perfect amount for me each day. Trader Joe's, packages some of their almonds in these little convenience packs.
You can get raw almonds or dry roasted. I buy both. I think the raw are better for me, but I like the taste of the dry roasted. So, I buy both!!! The company
sells these little packets in a larger one pound bag, and inside the big bag is 13 of these little bags.. They are just the best.. Try them. I buy several pounds
at a time. They go fast around here.
Now, while I am on the subject of boiling water, the stove I carry is a MSR Whisperlite. In fact for a trip like this, I have two of them with me, one is a backup.
I also filter my water with a water filter from MSR. The one I use is called a Sweetwater.. I also carry two of these. As a matter of fact, I have two of a lot of
things. I even have two cell phones with me, plus several batteries and a charger. Over the years of doing these adventures, I have learned to have
backups. I only brought one tent, but I did bring a 10 x 10 tarp for a backup.
As I start to eat breakfast, I start to think about my options if high water should come my way. I really do not want to climb a bluff with all this gear! More
likely, I would look for a wide valley area, with a meadow that I could get in and try for a plan of some kind there. I would have the option to move away from
the rising water, and the rising water should be less swift, as it gets further from the main channel. The bluff would be the more safe place to go, but would
be hell to climb!! When I was here a few years ago, doing some scouting, the river was flooded, and it looked mean from the top of the hill where I was,
which was near the Tyler Bend Visitor Center. I am also aware that this area has already gotten lots of rain and the ground around this area is soaked, so
any more rain that comes will not be soaking in, but rather it will make a fast run down hill and then down stream. This means that any rain above me will be
headed my way.
10:05 AM. The canoe is loaded. I am out walking around the beach area, doing a camp check to see if I have overlooked anything, which sometimes
happens. I have filtered my water, I have taken the morning memory photos, I have checked my water marker sticks, and it would seem the water level has
dropped a fair amount just since I got up this morning. Something else I did this morning, was, I put a safety float on the tripod I brought with me. Since I do
not have a second person on this adventure, I brought a tripod to do my memory shots, etc. But, yesterday, I did not put a float on it, I just lay it in the canoe.
Once I got to camp, I realized this was not a good idea on this river, at this time. I did bring snorkel gear with me, in case I needed to find something in the
water, such as a lost tripod, but, I realized that the snorkel gear would do little good on this river at this time, because the water was too murky to see
anything. So, I needed a better plan. It just so happens that I had recently had a colonoscopy, and the laxative container was in a really neat plastic jug, so,
I kept it, and I brought it with me, not really knowing what I would use it for. Now, I know, it is going to be the buoy marker for my tripod. Of course I carry lots
of parachute cord, so I use some of that to tie the bottle to the tripod. Perfect, no more problem. The tripod goes to the bottom, the jug floats, I grab the jug,
get hold of the line, drag the tripod to me, and off we go again. Think of doing this to something you have that might sink, should something go wrong. I think
people now days are called this "Repurposing", how cute.
As I shove off, I note again that I am at about mile marker 40.5. My goal is mile marker 49. If I am lucky, I might have cell phone service when I get there. I did
some research before leaving home and it would seem there are several places along the river where ATT cell phones will work. I charted on my map, the
receptions area I learned about. It is now 10:10 AM and I just shoved off from my beach.
12:00 PM, straight up noon, I arrive at a takeout place called Erbie. Location of Erbie is N36-04-17, W093-12-46. Looked like a nice little place, from the
river view. I park the canoe, and go exploring. I find that there is a bathroom, a powerline to the area, so there is electric here, there is a telephone here,
there is a parking area here, etc.. Pretty nice. I take a few photos and start to shove off again, when I meet a nice couple and their dog, who have just
arrived in another canoe. I end up spending about an hour chatting with these neat people. The man is named Lance and he has just finished college in
Fayetteville, Arkansas. The lady is named Kim, she is the wife and has quit her job to move to the east coast with Lance, to look for work. Their little black
dog is named Sam. I feel bad about this, but I forgot to take their photo for my memory file. Maybe I will see them further down the river. In all the excitement
of talking and looking at maps, etc, my map pouch slides off the canoe and into the river. Most of my maps are waterproof, but not all, so I had some wet
maps to deal with, and this is only the second day, I have eleven more to go. I visited with these people until about 1:00 PM. Then it was back on the river.
It is now 2:25 PM. I have just landed my canoe on a beach area. I have found one of the most beautiful spots on the river to camp. It is a bit early to be
camping, and I am not as far down river and as I planned to be, but this place is awesome, so, I am going to stop here, claim this spot as mine, and set up
my home for the night. I am already thinking about happy hour!! This place may not be high enough for serious flooding, but if the water only comes up a
little, I should be okay. This place is awesome. I will get to camp under some overhanging trees that look like they were placed here just for the purpose of
being camped under. They almost create a cave. I recorded the location of this spot to be N36-03-34, W093-10-46, just in case you ever want to check it
out. I unloaded my gear, set up my tent, I was moved in, then, a canoe pulls up to the beach. The people in the canoe want to talk to me, so I go down by
the water to visit. Actually I met these neat people not too long ago, further back up the river. They were sitting on the bank, relaxing, and enjoying their day.
