Wednesday, May 14, 2008


The Grant River is a little gem of Southwest Wisconsin. It drains 269 square miles, has a median water flow of 175 cubic feet per second, and feeds into the Mississippi near the old lead mining town of Potosi. Aside from the USGS statistics, it's just a lovely little river, and I highly recommend it.

Today there was significantly more water than the median 175 cfs. It was closer to 500, and it was lovely. The temperature was perfect, the water was chilly but refreshing, and my wife was, of course, ravishingly beautiful.

S. called in well (something she never does, ever) and we decided to hit the Grant. It's 90 minutes from the house, just a few gallons away. We decided to run a bike shuttle since the traffic counts are so low we'd never get a ride hitchhiking and it's a nice but hilly ride. Actually, very hilly. Welcome to Southwestern Wisconsin.

Once in the boat, we settled into the familiar rhythm of paddling a tandem canoe. Though I prefer solo canoes, paddling a tandem with a well-practiced partner is a joy. Though we had a few communication issues (it was our first tandem paddle of the year), we did okay.

The thing that struck us immediately was the number of turtles. Not your everyday run-of-the-mill C. picta belli painted turtles. We're talking Chelydra serpentina, a Snapper the size of a dinner plate. Not huge, but decent. He seemed to hardly be aware of us, certainly not threatened by a couple of canoeists. He was well-camoflaged by a coating of mud, but I broke off a branch that was hiding his face and managed to snap a picture of his eye, the only thing that wasn't gray.

The other turtles we saw were not painted turtles either...they were Midland Smooth Softshell Turtles, Apalone muticus, and their more common cousins, the Eastern Spiny Softshell, A. spinafera. The Midland Softshell is a "species of concern," which is what you make them before they're threatened or endangered. They usually live in the Mississippi and Lower Wisconsin, but I'm not surprised a few sneaked up the Grant. They're tough to tell apart, especially when they dive for cover before you can get close enough to see their carapace markings, feet, and noses if you're lucky. The Spinies have cheerio-shaped markings, the others have spots, and the A. muticus has a really cool nose. They're prehistoric and look every bit the part. We saw a dozen of both species, the smallest being a saucer-sized, the largest the size of a turkey platter. Sweet.

We also saw an abundance of bird life—bald eagles, herons, redtailed hawks, a few Baltimore Orioles, goldfinches, song sparrows, cliff and barn swallows, a pair of shrikes (cool!), a red-headed woodpecker, a flicker, numerous plovers and sandpipers. I heard a lot more than I saw, and frankly, couldn't identify them by their calls. There were thrushes. That much I know.

As we pulled out at the take-out, a very confused Pickerel Frog (R. palustris) jumped into our canoe. After a quick picture, we turned him loose. Pickerel Frogs are somewhat uncommon so it was fun to see one.

Because the parking area was a mud pit, we parked along side the road on a fairly steep incline, probably 20 degrees or so. As I was tossing the strap over the canoe, I slipped on the gravel and skewered by face on the end of the rack crossbar. It has a piece of hardware on it for the Hullavator, so it was sharp and nailed me but good. To quote Lance Murdock (Simpson's Motorcycle Daredevil), "Chicks dig scars..."



John said...

Great photos! My wife and I paddled the Mississippi in 2005, and we both loved going through your area. Beautiful country.

Take care,


canoelover said...

Come back and paddle it with us. When you finish the rest of your little projects. :-)