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Our four intrepid voyageurs (Rick, Brian, Josh & Phil) ventured out Friday just before 6:00 p.m. on May 30 in two Old Towns, one fiberglass and the other Royalex. We planned to float the Iowa River from Iowa Falls to Eldora. We put in at Foster Park on the west side of Iowa Falls. Although there is not a developed canoe ramp here, the park abuts the river, and the put-in was easy.
After a short 25-minute paddle under the swinging bridge (an Iowa Falls landmark), the Washington Street bridge, the River Street Bridge, and the Oak Street bridge [Yikes—this one was in poor shape!] we came to the Iowa Falls dam with a portage on river right. The portage was built in 1991 and could use some work. A few places are starting to wash out. The steps down were very steep, but we were able to successfully lug our boats and gear. Current below the dam was swift. Mist was rising from the 15-foot cascade, and the roar of the falling water put an extra bit of caution into our efforts; we did not want to dump here. We adjusted our PFD’s accordingly and peeled out into the current. As it turned out, it was not as bad as it looked and we continued on our way.
Another ¼ mile downstream we spotted a horizon line along the river indicating a drop. We pulled over on river left to scout what looked like an old concrete dam with a breach in the middle. Phil and Josh decided to lift their boat over, but Brian and I picked our slot and made a run. The standing wave on the bottom of the chute came in over the bow, but didn’t really bother us. We quickly sponged out the water and were off again.
There were several islands in this stretch with what seemed like good flows in all channels, but at one juncture Phil and Josh veered right to bypass another small ledge and the current dragged them into a strainer-clogged channel. They dumped. The water was shallow and no harm was done. One PFD was temporarily lost, but we found it snagged on the next strainer downstream and successfully retrieved it. Recovering from the swamping chewed up time, and we did not make it to our intended overnight camping location, an island about a mile downstream from Cross Ford.
Instead we pulled into Cross Ford about 8:30, pitched our tents, lit a fire and dined sumptuously on macaroni & cheese, hot dogs, lemonade, and assorted munchies. We were dismayed to find that someone recently used the park to dump an old water heater, and that litter dotted the entire area. Makes me wish Iowa would place trash receptacles in all parks, and that everyone would learn to respect our environment. By the time we left, all burnable trash met its end in our fire. The water heater remains.
The wind blew fiercely all night, with meteorologists indicating gusts up to 50 mph. Our tents were up to the challenge and we rose shortly after six to start the fire. We learned that bagels toasted over an open fire taste great. Coupled with piping hot oatmeal and fruit, breakfast left us ready to paddle. Our destination lay 23 miles further downstream: Pine Lake State Park in Eldora.
Saturday started off cool and windy, but by late morning it was time for short sleeves and sun block. Along the way we came upon many deer, including a newborn fawn. We also saw a raccoon, beaver, muskrat, two water snakes, assorted turtles, ducks, and geese, several turkey vultures, many great blue herons, two turkeys, three Baltimore orioles, a few kingfishers, several flocks of cedar waxwings, and two great horned owls. The greenbelt along the Iowa sustains an incredible amount of wildlife, and it was enjoyable viewing them. No eagles today, however.
We took a short break at Eagle City, and again at a gravel bar to stretch our legs. It seemed to take a long time to get to Steamboat, our planned lunch spot; we were hungry! At 1:00 we finally pulled into the campground above the Steamboat Rock dam and ate our lunch. Brian and Josh then double-packed the portage while Phil and I carried our boats so we could make it with a single carry.
Some of the prettiest scenery we encountered was along this next stretch, with large cliffs and bluffs galore. From Steamboat we now have approximately a two-hour paddle left until Pine Lake Park. An hour or so above Pine Lake we stopped at an odd bridge to survey the countryside and walk out the stiffness in our legs. The bridge was odd because it did not have a road leading up to it from either direction. It just spanned the river without any method of reaching it from either side. Why was it built and by whom? Inquiring minds want to know.
At 3:30 we came to the take out on river left. After ice cream in Eldora we split up and went our ways, richer for the time spent in good company.
So many rivers, so little time...
TAKE-OUT: 175 east out of Eldora. Follow signs to Pine Lake State Park.