Years ago I presented a workshop in Winona, MN and stayed at a hotel in LaCrosse. As I was driving to the hotel I watched the Mississippi River and thought it would be interesting to camp along it and to kayak in it. As we plotted our route from Washington to Michigan, LaCrosse was right on the way and I thought it would be fun to act on my thoughts from long ago.
We stayed at the Pettibone Resort on Barren Island in the Mississippi River. This is a nice RV park with many sites that are right on the water. We originally made a plan to paddle up through the backwaters and portage out to the main channel of the Mississippi River then ride the current back to the campground. However, Wednesday morning we found a good spot to launch directly into the west branch of the Mississippi. We discovered that the current wasn’t flowing too fast and we tried paddling into the current in the main channel. It wasn’t hard so we ended up paddling all the way around the island.
We saw barges being pushed by a tow boat downstream. On the far shore we watched a stern-wheeler river boat leaving its dock to head upriver, both a reminder of the major forms of river traffic on the Mississippi. On the shore of the island we saw a row of houseboats, some of them more house than boat. All of this gave us a sense of what life on the Mississippi might be like.
Past the houseboats we saw several turtles sunning themselves on logs along the shore. No matter how quietly we paddled, as we approached they slid off the logs like a row of dominoes. Further upriver we played tag with a large blue heron that would launch itself off its perch as we approached and fly upriver until we caught up with it and the process started all over again. Finally it took off for the far shore and the game was over.
It wasn’t especially hard paddling upriver, but we breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the head of the island and turned downriver. We paddled past more houseboats, including one that I particularly liked.
As we passed the campground we saw some campsites that were occupied by long-term campers that had gazebos, decks, and potted plants. While it’s nice to have a place to go on a regular basis, I prefer our style of staying long enough in an area to see everything we want to see and then moving on to another location. After more than five years on the road there is still more to see.
The next morning we were on our way to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan.