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Saturday, April 19, 2003

THE BASIN - Wilderness Waters for Paddling
by Frank Laraway

Some eighteen miles north of the Causeway occurs The Basin (not to be confused with Bay Minette Basin) and numerous creeks in a wilderness setting. The general area has been cut over in the distant past but appears entirely healed and now seems virgin. It has absolutely no civilization, save for the I-65 expressway occurring two miles north of its main waters. It is a favorite place for fishermen. Aside from its remoteness and distance to get there, it has excellent paddling potential. The many side creeks are ideal for small boats.

Bruce Zimmerman and I paddled it and its many side creeks toward the west, over a year ago. However, we did paddle a long way (about 13 miles round trip) just to get there. So this time, I set out in a large pram with two friends to motor it and the many creeks that occur around it. It was a fast boat so we explored almost all of the side creeks also.

It is best accessed by traveling north on Highway 225 passed Hurricane, to Cliff's Landing. The landing and launch is the biggest in the county, having both an egress and separate exit set of ramps, plus Porta Potties, picnic tables, docks and a bar and restaurant. On weekends and holidays there are more than one hundred boats and trailers using this facility at any one time. It has a large parking lot designed for boat trailers as well as docks on the Tensaw River.

To get to The Basin one boats down river toward the south west, a mile and one half, toward the railroad tracks to enter Negro Lake and then on up to The Basin by either the east or west channel. In the middle between these two channels leading north to The Basin, is a large island. On the sides of these two channels are numerous small streams that extend well back in the delta. These side branches harbor much wildlife, especially water birds.

The land is all low and swampy. There is no dry place to get out of the boat. However, this characteristic is what has protected it from development. It can be a disadvantage to the boater so plan accordingly.

Along the sides of the water ways, the most common trees are red bay, cypress, black gum and water hickory. They are all filled with drooping Spanish moss. The waters are full of floating and submerged plants, most native but some invasive.

Song birds are scarce at this time of year. The pileated woodpecker can be heard out in the swamp and the swallow tailed hawk, the osprey and several other hawks can be seen soaring when the wind is brisk. The osprey are now nesting and calling. There is large osprey nest in the northernmost waters with a bird nesting. Farther down the big river nests occur in the high voltage line towers that cross the river near the rail road.

Oddly enough, practically no flowers are seen in this area at this spring time of the year. The habitat differs considerably from that farther south near the causeway where the spider lilies are now blooming.

This area is of the delta is now mostly protected from development and is excellent for paddle boating. It should be recognized for what it is: remote, a long way from anything, a good and hard paddle, especially if the wind is active.

However, the side creeks offer some of the best potential for kayak paddling. Weekdays are best for small boats since the bass boats are active during weekends and holidays. It is especially a good area to go to see birds that are active over water. The swallow tail kikes soar there when there is wind.
Canoe Botanist Report
by Aven Warner

Sunday, April 13, Upper Bryant Landing Flower Report. The river was flooded, what a wonderful surprise. Bob and I got to paddle through the flooded timber. The other reason to go to Upper Bryant Landing in April is to see the Mountain Laurel Blooming on the bluff just north of the boat landing. Many of the buds were swollen but still closed so this weekend would still be a prime time to visit. The Stage Coach Cafe is open till 9pm on Sunday and the lunch buffet remains open until 4pm. So of course we ate before we paddled. A full tummy seems to make the ooh and aah process of the flower surprises more enjoyable. Here is the complete list: Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia), Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus), Yellow Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), Red Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), Pink Azalea (Azalea arborescens) at the end of its prime but look for the red stamens, Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), American Wisteria ( Wisteria frutescens), American Holly (Ilex opaca), yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), Blackberry ( Rubus species), Hawthorne (Crataegus species). Just when you think you are so clever you get two Hawthorne's that do not seem to in my books! Try to get out and enjoy the flower surprises at Upper Bryant Landing. When you pay your launch fee (normally $4.00) tell them you are going out in your canoe and the fee is only $2.00.

Tuesday, April 15, Boiling Creek. The Red Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia drummondii) are coming up. I have never seen them in April as the buds unfurl and the new flower petals are so soft and succulent before they get leathery. Also the Parrot's Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia psittacina) was blooming. Soft pink petals seem to fall off early as judging by the other two flowers next to it. Get your passes renewed now so you will be ready for the next trip.

Wednesday, April 16, Whiskey Ditch Full Moon Paddle. The Spider Lilies (Hymenocallis occidentalis) and Blue Flag Iris are not at their full glory yet probably due to the cool nights. Another reason to check it out again later. The sunset was great and the moon came up in all its orange glory.

Thursday, April 17, Juniper Creek, Florida Bob called to report that there were Mountain Laurel blooming in several spot on Juniper Creek. This is the first time he has been to Juniper Creek in April. We can all mark our mental botanical calender for later trips. So many flowers so little time.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Paddle Report: Styx River Rapids
Tuesday, April 15, 2003
by Frank Laraway

After making a 8:00 a. m. meeting at the intersection of Highways 59, 90 and 68 just north of Loxley, Bruce Zimmerman and I headed east on 68 to Brady Road and the "steel bridge" crossing of the Styx River. We put in on the NW side of the bridge, intending to run the rapids below several times, paddle a bit down river and then be home by 12 noon. By a series of decisions to increase the scope of our paddle, we ended up on a 12 mile paddle trip, half of which was upstream against a good current.