But, right now, they wanted to talk, at least the lady did. She asked me the simple question, do you plan to spend the night here, and I told her I did, as this
was the neatest place I had seen in ages. She agreed, but said she had bad news for me, I needed to get out of there. Camping here tonight was not the
right thing to do. It would seem she and her male canoe partner were from this area and had gotten the weather report this morning, and it was not good.
According to this lady, there was supposed to be heavy rain coming tonight, which would generate serious flooding on the river. She said I needed to pack
up and get out of there. I told her I would give it serious thought, but I hated to give up such a nice spot. She insisted that the smart thing to do was to get
out of here. Then she asked if I had a good flashlight, and I said I did. She told me I would need it if I was to try to get out during the night when the high
water came. This did not sound good. She then told me that there was a park campground just down river a little ways and that the right thing to do would
be to go there, go to one of the camp sites in the campground, which was high enough to be safe. I told her I would most likely take that option. She and her
partner chatted a bit more, then drifted on down the river.. And, again, I forgot to get a photo of them. I have wished so many times that I had, as it would
turn out, this woman would be a very important part of my Buffalo River Adventure.
After the couple left, I took out my weather radio and turned it on. Sure enough, the reporters were now talking serious flooding. And for some reason, I was
still trying to think of some way to stay here, assuming I could find a safe place to go if the water should arrive. I started looking. Behind me was a bank
about 4 foot tall. That would help a little, but was still short. Then, in the flat area behind the bank, everything was covered with cane. Even if I could get
through this stuff to get out in the dark, I could not take my gear with me.. So, this was ruled out, and I decided to pack it up and get out of here.
Packing up and leaving this really neat place almost hurt! But, it had to happen. I had run out of options. The handwriting was on the wall. As I leave, I am
not real sure how far down stream I will have to go to find a safe place, maybe Pruitt, for all I know.
It is now 6:10 PM, and I am catching up on my notes. At about 4:00 PM, I arrived at a beach type area that looked rather well used and turned out to be the
takeout point for the Ozark Campground. When I arrived, I could not see a campground, just a lot of sand, and a trail that lead up the hill. I could assume
there was a campground up there somewhere, but how far. I started looking the place over and sizing it up as a place to camp. With the trail and the high
area, I had an escape route should high water come. I think I saw the sign for the campground, but no campground. After a bit, I decided to climb the hill and
see what was up there. As I arrived at the top of the hill, I was greeted by a big wide open field in front of me! WOW. Big place, but where is the camping. It
took a few minutes to figure this out, and even then I was not sure. But, I decided to look around. As it turns out, the wide open field had campsites around
the edge of it and directly on the other side from me was some buildings. As I look around, I see a couple of people off to my left, and I head over to visit with
them. They seem to know what is going on here, because they are setting up a couple of tents. When I get to them, I do the usual greeting things and then
ask if they know anything about the weather and the potential flooding. They do. The man has a smart phone or something and has checked the weather,
this area is supposed to be getting floods soon. The couple I have been talking to are regulars here, they come here each year to camp with friends, etc.
They are both from Little Rock, Arkansas. Jerry, the male, is a history professor at the university, and Amanda is a student there. These two have come
here early to reserve campsites for their friends who will be arriving later. I discuss my issue with Jerry. Given what he knows about this area and the
weather report, he advises me to make came here tonight, as it is the smart thing to do. He tells me the campsites are ten dollars each and to pay for them,
you have to go across the meadow to the buildings I had seen. There I would find the self checkin station.
Just after I talk to Jerry, I see some young men drive up, park, and head down towards where the canoe is parked, so I follow them back to the river and
strike up a bit of conversation with them. I learn they are local and know this area well. I tell them about my issue. They advise me to get my gear and head
up to the high ground. I ask them about camping down here on the side of the hill near my canoe. They tell me this is not allowed by the park service.
People are not allowed to camp within 300 yards of the campground. And, they have seen this area flood many times and it is not good. More evidence that
I should stay here, but get a campsite up on top of the hill. No more decisions to make, I am staying here tonight. So, off I went to find the pay station. I
found the pay station, and I found that there are bathrooms here with flush toilets, and electrical outlets where I can charge my batteries, and they have a
campground host. Perfect. I take my envelope from the station, and I head back to the river. I have decided I will take site 15 which is the site nearest to my
canoe. Now, I have to carry all my gear up to the top of the hill, then carry the canoe up, set up my tent, pay my fee, fix dinner, etc, etc. And, I get it done.
Lucky for me, I have portage bags for my gear, meaning they are designed for things like this. They have shoulder straps for carrying them long distances.
