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So, we drove into the area from I-44 from St. Louis and turned south in Cuba on Route 19 through Steelville and Salem. I was not aware, but this entire area has very poor cellphone coverage and neither my brother nor I would have any reception at all for the next few days...yea, pretty nice.
So, I had read about this Pulltite Campground that is right on the river so we decided to camp there for the evening and see about finding a shuttle in the a.m. Since I am from southeast Texas, I was not too familiar with camping "season", but after coming back from New England, I was well aware that many campgrounds close for the winter... so we were happy to find the gates open when we arrived, although there was no one else there. And I do mean NO ONE! All the showers and bathrooms were locked up except the main one near at the headquarters, and even there, the hot water was not turned on...no worries. At least they had the courtesy of leaving the campground open, and with no fees at that!
After taking our choice of ANY of the campsites, we quickly gathered some of the abundant firewood and got the fire going as it was getting dark, and pretty cool too. Since this was a Sunday night and the off season I was a little concerned about finding a shuttle in the morning, but the campfire seems to calm most fears... that and many beers.
The next morning we got up and drove to the little store just up the road to see about a shuttle. Apparently this area is a massive paddle destination, as the hundreds upon hundreds of canoes, buses, and many liveries we passed evidenced, so I hoped it wouldn't be too difficult to find someone who would be willing to shuttle us... even on a Monday... in December!
So, when we arrived at the store there were a couple of people there, the owner and a local talking over coffee. When I asked about the shuttle the owner said something like well, I'm the only one here right now and...yada yada yada. But...the other person who was there, the local said he wasn't too busy and that he wouldn't mind helping us out for oh...say 10$. Well it didn't take the store owner any time to interject that that was about half of what he should be charging, as that would hardly even cover his own gas. No problem, I was happy just to be able to get the shuttle so easily so we agreed to give him 10$ each, still a great deal.
So, we went back to Pulltite and dropped his vehicle and headed out to Akers Ferry which is about 7 or 8 miles upstream. By then it was nearly 11am, so we unloaded our kayaks and gear, waved goodbye, and headed downstream on a beautiful sunny day, highs in the 60's, and not another paddler on the river! I love the off season!
I had wanted to do this section because I had read about a cave that you can paddle into from the river, which I immediately put on my "list". So we drifted downstream, passing river otters, and following a pair of bald eagles as we went. Slight riffles in between flatwater to keep it interesting. Gravelbars and bluffs lining the river all along the way, and the crystal clear waters of the spring fed river below... so clear you can see your shadow floating along the river bottom below.
It seemed like we had gone quite a ways, and I was beginning to wonder if we had missed the cave, but soon it appeared before us on river left. A little smaller than I had imagined, but still very cool. We had arrived at a nice time of day too, as the sun was streaming down right into the waters inside the first chamber of the cave, lighting up the water with an almost fluorescent aquamarine hue that can be achieved in no other way than with the sun penetrating the beautifully fresh water emanating from a spring.
There was only one more small chamber beyond the first, both about the size of a small bedroom, and the spring was pushing out just enough water to gently flow outward from the cave. After taking it all in, and getting the pics we headed down river, as the days are short this time of year, and it tends to get cool at night.
We saw a few other species along the way, a sucker fish, some water fowl, but no other humans. We arrived back at Pulltite just as dusk was arriving, pleased to find my rig parked exactly where it was supposed to be.
While we were riding with the local that shuttled us, we had discovered that he actually ran a little campground in the area - Camp Little Zoe, which he invited us back to for the evening, if we were so inclined. And being that there was a hot shower available... we were so inclined.
We learned that this camp is what remains of a huge hippie festival that was once held on sinking creek, just below the camp. It had been raided just a couple of years earlier by the FBI, ATF, homeland security, CIA, NSA, and any of those other evil government authorities that hate hippies. The land taken and the owner is currently in prison, even though it was actually proven that he was not engaging in any illegal activity. Very interesting story and worthy of a little research if that kind of thing interests you. The website for the festival was still up when I last looked, the festival was called shwagfest.
Anyway, Camp Little Zoe is still open, and consists of a group of old rv's which are available to camp in, and a mobile home which contains a kitchen and bathroom with....YES...a hot shower. Not a bad deal for the 10$ camping fee. There are also some remnants of shwagfest decorating the camp, including some sacred terrapin sculptures playing musical instruments.
The next morning we got up and headed out back towards Texas as the weather was supposed to turn on us...snow and ice were right on our heels, but we did have time to sightsee just a bit. The Missouri Ozarks are a beautifully serene place this time of year, and hell, nobody had called us anyway so what's the rush (he,he).
Our last stop in the area was to scout Jack's Fork, which is now top priority for my next paddling trip to the area. We found a secret spot that was so beautiful that I can't even tell you where it's at... otherwise it wouldn't be a secret!
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