Archive for the ‘rivers’ Category

Since I’ve traditionally posted river-running reports and photos here, for lack of a specifically better place to do so, thought I’d provide a pointer now that I’ve gotten around to creating a specifically better place to do so. It’s called The River Road, and it’s henceforth where I’ll be posting river trip pics. Over time, I’ll also be repurposing old river material from this and other blogs over at The River Road, until ultimately that site should have a comprehensive river-running archive for at least as far back as I can find stuff. Until then, consider it a work in progress.

Thanks for checking it out, and be in touch.


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Devils River, Texas, October 2011. My first paying job to combine paddling, picture-taking, and writing. More like this, please.

Oh, and since this is ostensibly about books, here’s Devils River, Treacherous Twin to the Pecos, 1535-1900, by Patrick Dearen, which I fortuitously found at the TCU Press booth while browsing the Texas Book Festival in Austin on my post-river layover.

Note the lack of apostrophe, accuracy confirmed by the United States Geographical Service’s Geographic Names Information System, keepers of river names. Multiple devils, none of them claiming dominion. Curious, that.

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One of my fondest river-tripping memories is from the Buffalo River in northwest Arkansas, late 2001 I think. I was paddling a canoe and two dogs down a three-night jaunt, and one morning I found myself rounding a bend where a road dead-ended into an overlook. There was a car there, and a couple standing on the bank of a bluff a bit above me. They seemed excited to see someone on the river and the woman asked me where I was going. When I named the spot where I planned to take out a few days later, she pointed downstream and told me my destination was thataway.

Well no shit.

Which raises the question of why a river tripper would need a river map. You’re going thataway—thataway being downstream—until you get there. Otherwise, you’re working way too hard. And going the wrong way.

True enough, as far as it goes, and most of my river-running has been map-free, with the occasional exceptions of guidebooks identifying access points.

Salmon River, Idaho, October 2010.

But 80-mile wilderness whitewater trips on permitted and camping-limited rivers are different. It can be good to know when it’s starting to get dark that the tent-friendly sandbar next to the creek on river right is the last such opportunity for eight miles. It can be good to know which beachable slackwater is just a short hike from the Indian pictographs. Or the hot springs. And it can be good to know whether the next rapid is a read-and-run Class II or something hairier that you’d really rather pull out and scout.

So when I got a chance to glom on to a late-October run down the Salmon River in Idaho a few weeks ago, I bit the bullet and dropped $23.95 for this map covering the Middle Fork and main-stem Salmon. It’s produced by an outfit called RiverMaps out of Buda, Texas (which produces a whole series of western-state whitewater river maps) and it’s brilliant. For one thing, the maps are oriented such that when you strap it onto the cooler in front of you, both the right-side map and the left-side points-of-interest progress toward the top of the page, downstream, where you’re headed. I don’t know why all river maps aren’t made this way, but they’re not.

The coup de grace is that it’s waterproof. Mine got soaked, sloshed and sandblasted (and frozen into a hard roll when I left it on the porch the cold-ass night I got back), but with a defrost and a few swipes from a rag, it’s good as new.

Which is sweet, because I sure as hell hope to get a chance to use it again. This was my second trip on the so-called River of No Return, and I don’t expect to get tired of it anytime soon.

I’ve got some TRIP PICTURES ON FLICKR if you care to take a look.

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river rocks

Okay, this doesn’t have anything to do with books, but I’m going to post it anyway because I like it.

This is a little film thingie I made at the request of the Huron River Watershed Council in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They’re planning to run it as the outro end of their upcoming Miller Creek Film Festival, which is a community PSA-type thing they hold every March.

This is my first sustained experiment with iMovie. And I’d like to thank and apologize to the Texas band Toadies, whom I dig, dig, dig, for poaching their music, which is being appropriated here for completely non-commercial uses. TURN IT UP!

Also, since this has more to do with rivers than with books, I might as well take advantage of the occasion to cross-post to my new blog, WATERWORKS, which I’m just ramping up to aggregate river news. I’m not entirely sure why I’m doing that, but hope to figure that out along the way. One possible reason is so I can get more or less back to books in this space.

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Black ice is that thin sheet of solidly frozen rain that refracts no light and so is invisible adhered to the road.

It also seems a fitting enough title for the photo above, which I took from my canoe on Ann Arbor’s Huron River earlier this month, below Barton dam, where the spillway had kept half a mile of the river from freezing completely over.

Black Ice is also the predictably cheesy name of the album behind which AC/DC was touring Dec. 6 when I saw them in Buenos Aires’ Estadia River Plate with 70,000 amped-up Argentinians. You have got to see this video. Check out the floor scene about a minute in. That’s where I was.

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This book took me longer to read than most. I set it aside for long stretches, but those stretches rarely felt as long as the stretches I spent reading it.

File this one under corporate history; fawning. It’s by some once-well-regarded hack of a newspaperman (below; author crosses self) who apparently found himself consumed by copper. The first that I found was this, at left, a hagiographic history of the Anaconda Copper Company, the mining behemoth based in Butte, Montana that dominated that state’s economy, politics, and media for the first half of the 20th century and beyond. It was sold off in 1977. BP owns its trail of destruction.