Once I got everything carried to the site, and got set up, I was off to the pay station to pay my fee. On the way back, I stopped at the bathroom and plugged
one of my battery chargers into the electrical outlets by the sink. The set of batteries in my camera had been used for two days now and needed a charge,
plus, I discovered the batteries in the GPS were nearly dead, so this meant they needed to be charged. Later, I would go back for the charger, only to find
out that it had not been charging.. What happened??? I left it to charge and came back again, later. Still not charged.. What is going on. Then I figured it
out. The electric in the bathroom is hooked to a motion sensor, and only works for a short time after you leave, then it shuts off. I discovered this when I
walked into the bathroom to check on the batteries, only to find them not charging, but then they started charging shortly after the lights came on, after I
walked in. So, to get any charging done, I had to walk into the bathroom every 10 minutes and trip the motion sensor. I managed to get about an hour of
charge in all the batteries before I got tired of doing this. Speaking of batteries, the camera I am using on this trip is a Canon SX1-IS and it will take about
350 photos on one set of batteries, 4 AA. The GPS is the problem child here. It is a Garmin and it is super poorly designed, in fact all their products are
poorly designed, as best I can tell. The unit I have brought on this trip is a Garmin ETREX Vista HCx. This is my second one. When I got the first one, a
couple years ago, I noticed how easy it was for it to get turned on. There was no way to lock it in the OFF mode. Several times it would get turned on in my
pack and drain a set of batteries. Dead batteries make this unit an expensive paperweight. I contacted Garmin and asked them to help resolve this issue. I
got no help. Not then, not since. My first HCx, which I took on the Current River Adventure, last year, drowned while laying on the deck of my canoe.
Actually I had it laying on top of a bucket placed in front of me. As I paddled, water would drip from my paddle and onto this unit. REI had told me it was
designed to handle this much water exposure. Submerging it could, or would, kill it, but not dripping on it. People in touring kayaks will have them on the
deck all the time, so, drip water should not be a problem. About half way through the trip, the display started fogging. I knew there was water in it. I opened it
and dried it, and it finished the trip with me, but there was rust in the battery contacts, etc. I took it back to REI. They replaced it with the one I am using on
this trip, another Vista HCx. This one is just like the first one. I have had two earlier models, the GPS 40 and the GPS 12. As it turns out, this GPS unit will
drown also, before this trip is over, the same way the first one did, from paddle drip.
I took my cell phone with me when I went to the bathroom, and tried to find service around the area, but nothing happened. Later, Jerry and Amanda would
tell me I could get phone service by walking up about a mile up the dirt road that comes to the campground. I did not try this. They had an SUV, and so they
would drive up there. I might do the walk thing later.
Back at camp, I fix dinner, and do happy hour. Tonight, I had Mountain House Mexican Style Rice With Chicken. According to the package, I bought this at
REI in July 2008. As soon as I buy these freeze dried foods, I mark them with the name of the seller and the month and year. There is an expiration date on
the packages, but I still like to know when and where I got them. While my dinner was cooking, which means I boiled two cups of water which I added to the
food pouch, stirred it, then waited 15 minutes for it to be ready, I set up my tent. I also listened to my weather radio. It is a 30 dollar Eaton which I bought at
REI, just for this trip. It does not need batteries. It has a hand crank to charge it. Really nice. It also has AM/FM/weather, a light, and a mini usb to charge
cell phones, a little bit. The reports I am getting on the radio say there is a 90 percent chance of rain tonight.
10:00 PM. It has sprinkled rain, but no real rain, yet. I really wish Garmin would make a hand crank GPS, like my weather radio. Maybe someday one of the
GPS companies will, then we will have a real GPS. Something we can depend on. As this day comes to an end, I can say the hardest part of doing this trip
seems like it will be finding places to camp. I am already thinking I will modify my travel plans and try to go from official campground to official campground.
There is almost no place to camp along the shore. And, I was told by the college boys today, that camping areas are harder to find the further down river I
go. This is not looking good. I may have to sleep in the canoe before this trip is over. Time to turn the lights out and get some sleep. To view the memory
images for this day, clink on this link: Buffalo River Adventure, Day 02.
DAY 03, Thursday, May 20, 2010. 8:00 AM.. It has rained all night!!!! Mercy to the people who
were camped on the river last night, if there were any actually camped on the river.. It has to be up and
running hard, given the amount of rain that came last night.. Oddly enough, I slept right through most of
it.. I am a pretty sound sleeper unless something really unusual is going on, and I am sure that if I had
been on the river and in harms way, I would have been awake all night. The most excitement I
remember about the night was the leak in the corner of the tent near where the door zippers all come
together.. I do not think water came in there, but in the seam itself, right in the corner of the tent..
I should have known it needed repair. Back in March when I arrived in Key West, Florida, I camped
in what I think is the only campground in Key West, and during the night the rain that came was one
of the hardest I have ever been in. The water just poured into the tent. I thought it was the door
zippers and did not look at the issue when I got home. If I had, I would have known that a seam
was coming apart and was leaking!! Well, it leaked again, but this time I woke up during the night,
discovered the leak again, packed it full of paper towels etc. I think I even grabbed a space blanket
and covered the floor to keep me and my sleeping bag dryer... There was one other funny thing that
happened during the night, and I will tell about that in a bit..
