We went to Columbia Bottoms, a conservation area on the Saint Louis County side of the confluence. It has been mostly closed since last year’s flooding, but has partially reopened as of late. When we went there earlier this year, you could only go to the visitor’s center, which was closed for Covid anyway. The center is still closed, but much of the rest of the area is now open. Like the nearby Riverlands, which is also repurposed floodplain, Columbia Bottoms is all about birds. Unlike the Riverlands, which is a refuge, the Bottoms is more about bird hunting. Farming is still done at the Bottoms, not to grow crops to sell, but to grow crops to attract birds to kill. However, everything is so dry here now that I don’t think this going to be a very good year for hunting. Weather forecasts now include wildfire warnings. What is this place, California? We saw few birds there and none of them were ducks for hunting.
The confluence has always been the highlight of past Bottoms visits. At this point you can look across the Missouri and see Ted Jones state park, where one can put one foot in the Missouri and the other in the Mississippi. Look further and you can also see across the Mississippi to Illinois. The website said that the road to the confluence was closed. You could only drive to within a mile of it and all trails to it were closed, but you were allowed to hike in, at your own risk.
We followed the two-lane blacktop to the confluence from the parking lot. This once wide road was lined with over our head tall grasses that have sprung up since the flood. The road sometimes narrowed considerably, but was easy to walk all the way to the confluence parking lot. There things got considerably more difficult. Even along the road, six-foot tall mounds of silt, lined the pavement. At the parking lot they formed a nearly impenetrable terrain. With our phones we knew where we were and where we wanted to go, but getting there proved more difficult than expected. We only had to go a hundred yards or so. I can’t imagine how people were able to first navigate this country. And think, this transformation of the land has occurred in only a year.
We eventually made it to the river, but some crawling was required. We missed the confluence point by about fifty yards, but so what. It looked like it was in bad shape. When we finally broke through to the river, we also flushed a Bald eagle just a few yards away. We were so surprised that we failed to get any photos. We also made it back to the car. No small feat. Anne was wise enough not to split the party, when I started forging a new path. Otherwise we might still be in those woods calling out, “Marco?”, “Pooh?”
That was an adventure, but we were not done yet. We drove around those roads that were open. We found a wheelchair accessible observation platform whose wire metal railings sang to us in the wind. Our road-closed turnaround point was a boat ramp on the Missouri. This thing was big enough to launch a battleship, but Anne wouldn’t let me drive the RAV4 down it, even a little way. Something about the river’s nine knot current and that look in my eyes scared her.
On our way back we stopped at the canoe put-in. This was on the Mississippi, along a stretch of the river that has no barge traffic, because of the Chain of Rocks. We actually made it down onto the beach here. The picture of the mudcakes shows how dry it is here now and how low the rivers are too. We had a lot of fun and on the way home, realized that we didn’t ever need our masks, because we saw no one there.