I can’t resist: Anaconda (1957) is the literary equivalent of hard-rock mining. It’s dark, dusty work and you come up with what feels like about $2 a day. I’m only reading it on the off-chance that I might remember something about it that might inform a book I might be trying to write about the Clark Fork River, which as a result of Anaconda’s operations became the most geographically extensive EPA Superfund cleanup site in the U.S., slushed full of toxic mine tailings and bleeding arsenic, a status from which it’s undergoing dramatic remediation.

Not once is an environmental concern or consequence mentioned in Isaac Marcosson’s Anaconda, which is probably the most lasting bit of learning I’ll glean from it. In official circles, nobody knew, and/or nobody cared, and/or it just didn’t matter, because there was so damn much money to be made.

Marcosson came to the subject matter organically, having already written a history of the colonial roots of the American copper refining industry: Copper Heritage (1955). It pretty much started with Paul Revere. And here I’d always thought of Revere as a silver man.

I can’t say when or if I’ll get around to reading Copper Heritage. I know Marcosson’s style now. The Anaconda Company didn’t get rich mining low-grade ore.

Much more fun and at least as informative in this endeavor is The Copper Kings of Montana, a Landmark Book about the epic territorial, litigious and legislative shit-storms between Marcus Daly and William Clark and Frederick Augustus Heinze that preceded Anaconda’s emergence as king of the Butte hill (a hill, in the middle of an American city, that the company later stripped into a pit).

The Copper Kings is peppered with two-color illustrations, prose a sixth-grader could understand (author crosses self), and a childlike appreciation for a little good conflict to move the story along. Anaconda didn’t get to be the largest and most powerful mining conglomerate in the world without stepping on a few toes (or destroying a few rivers), Marcosson unconvincingly to the contrary.

The Copper Kings is simplified truth for sure, a child’s-eye view, but in a lot of ways it’s a much more sophisticated book than Anaconda— a title so enslaved to its master that even a kid could see the chainsPlus: pictures!

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Last weekend I traveled with my fellow fellows to northern Michigan, in the neighborhood of Boyne City and Lake Charlevoix, for some quality time with the leaves. I stayed over on Sunday and paddled about four blustery hours down the Jordan River, Michigan’s first-designated Wild and Scenic such. Spectacular.

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Right now this is my favorite photo from my recent canoe trip on the North Fork of the Flathead River in northwest Montana, even though it’s one of the few that wasn’t taken from the boat.

This is from the drive up, where the pavement stops, looking across the North Fork into Glacier National Park, maybe 20 miles south of Polebridge, which is about 16 miles south of the Canadian border, which is where we put the boats in.

We spent two nights and parts of three days on the river. THERE ARE MORE PICTURES ON MY FLICKR PAGE.

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The end of the Blackfoot

The end of the Blackfoot



I’m in Missoula Montana at the moment, sitting on the front porch of my friends Al and Ginger’s house. It’s just as pleasant as could be. This is the 11.5th day of a 12-day trip, three quarters of that sick with an unseasonal head cold, one day deathly, the others just stuffy and fogged.

I’ve lost $120 over two nights playing poker and never once been in danger of winning. Goddamn I love it here.

I found and bought some sweet books but I don’t have the scanner with me so those will have to wait. I’m having two small boxes shipped back to me in Austin, so that I can pack them in a U-Haul and drive them to Ann Arbor in a month. Makes perfect sense to me.

There’ve been two river trips, a 2-night on the North Fork of the Flathead and a day raft on the Blackfoot. I got sick fast driving up to the North Fork and by the time we made camp on the river that night I thought I was going to die. My throat turned raw and my head clogged up and I got terrible heartburn and I threw up twice and I couldn’t sleep because the mucous kept trying to drown me and all things considered I think it was the worst night I have ever spent in a tent. I got zero rest and spent the next day in a small bad place floating through the middle of a very large best place.

The Blackfoot was as splendid and sunny an afternoon booze cruise as ever was launched.


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P1010348This is Caddo Lake, in northeast Texas, near the township of Uncertain. You probably recognize it from the picture, which looks almost exactly like 48 quadrillion other pictures of Caddo Lake. It’s sort of a ridiculous place to take pictures.

But a friend and I went up there last weekend and paddled around and took some pictures anyway. Here’s another one.

P1010363This was a little sloughy connector between higher-traffic channels. It had some current in it, which I wasn’t expecting, and this was taken after we’d paddled upstream and intersected a waterway called Government Ditch, which was a mostly straight-edged cut through the swamp buzzing with bassboats and jet skis. Man I fucking hate jet skis.

We’d just turned around and were headed back downstream toward the main lake when I took that img040picture. In another 20 minutes we’d pass again an alligator that I’m putting at a considered and solid 10 feet. It just sank and swirled when we’d passed it coming upstream, and surprised us, since the local word is that gators are a rare backwater sight, despite the place being lousy with them. When we passed it going back we didn’t even see it, just suddenly heard it over our right shoulders on shore, thrashing like something very heavy trying to snap something else’s neck. That time put the heebie-jeebies into me.

At the flea market in Uncertain, headed out of town, I found this absolute score for the budding river books collection. The subtitle—”A history of the conquistadors, voyageurs, and charlatans who discovered, opened up, and exploited the Father of Waters”—is worth the $2 all by itself, even if it weren’t a first.

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