I know it has rained a lot, and can assume that the river has risen, but the question it how much.
Once awake, I notice I have started listening to a bit of a roar that is coming from the direction of the
river. Best I go check it out. The condition of the river will tell me my next move as far as the float trip
goes. I stick my feet out the door of the tent, put on my Chaco sandals which I have had tucked away
under the front of the tent, then I grab my camera and go out to explore the aftermath of the big rain
storm last night. As I get out of my tent, to make my first stop, which is a pee break, I hear the roaring
even better, it is loud.. Something big is causing this roar. There is lots of roaring going on. The first
place I head to is over to some bushes near my tent for a bit of relief, and it is from there that I can see
the muddy water that is moving through the trees only a few yards from my tent!!!!! Yesterday when I
arrived, you could not throw a rock from my tent to where the water was in the river, but this morning
you could throw a rock in the river with just a little under hand toss... I will say that since the water
near my tent was far from the channel, it was not swift, but just a gentle flow.
From the trail leading to the river, what I saw was muddy brown water racing down the river. It is a 100 percent fact that the place where I wanted to camp
last night, is now under water!!!! I am very happy that the couple came by yesterday and talked me into leaving my beautiful spot and heading for higher
ground.. They were sent by the great spirits for sure. As an after thought, the people I met and talked to for about an hour at Erbie yesterday, sincerely
believed there would be rain and that the water might come up a little, but as it turned out, there was a lot of rain and now there is some serious flooding.
I think it was later that I heard reports of some people who did try to camp near the river and were caught in the flood waters. I am thinking they climbed
trees etc, and were rescued by park rangers later in the day. I do not recall anyone losing their life as a result of this flood. I will have to compare before
and after photos to see just how much the water came up as a result of the big rain last night. There is a fair chance I would have survived if I had stayed
where I first planned to spend the night, but it sure is nice to be here where I am high and dry, have toilets, water, electricity, and most of the comforts of
home. Now, I just have to wait for the water to go down so I can get back on the river. So, paying my ten bucks and staying here last night was a great
deal. Someone was looking after me. But, what I should have done yesterday was, find a grass covered spot to put my tent and gear. The rain splashed
mud all over my tent, my buckets, my gear bags, etc.. Will be a mess to clean up.
My new friends to my left, Jerry, Amanda, and friends, must have had water issues during the night. I woke up at some point to some really loud sounds,
some of it was the rain, but also I could hear them screaming and cussing at the top of their lungs, about something. Whatever was going on, there was
some very unhappy people in that camp. After awhile, the issue must have been solved as the cussing, screaming, and hollering, changed to laughter, then
all became quiet. At any rate, that particular set of loud noises stopped and only the loud noise from the rain beating on the tent was left to entertain me. I
went back to sleep. I assume they were fighting a serious leak of some kind, and once fixed, they went back to bed!!! What a world we live in.!! Camping,
everyone should try it!!!!!!
As I check things around here out, it is obvious that I am not going anywhere for awhile. The river is flooding, big time. I'll be sitting here for awhile. I need to
clean up some of the mess left by the heavy rain!! I listen to the weather radio, which predicts more rain!! Who knows when I will be leaving. I think I will go
back to bed.
11:20 PM.. I just got back from the bathroom. I am recording my notes for the day. This morning, the campground host, James, plus his wife and two young
sons, came to see the extent of the flood. Most everyone who comes to check the level of the water in the river have to pass close to my tent to get there,
as my tent is only a few feet from the trail that leads from the meadow and parking area to the river. So all foot traffic to the river comes near my site. Also
near my tent is the park sign that gives the rules for the park and some general information about the river. Next to this is the safety sign for the river.
Sometime this morning the park service changed the sign to read "FLOOD STAGE. Extremely Dangerous".. And, then next to this sign is the big trash
dumpster for all of us to dump our trash.