The river had dropped considerably from only five days ago so we were obliged to put in from a muddy bar under the bridge rather than the steep bank. The rock rapids is only about 1500 feet down stream from the bridge so we quickly arrived there to shoot the rapids.

Bruce had a very short Swifty kayak but no cockpit skirt. Although I nose-dived into the hydraulic at the bottom of the five-foot drop, my skirt kept the water out of the cockpit. Bruce did the same but took on a good bit of water through the open cockpit. Neither of us went rolled over. The water was quite clear though showing some indications of pollution, probably coming in at its origin in Bay Minette above.

Then we decided to paddle down stream just a bit. We had decided earlier not to shuttle our cars to the Wilcox Road Bridge below, but to paddle back up stream instead. We coasted and coasted while several times asking each other if we should turn around and paddle back to our cars. In no time at all, we came to the mouth of Hollingers' Creek. With the intent of paddling up this stream just a bit against the swift current, we entered the mouth of the creek and kept going. Then we kept meeting our challenge to go further, then to go all the way to the Hollinger bridge. If we had brought our topo map, we would have seen that it was over five miles to the bridge. We were not sure how far that might be. We just kept laboring against the current, stopping from time to time to drink water, eat and cool off in the water.

This creek is bordered by the usual ty-ty trees that over hang the water, Florida maples, cypress, short leaf pine and white cedar. We saw or heard osprey, cardinals, jays, river crows and tanagers for bird life. We passed over several iron stone rock outcrops. Unfortunately, the west side of the creek had been thoroughly clear cut. We found ourselves tired and late so we rapidly passed down stream, sometimes hanging up on logs across the creek, narrowly passing under those suspended and dodging through the many underwater logs. Missing the upriver turn at the mouth, we went all the way down to the Wilcox Bridge. It was a tough paddle back up against the current, and time-consuming. We got to our vehicles at 4:00 p. m. and raced home. It was a tough 12 miles, a much longer paddle than we had ever intended.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Frank Laraway writes us:

Here are some recent paddles that I have made that may give others some background as to the conditions on these rivers at this time:

MIDDLE STYX RIVER above and below "steel bridge" - Friday, April 11.
This put-in can be reached from the west by taking Hwy 59 to north of Loxley, then east on CR 64 following many jogs over I-10, which turns into Brady Road that passes over the water. Put-in at either north or south side of the bridge on steep and inconvenient west side of bridge.

The water, due to rains, was about 18" above normal. It had some turbidity but was not muddy. We elected to paddle up river about a mile, coasting back past the Brady bridge to about 1000 feet below to pass over the rock falls there. The water is great for shooting this rapid. The water completely covered the wide rock outcrop there that day. We passed on down below the bridge for less than a mile and paddle back to the rapids, pulling our boats around them, paddling back to our truck at the bridge.

The flowers blooming there were the spring ty-ty and angel hair. All the trees had budded with their vivid colored leaves. The trees along this area are red and Florida maples, short leaf pines, sweet bay and big flower magnolias, cypress and black gum and others. Saw virtually no bird life.

BAY MINETTE CREEK at Bromley - Saturday, April 12.
Take Hwy 225 north from Spanish Fort, passing Blakeley, then taking the first paved road hair pin left down to old Bromley, Sibly's Mills and bridge at Bay Minette Creek. Put in on the right, parking space now limited, go down river toward Busby's Landing but only about three miles. Put in on SW side of bridge, muddy at lower tide.

The flowers here are local and original. The bank is thick with pink rhododendron or Mountain Laurel, mostly the water, some dog wood still in bloom, more spring ty-ty along the water. Far up the hill on clay soils are wild azalea. Tide was close to high in the afternoon, boats and fishermen in abundance (go on week days if you wish to avoid this). No sign of bald eagles or osprey that are often seen along this creek.

COW PEN CREEK & FISH RIVER - Saturday, April 12, late afternoon, tide high.
We took CR 33 south from 48 to River Creek Drive to put in at a private residence along this creek. The river can be accessed from end of Hwy 33 where it meets the river, having turned east. We put in up river, nearer to Clay City. Passing down the narrow Cow Pen Creek, we turned north at its mouth at Fish River. Just below Clay City, we turned in west to the concealed entry to Horse Shoe Bend, an old oxe bow of the main river, now cut off but still undeveloped and unchanged since many years. Clay City homes are now coming close to it. Passing back out into the river, we went to the back side of an island that has its passage blocked off by a walk and siltation on the north side. We backed out this old passage of Poll Cat Creek, passed around west, entered the same creek the other way for only a short distance, then back to Fish River, up to Clay City, then paddling rapidly back to our put in. The tide was still moderately high as we approached a full moon to come. Cow Pen Creek is tight and fully developed with residences on the south bank. Fishermen in bass boats and Sunday family boats were numerous in creek and river. We had extremely pleasant weather.