2020 Buffalo River Canoeing
This was a huge adventure for me and my son Sebastian, now eight years old, in complete wilderness. We only saw four fireflies at night, since our trip happened at the end of summer.
Our adventure was a three-day canoeing trip on Buffalo River in Arkansas on Labor day weekend September 4th through September 8th 2020, plus two days of driving, one day there and one day back. We did fishing and saw lots of animals - long nose gars, sunfish, otters, armadillos, blue herons, bald eagles, kingfishers and more. We were in nature and hardly saw any humans during the three days, but we saw such beautiful scenery and wildlife. The first two nights, Sebastian was missing his friends and mama, so he cried before going to bed, but other than that we had a great time.
The other challenge was that he didn't want to swim in the water for the first two days despite it being in the high 80s and sunny, because he was afraid of the gars. He thought they could bite him. Yes, we did see a huge 4ft long gar in the water, but I wish he had more fun going in the water and cooling off. On the last day he went in the water to have fun after I read online that there have been no cases of gar biting people in the water. I think if he had some friends around, he would be more likely to go in the water.
Most of the videos and photos were shot on a GoPro Hero 4 and a few on my cell phone.
I definitely recommend going on warm summer days, since the amount of clothes and sleeping bags is smaller, and it is easy to refresh in the water. The whole time we wore swim shorts and sometimes a shirt to protect us from the sun.
Total spending for the trip was $130, which covered gas and one $30 night stay in a campground. That is right! Hard to beat that :-) Canoe was borrowed, so we didn't pay the rental, otherwise you can expect about $40-$60 extra per day. Carrying a canoe on the car increased gas by about $20.
First Day:It took 7.5 hours from Fairfield, Iowa to Woolum, Arkansas. We mounted the canoe on the top of the van and then we were on our way. That night we slept inside the van. An exciting part of the trip, a big adventure during the day, was a stop in Bass Pro Shop in Columbia, MO. They had a huge aquarium with gars and other fish.
In the morning we prepared the canoe by the river and parked the car in the primitive campground with a dry toilet. Right after we started floating, we noticed gars in the water which was great, because Sebastian wanted to see them in the wild.
Father and son, ready for a big adventure:
In the afternoon we saw a family of otters who were poking their heads out of the water, and chewing just caught fish.
It was getting late in the afternoon, so we asked fellow floaters if we could set up our tent near theirs on a sand bar next to the river. We started a fire, and made toast with cheese. Sebastian loved the simple dinner. We saw a couple of fireflies high up in the trees through the screen of the tent.
We woke up to a glorious misty river morning, full of quiet nature sounds. I set up a GoPro to do a time-lapse and we started fishing. Suddenly we saw something white, about a foot long, perpendicular to the river, floating up stream. It started to come closer to us, and we noticed it was a fish inside the gar's mouth. Wow, what a sight. Not sure why the gar came to see us.
Right after that, I caught a large-mouth bass. Pretty good size but Sebastian didn't want to cook it, so we let it go.
Glorious misty river morning:
In the afternoon we caught a sunfish and we decided to keep it in the bucket. Later we found a place where gars were hunting and we decided to use the sunfish as a bait. It worked, but the gar broke off our fish and fishing hook. Sebastian caught more tiny fish, minnows, with his net, and with them we caught another sunfish. We doubled down on hooks, and threw in the sunfish again. This time the gar put on some fight. As we were pulling him closer to the shore, it saw us and let go of the sunfish. At the next attempt the gar broke our line, and Sebastian was sad that the gar got one of our favorite spinners. We lost three sunfish, some hooks and a spinner. Sebastian almost cried, as this was an intense experience for him. Not catching the gar, seeing them, fighting with them, and losing what he said was his favorite spinner. We will be more prepared, ready for the next time, with better hooks and techniques.
A place where we were catching gars:
We set up a tent on the large sandbar with small rocks, made a fire and toasted bread with cheese like we did the previous night. We also roasted Asian pear from our garden and it was delicious. Sebastian got sad again, and told me we should go home tomorrow. Well, the next day he told me he wanted to stay more days, and he wanted to move there :-) That night we saw again a couple of fireflies in the trees.
We were not catching fish while floating, so we could finish our trip on time as planned, as per Sebastian's request. We got to Tyler Bend Campground around noon. It was quite early, so we decided to fish for gars again, which we saw right at the entrance to the campground. As we were paddling to the area with the gars, Sebastian noticed a huge gar right under the canoe. Sebastian and the gar got startled. While we were fishing we asked people floating by if we could catch a ride back to our van. Within a few minutes we found a friendly couple who gave us a ride on the back of their pickup truck. They didn't ask for any money, since they were going to the same place.
We got there early so we could relax:
It was still early so Sebastian wanted to go to another campground. We drove about an hour to one of the nicest campgrounds around "Buffalo Point Campground". Then we heard about "Indian Rockhouse," a large cave that used to be a shelter for the natives, but the 3 mile trail was about 3 hours long. Sebastian wanted to go, but it was getting later in the day, and I told him we will be coming back at night. He didn't mind and insisted on going.
We found the entrance to the trail and started hiking. The path took us down to a dry creek. We found the cave after an hour! It was pretty cool, but shortly we found out that this was not the one, and the Indian Rockhouse was still half an hour ahead of us. It was getting dark, and we decided we would go back. Then suddenly Sebastian saw some animals and thought they were piglets. We noticed they were armadillos. Sebastian was excited, and since they didn't notice us, I told him to go and sit on the path, and wait for them to come closer. It was amazing, the second armadillo didn't notice us and came about 3 ft away from Sebastian. When the armadillo saw us, he just shook his head and kept walking by :-)
Then we noticed a small cascading creek and I suggested Sebastian we hop into the small pool in the rock. I was surprised how fast he jumped in with me, I guess he could see there were no gars. We refilled our water bottle with the filter and set ourselves to go back.
Cave that was not the one we tried to reach that night:
It got dark, so I decided to go with a shortcut, an old paved road. I turned on my red headlamp and we went. At the beginning it was OK, but eventually it started to get overgrown. I was worried we would not be able to make it. We did, but later at night I woke up really itchy. The showers in the campground didn't work because of COVID, so I used a sink to rub myself off. Next week I was scratching about fifty chigger bites! Yikes, they have chiggers in Arkansas as well!
Last night campsite:
Sebastian was more relaxed now that we were in the campground near people. He also said he really liked the hike, more than the river. Not sure why he was afraid by the river. Oh, well, maybe he is not used to being alone in such wilderness. He was pretty jazzed now about the outdoor adventure on land, but I thought it was a good time to go back, as planned, and end on a positive note.
The drive back was really easy. Sebastian insisted that we stop by the Bass Pro Shop again. We did and started planning for next year's gar fishing, although he said he doesn't really care much for canoeing... so we will see :-)
This is my first blog post, how do you like it? Too much detail or too little? Would you like more instructional tutorial on how to go canoeing sleeping on the banks of the river? Wanna do an adventure like this yourself? Please comment below.