I was outside doing something when the family arrived, James elected to stay here by the meadow and talk to me while his family walked down the trail to
the river. During our visit I learned a lot of interesting things about him, his family, and how they came to be campground hosts here. It would seem that
James is from Tishimingo, Oklahoma. I am not from Tishimingo, but was raised in Oklahoma. This common fact gave us a lot to chat about while the family
was exploring the river. I learned that James and his wife had both worked for a medical supply company, plus they had some rental properties, etc. They
were living a great life, from a material point of view, but as many of us have heard, money does not always make for happiness. And, this was the case
here. James and his wife were working so hard at gaining wealth that they did not have time for each other or the family. , So, they decided to slow down
and find a solution to the issue. To do this, they both quit their jobs, they sold their properties, bought a 5th wheel RV, and headed in the general direction
of Florida. But, they were in no hurry to get there. So, they chose a route that would let them see and enjoy some of the attractions people might want to
see here in the midwest. One of their stops was the area around the Buffalo River. As I recall, they only planned to stay around a few days to explore and
hike a few trails. But, on one of these exploring trips, they are were approached by a park ranger who asked them if they would consider being
campground hosts for the summer, here along the river. They said they would think about it, and think about they did. After about 24 hours, they reported
back to the ranger and said they would do the job. The details of the arrangement goes something like this. James and his wife, will each get 5 dollars per
day for their time, plus they will be provided a free campsite and free hookups for their RV. Free campsite with utilities, plus about 300 dollars per month
seemed like an okay deal for the summer, then they could move on. But what did they have to do? Mostly they would be the eyes and ears for the park
service. As for work, there was not really any to do. They would monitor the campground, the bathrooms, and be a source of information to campers who
were in the campground. James carried a park radio and would call the park service should anything happen that required the attention of a ranger. The
wife liked the time they all could spend together, and the boys liked having lots of places to explore.. This could be good. They are required to be on duty
32 hours each week, after that they are free to leave and go exploring wherever they feel like.. Over all, it was a nice visit and James told me there was
some cell phone service near the front bumper of his truck, which was parked near his RV. I had told him I wanted to make some calls, and assumed I
would have to walk a mile or so up the road to get reception, this is when he shared the secret of the hot spot there near his RV.. This turned out to be a
great help. I went up to this spot to check it out. It worked, and I made about three calls to let people back home know I was okay and explain why my
satellite transmitter was sending so many signals from the same area. I have a support group that follows my adventures via my SPOT satellite transmitter.
Works great to let the team back home know I am okay, but without phone service I cannot explain anything odd that is happening, such as staying in one
place longer than normal. Just a note, I purchased this transmitter shortly after returning from a two week backpack trip in Colorado in 2008, I think it was. I
found myself in some pretty hairy situations with no way to send for help. I had filed a good hiking plan, but it would only get help to me when I did not
return and report in on the agreed upon date of my return.. I needed a better solution. The SPOT did the trick.
Most of the day I spent around my camp, trying to clean up. But, two or three times during the day, I ran on to Jerry, the history professor who was camped
on the opposite side of the trail from me. Plus I had a visit from another camper who is here with an Assembly of God youth group. And, luck was with me,
the sun came out!!! This gave me a chance to do some housekeeping and dry some things out. I emptied the tent, dried everything, then moved it all back
in, but this time I covered the floor with a space blanket, just in case there was more rain and more leaks.
Sometime in the afternoon, I noticed the water level in the river had started going down pretty fast!! Then I noticed that Jerry and Amanda, and their friends
had started a flood watch party down by the water.. Of course I had to join them. Turned out to be good fun. These people are much more brave than me,
because they actually got in the river to do the flood watching! Of course the party included some adult beverages. I ended up having a couple glasses of
wine while we were together. Noticing that I was drinking wine, which is what you do when you do not have a source of ice, Jerry asked if I would like to
have some more wine, for free. I assured him that I would. He then told me that he had an almost full bag of wine that someone had given him, but he did
care for wine and would be glad to give it to me.. Great...
It is amazing how people will spend time when there is nothing to do. Most of what they do is very entertaining and may well include their dog and friends,
or whatever.. You will have to see the photos to see the part the dog played in all this, but in short one of the guys built a sand castle of sorts, and the dog
is in the middle of it... That said, the dog seemed delighted with all attention. At some point we all headed out to other things, and then later in the evening, I
went back to the cell phone hot spot to make a couple of calls, plus spend about an hour recharging my cell phone, by doing dances etc every ten minutes
or so to reactivate the motion sensor in the bathroom where my charger was plugged in. The outlet was somehow connected to the motion sensor!!!!!! On
the way back to my tent, I stopped by the river to see what is happening, and find that the water has gone down a lot and is going down rather fast. I might
be able to get back on the river tomorrow. The park service put up the FLOOD STAGE sign this morning. I cannot get back on the river until the sign comes
down! I suppose I could, but it would not be a smart thing to do, given that the warning is there, and I am traveling in a rental canoe. I am in no real hurry,
so, I can wait.
Now I am back at the tent and Jerry has discovered I am still up and moving around, so he comes over to check on me and ask if I found the wine. I said
no, I had not seen it. Turns out he had come over to give me the bag of wine and invite me to come to their campsite for some campfire stories, etc, while I
was up at the bathroom charging my phone. He did not find me and assumed I had gone to bed. Thinking that I was sleeping, he sat the wine on the picnic
table at my site. Being as how it was several feet away and in the dark, I did not see it when I came back to the tent. Together we got the wine, which I then
stored in one of the buckets with my bag of wine. Once we had the wine secured, I told him I really appreciated the gift, and I asked if people were still up
doing the party thing at his camp area, and if so, I would come over and share a story or two. He informed me that they were all tired out and were heading
to bed, as they had a day of canoeing planned for the next day!!! At any rate, I now have nearly two full bags of wine. I brought a red wine, and Jerry gave
me a white wine. I think mine was a merlot and his was a zinfandel. Not only did I get a free bag of wine today, I got a bit of a sunburn today. There was
more sun than I expected and for some reason I did not put on sunlotion, or not enough in the right places. Some of the sunburn was on top of my head,
where my thinning hair no longer protects me.
Well, it looks like I have everything in order so that I can now go to bed. But before I sign off on my notes, I have to say this to people who might be thinking
of doing this trip someday. I am wearing Chaco sandals, which are great and I am growing to love them, but one has to have some knowledge to use them
well. Knowledge comes from experience, of course. The first bit of info I can share with you is that wet sand and Chacos can be a dangerous combination.
I did get some sunburn today, but the worst thing that happened to me today was the abrasions on my feet, caused by the Chacos. While walking around
today, the wet sand got under the straps of the sandals. Then in short order, the sand started to take the skin off of my feet. By the time I could do anything
about it, I had lost a lot of skin and it hurt.. The solution, socks. I went to the tent after the problem started, put on socks, and off I went. All was well from
then on.. It would seem that as long as I am in dry sand or in the water, the sand is not an issue, but the wet sand that gets under the straps will eat you
alive in no time at all... I mentioned earlier that some of the people in Jerry's group were making a sand castle which included their dog. There were some
fun moments while all this was taking place and I got some of them in . I offered to send the photos to them later, if they would send me an email address.
So far I have not heard from them. Maybe if they see this report, they will remember, will send me an email, then I can send them a full set of the images.
I do hope to get on the river tomorrow. Last I heard from Jerry's group, is that they still plan to go up to Kyle's Landing and put in for a canoe trip back here
to camp. Assuming they go tomorrow, I hope I get to say goodbye before we all shove off.
To see the memory photos from this day, click on this link: Buffalo River Adventure, Day 03.
Day 05 of this 13 day adventure is in work. Please check back soon.
Day 04, Friday, May 21, 2010... It is now 6:45 PM, and I am at my campsite, boiling some water..
I have two cups sitting here, at site 15, one cup has a coffee bag in it, the other has a bag of green tea!!
The water has boiled, and I have poured it into the cups, to brew!! Now I have some time to record my
notes while I wait for my drinks to get ready!!
This morning I got up and headed down to the river to check the water level... Not much happened, water
wise, during the night. The river had not gone down much. Yesterday, the water dropped a lot while we
were down there watching it, but not last night.
Not long after I got back from the river, I got an invite from my new friends, Jerry, Amanda, and group, to
come over and eat breakfast with them.. So, I did.. Was great.. They had cooked up a huge skillet of
food, made up with eggs, bacon, potatoes, and all the good stuff in it.. Plus they had a big stack of
tortillas, or whatever they are called. The recipe called for putting a tortilla shell on your plate, add a
bunch of the skillet goodies, roll up the shell as best you could, then start eating!!! Was great!
At breakfast, I learned that this group planned to take their canoes, etc, upstream today, to the Erbie
Landing, and float back!! As I recall, I was invited to come along, but I elected to stay around camp, watch
the river, and get things ready to take off in the morning if water conditions were favorable. Even though
I was now a couple of days behind the schedule I had planned, I still had plenty of time to catch up. With
the speed the water would be traveling, I would not even have to paddle, and I could catch up!
Most of Jerry's group headed out for the float trip, but two people in the group had to head home, pretty
soon, so they stayed behind and chatted with me before taking off. In the original group was a young
male named Dustin, and a young female named Laura, who had a young daughter back home. She and
Dustin had been dating about two years. This evening they had a graduation to attend, along with
checking on Laura's daughter. As I recall, Laura had been pretty quite around the group, not saying
much to anyone, but after everyone was gone this morning, except she and Dustin, she and I got to
talking.. Guess we finally found a common topic of interest.. She nearly talked my leg off... I am not sure
what we talked about now, but for as quite as she had been, I was pleasantly surprised to find her so friendly. I was pretty sure from being around her earlier,
that she would never be caught out camping again as long as she lived.. But, when I asked her how she felt about it today, she slowly said that she was
willing to give camping another try, but it would be done under much different conditions!!! Sounded like that if she came back, there would have to be some
serious improvement to the comfort level thing!!!! Finally everyone was gone, and I got on with preparing for tomorrow.
At one point, the park ranger and James came down to check on the water, and chat a bit. The ranger said the water was still high enough to be rated as in
the flood stage and so the flood sign would stay up. He repeated what we had all observed, the water had stopped dropping as fast as it had the day after
the big rain.
Before I left town, I had gotten an REI sale catalog, which I did not bring with me. But, I had found a few items I wanted for my Alaska trip, but did not get
around to ordering before I left. I decided now would be a good time to do that, given that I was just sitting around anyway.. So, off I went to the find the
sweet spot near the campground host's truck, where my cell phone worked.. I called REI, and told them what I wanted.. I did not have the catalog, meaning I
did not have the item numbers. I told the lady on the phone that I was on the bank of a flooded river, and would have to have her help finding the item
numbers etc, since I did not have the book.. She was happy to help.. So, in just a few minutes I had told her what I wanted, she found the items, she got
them ordered, and would ship them out to my local store, where I would pick them up when I got home.. We have an REI store in St. Louis, MO, were I live.
