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Saturday, April 14, 2001

Full Moon Paddle from Byrnes Lake to Gravine Island
Saturday April 7, 2001


The put in for this paddle was Byrnes Lake, a Baldwin County Park. To
get there, travel north from Spanish Fort on route 225 past Bromley to
mile marker nine. Near mile marker nine, you will be at the crest of a
hill. Below you on the left (west ) side of the road is a green county
parks sign on a brick wall at Byrnes Lake Road. Turn left onto Byrnes
Lake Road and follow it down hill to the boat ramp. The boat ramp is
concrete , but about 20 feet of natural shoreline lies to the left of
the concrete. The ramp has a nice wooden pier if someone wants to fish
from the pier or just hang out. This put in has no comfort station.

We put in boats at 5 p.m. Seven boats and paddlers showed up for this
event. The others went ahead to explore the cove which has a beaver
dam while I waited until 6 for stragglers. By 6:30 we were all on the
Tensaw River paddling downwind in following 2 foot seas against a
noticeable southbound current. The sky had a high overcast with few
breaks. As we rounded the northern tip of the island we were in the
lee and the water was flat calm. Sunlight filtering through the
overcast was plenty to beach the boats and pack our stuff to the top of
the hill. Frank found a suitable log to sit upon and dragged that to
the crest. We set out some ground cover and had snacks as we watched
for the moon to rise. We did see some moon, a rectangular section
peeping through the clouds. Sun set with muted colors. The wind which
was so lively on the river kept the insects away on the crest of the
hill. Just after sunset we saw the silhouette of an eighth paddler
arriving. It's Larry, Sr. He has come to join the fun. We sat
around telling jokes until someone said, "Hadn't we better leave before
it gets dark?" Suddenly it sure was lonely out there; Larry and I were
the last to get packed and leave. We saw luminescent insects, brighter
than fireflies, on the trees and apparently on the water's edge. The
wind had died down and we did not have the seas to contend with on this
crossing. The moonlight was not brilliant but there was enough to tell
trees from sky. Larry had his high powered flashlight which helped us
find the reflector on the cypress tree by the entrance to Byrnes Lake.
Julie had stayed behind at the entrance to do sweep and she held a
flashlight to signal us. In the forest around Byrnes Lake, we heard an
owl or two, saw some fireflies in the trees and heard some very deep
grunting of gators in the vicinity of the beaver dam. We were back at
the take out about 9:00.

Tensaw River Paddle
Wednesday April 11, 2001


Bob Andrews called for a rendezvous at Stockton, Alabama at a BP station
at the junction of 59 and 225. Peggy and her red boat, Mike and his
white Chesapeake, Larry, Larry's son Wilson and Wilson's son Will and
their Kevlar canoe, Bob and his metal Loon, and I met up at the BP
station. Bob led us, starting on the road we take to Rice Creek, but
we by passed that turnoff and went to Bryant's Landing. High water at
Bryant's Landing has flooded all the river-front yards, the road and the
pier. We parked upon some dry ground behind the treeline and carried
our boats down to the water. Then we parked our vehicles higher up the
hill just in case the water rose some more while we were out! The
sight of a street sign half covered in water, a chain link fence covered
so we could just see the top edge and a dumpster surrounded by water up
to the rim seemed odd. Not something I see every day.

We paddled out through someone's yard I suppose or maybe just paddled
down the street to the Tensaw River and turned left. The current was
noticeable but manageable. Bob had done the review last Friday, just 5
days ago and the river had not been this high. He found a channel
through the trees to Douglas Lake. We entered the channel and found an
opposing current. The channel was hard to find initially but once we
were in it, the path was plain to see. It was a curved trail that came
out at Douglas Lake opposite a cypress of about 3 feet in diameter. We
heard a Barred Owl call as we paddled to the left on the lake. Bob
found us another trail into the forest. Six feet below us, there may
be a creek bed, but we were free to go where we wanted in the trees.
This was great!! We were above the understory and all we saw were tree
trunks and a few tree branches at our level. The overhead canopy was
lush and green deciduous leaves. The air was cool in here compared
with the shore; the water was cooler. We paddled in until about 4 p.m.
and stopped. The forest ahead was younger growth and closer
together. Mike took a GPS fix and we paddled east for awhile looking
for a break out onto the river. We saw snails on the tree trunks as
well as enormous Wolf Spiders. Including legs, the Wolf Spiders
covered about as much area as a half dollar. After 15 minutes we
turned right and did a 180 degree turn navigating by GPS back toward our
initial point. Mike and Bob in the lead boats signaled for a quiet
stop. Bob was pointing skyward. Then we saw a Barred Owl swoop down
and fly away. Navigating by GPS returned us to Douglas Lake 50 feet
from the point we entered the forest!

We had a snack break on Douglas Lake in front of an old growth cypress
left by loggers because it lost its crown and split down the trunk. It
was not quite as wide as my paddle is long (2.3 meters).So that is what
an old growth specimen looks like....We saw a very small snake swimming
past Mike's boat. Wilson took a picture of it.

We paddled east southeast to the entrance of Douglas Lake past young
cypress trees and entered an oxbow of the Tensaw. As we broke out on
the river we heard more owls calling behind us. The water is way up.
We saw forever wild signs within one foot of the river surface.
Normally we see these types of signs 6-8 feet above our heads. Since
our maps were made, the river has cut through the oxbow leaving an
island and a backwater without much current. We hugged the left shore
anticipating the river current would sweep us left to right when we
cleared the island in the oxbow, and we went one lap around the oxbow.
A pair of great egrets stayed ahead of us a quarter mile away.

We continued down river to a creek on the left bank upstream of a high
bluff. At the entrance of the creek we saw steeply rising ground on
our right and some flowering bushes of mountain laurel. The mountain
laurel flowers were white tinged with pink and had blooms that were
about two to three inches across. Inside the creek we were again in
the forest taking a random path through the woods. We were floating
among the tree trunks above the understory. Eventually the creek
became closed even to our boats. Mountain laurel was thriving on the
slopes on three sides around us. A walking path angled down through
the brush and disappeared into the water, which was thick with bits of
flower parts from trees. Paddling out into the bright light on the
river we turned left again down river and admired this 40 foot bluff
covered with blooming mountain laurel. We saw one buckeye in flower.
The flowers were red slender trumpets. Wild azalea apparently is under
water. They were visible last Friday on the review. The current is
not swift since the right bank is flooded into the forest giving the
river more area to spread itself.

Near the end of the bluff we were back to human development. Wooden
staircases come down to the water from somewhere higher than we can see
through the thick trees. One small house boat is floating at the same
level as the top of a TV aerial. A row of floating homes that are
linked together with wooden Japanese style bridges are for sale. A
boat tied to the shore resembles the SS Minnow. Bryant's Landing and
flooded yards and streets welcome us back no worse than when we left.

With the high water, I think that this trip turned out to be a lot more
fun than we anticipated. Thanks.

We were taking out our boats by 6:30 in plenty of time for supper at the
new Stagecoach restaurant.