When I order things, I have the items shipped to the store, them pick them up there. REI does not charge shipping on items that are picked up at their stores!
On this order, I got a new Z-REST sleeping pad.. It is a rather ugly yellow color, but was all they had. I have an older model which is green and much easier
on the eyes!!!!! Then for the second item, I ordered a new can of bear spray.. At this time, I have no idea if I might be in a situation later where I would need
it, but just in case, I ordered one.. I have an older one, but I think it is past its usable date.. So, the new one will be doing the real work, and the older one can
be used as a tester, provided it still works.. I would think it would, but the contents might not be as strong and the pressure in the bottle might not be as high..
I also ordered a new holster to carry the new can of bear spray.. The sprays are not of much use if they are not out where you can get to them when
needed.. I think all the items on the order came to about 70 dollars! Outdoor people might be a little nuts when it comes to gear.. Even when they are flooded
off of a river, they find a way to contact an outdoor supply place and buy more gear.. How much better can it get!!!!!!!
Once the order was finished, I did a little social butterfly stuff by going around and visiting with some of the people in the campground. Then it was back to
my site to dry out some more items that had gotten wet in the rain the other night.. Most of the things I ended up drying out, was things that were in my
waterproof buckets!!! For trips like this, I have five gallon buckets with special adapter lids that convert a bucket into a water tight case. But, for them to be
water tight, you have to screw the lid on properly and snug it down to the proper tightness.. It would seem that in my haste, I did not get the lids on tight
enough and some water seeped in!! Most everything in the buckets are also in another container for double protection, but in this case I had just tossed my
maps in the buckets and closed the lids. The maps got a bit wet!! At least one of them is made from waterproof material, so the water was not a problem, but
others were standard paper.. That said, they dried well in the sun that was beating down on my picnic table!!! I also pulled everything out of the tent and laid
the items in the sun for some more drying time, in case there was some hidden moisture in there somewhere..
While the drying process was going on, I had a chance to visit with James the campground host, again. We were discussing my trip plans and the difficulty of
finding camping along the river banks. It was then that he told me about one campground he knew of further down, where I might like to stay, if it worked out.
It was a no fee campground. That sounded good.. I forget now which one it was, but I noted the location on the map. I was telling James I was not sure my
timing would work out so that I could use the campground, as I was now several days behind schedule, and would have to increase my speed to 20 or 30
miles per day, until I got back on the travel plan I had worked out for this adventure. Normally I would limit my travels each day to 10 miles, so as to stretch
the time out to 13 days.
At around noon this day, two park service men arrived with riding lawnmowers, and they mowed the big field between my tent and the restrooms.. Made the
field look pretty good. It was after they were done and taking a break that I was able to catch up to them and learn a little bit about them. One was from
Detroit. In fact I think they both were. And for some reason we got on the subject of ice fishing, which is something they did a lot of where they grew up, but
something I had never done and could not understand how and why people did it.. They gave me some great information on how and why people do it..
Sounded like a fun thing to do, once you understand what is going on.. And, of course there were a few funny stories about the people who went out on the
ice in cars when the ice was too thin.. And, I learned that these people take these ice houses home on wheels, at the end of the season!!! Who would have
guessed! It would seem that some of these ice houses are just pretty darn nice on the inside.. Toilet, TV, microwave, and the list goes on!! Once the ice
fishing class was over, they took off to go to a new job, and I went to the restroom to recharge some batteries. It was at this time that I ran on to James the
host again. He invited me to come join his family in the shade of their 5th wheel. I accepted, and dragged me up a chair, did some relaxing, and started
exchanging stories! Jame's two young boys were running around having a good time playing, but looked like they needed something to do, so I asked them if
they had any rope or big string, so that I could teach them some knots to use in the outdoors. They came up with some rope, and class was open. Being an
outdoor person, I have a few favorite knots that I use quite a bit, so I started teaching these young men the knots I knew, and explained when to use each
one. They had a good time with the knot tying, and caught on real quick! They practiced and the adults talked. Later I would have to leave for awhile, and
when I returned, the boys had made a game out the knots they had learned, by tying each other to a post by the road. The trick was to see if each could
escape from the others efforts to tie them up!! Go figure!! They were having a blast and they were outdoors, so it all worked out!
After the visit with James and family, I returned to my tent, got money, 10 dollars, and paid for another night at this site, number 15, my home sweet home!!! I
got here Wednesday evening, and it is now Friday afternoon. I am fairly certain the water will be down enough in the morning that I can take get back on the
river and continue my adventure! From the weather reports people are giving me, the rain is gone, and as soon as the water is down far enough, I can take
off. I have to be a little careful of what I do on this adventure, I am using a long canoe and I have it loaded full, so I need to be wise with my decisions. The
old saying, "Haste Makes Waste", could very well apply here. In a smaller boat and with a lot less load, I would have more options. That said, I do not care
much for small boats, canoes, kayaks, etc.. My favorite way to travel on the water is in a large canoe. I have paddled most of the water craft you will see on
the rivers and lakes, and still, the big canoe is my first choice. I spent a week in Lake Superior in a sea kayak, and had a great time, but staying wet all the
time and trying to carry a week of food and gear in a touring kayak is not easy. Not the way I like to travel. Last year I met a man on the Current River in
southern Missouri, who paddled his touring kayak the full length of the Mississippi!!!!! Wow, that was a trip. I forget the longest amount of time he went
without resupplying his food bank. It might have been a few weeks, but he was living on little bags of rice which only needed cold water to rehydrate enough
to eat.. I, on the other hand, take lots of gear. In fact most of time I have two of nearly everything. You name it, I have the main item and a backup for it. I do
not carry two tents, but I do carry one tent and one tarp, which could be used as shelter.
This afternoon, I had some new neighbors move in next door in the campsite just upstream from me.
There were several guys in the group and they had planned to go canoeing at some other location, but with water so high, they were not able to do their
plan, so they changed it to come here and play when the water was lower. The first fellow I talked to was Chris Brammer, who was from Springfield,
Missouri. I think he was a building contractor, who did remodeling. The other fellow I talked to was Jeff, who was also from Springfield, where he was in the
banking business. We had a great chat.
Finally, later in the afternoon, Jerry and his friends returned, in their canoes!!! They make it. Right away, Jerry came over to me and told me I was really
smart to have stayed in camp today!!! He said they had a really great time, but the river was super ruff. So ruff that at one point that the river swamped one
of the canoes!! Just took it under!!! He said the river carried them and the canoe down river for over a quarter of a mile before they could find a place to get
it to shore, empty the water, and get back to floating! That must have been one wild ass ride!!!!!! It is now a fact that I did well by not getting on the river with
the big canoe today! If I had, I could well have gotten into some serious challenges! A heavy canoe and ruff water might not mix well. The canoe I rented is
great fun. It is a 17 foot Buffalo, which rides well, tracks well, has lots of room, etc.. But, when I came through some rapids with it on Tuesday, it took on
some water!! Not much, but just enough to warn me that it had limits!
Today was a light day for phone calls back home. I did call my friend Nancy who is my most devoted follower. She and I have been friends for years and with
modern tech gear, she follows me everywhere. I am not sure how many times she has been to Colorado, but she knows the name of every road without
looking at a map. No matter where I am, she is there with me, at least in spirit. Now days I use a SPOT satellite transmitter to let friends back home know
where I am. My location is transmitted back to select people, where they get an email message with my current GPS coordinates, and a Google map of my
location. Nancy checks this constantly when I am traveling, and she leaves me nice messages to listen to when I get to place where I can get cell reception.
And, I am expected to call her, when I get cell reception. She is the best bodyguard and tracker a person could ask for! If I needed help, I am sure she would
be the first to know about it and have help headed my way... I depend on her a lot. The other person who worries about me when I doing my adventures is
my older friend, Orene, who I call my adopted mom.. She is near 84 year old now and does not do the computer thing, but she prays for me a lot and wants
me to always call and let her know how I am doing.. At my place in Oklahoma, I forgot to tell her I was going to be gone to town and would not return until
after dark sometime. When it got dark and she could not reach me by phone, she made her husband drive her to my place which is about 4 miles away, so
she could check on me. She was scared to death I was in serious trouble, because I work and live alone on the property, when I am there. The property is
very isolated and if I were to get hurt and could not get a satellite message out some way, I would be in trouble. When she arrived, she saw my car was
gone, which she took to mean I must be okay, or else I had been able to go for help, which has happened a few times now. Since that day, I make sure she
knows I when I am leaving and when I will not be around to answer the house phone. Cell phones do not work out there in the country. And, I call her at dark
every day, so that she will know I am okay!! Feels good to know someone cares and that people are looking out for me.
Okay, the plan now is to get everything organized as best I can tonight so that I can have an easy departure tomorrow. I will be required to do 20 miles or
more, to catch up, but that is not a problem, the thing I constantly worry about is finding a place to camp. There just aren't any gravel bars on this river,
compared to others I have been on. I keep thinking I am going to have to sleep in the boat one night on this trip. If I have to do this I will. I will tie the boat off
to a limb that is hanging over the river, let out enough line to keep away from things that might fall from the limb, like a snake, then I will lay on top of my stuff
and go to sleep. I can sleep almost anywhere. Some of my friends have problems sleeping in a bed!!! Campsites really is a problem on this river, and now
the high water is really going to make it a challenge. Actually, my current plan is try to float from campground to campground. On my map, several are shown,
but whether or not I can use them is yet to be seen. I am guessing my plan is going to be changing a lot as I head downstream!!! Over all, day four was a
good day, but I have gotten bored with sitting in a campground, so I am very much ready to get back on the river tomorrow.
To see the memory shots I am sharing for this day, click on this link: Buffalo River Adventure, DAY 04.
Tom Ballard Photography