My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Screaming down Michigan’s lower Rogue

Last week after we had paddled the Little Muskegon River, every one decided that we should do something this weekend. For one reason or another, every one but Mike backed out, which worked out well for the two of us. We did Michigan’s lower Rogue River, from the dam in Rockford down.

As I was walking out to my explorer to go to breakfast, I heard a strange call from behind me, turned, and saw a small hawk perched in the top of a tree nearby. I snapped a couple of quick pictures, but I doubted if they would turn out well, as I was shooting into the early morning sun, such as it was. It was cloudy, but there was enough sun burning through the clouds so that the pictures are more like silhouettes than anything recognizable. I worked my way around where the hawk was perched trying to find an opening in the leaves to get a good view of it, until I finally got this shot.

Small hawk

Not great, but far better than the first few, and of course he flew off as I was getting ready to take more.

After breakfast, and picking up my boat, I headed to Rockford to meet Mike. We met where Powers Outdoors used to be in downtown Rockford, and talked for a few minutes to see if any one else would show up. Mike and Connie had done the lower Rogue last weekend, and Mike said the last mile was slow and filled with mosquitoes, and that the paddle up the Grand River to the DNR access site was a bit of a struggle due to the high water and fast current. I suggested we pull out at West River Drive instead of going all the way to the Grand, so we loaded my boat in his truck, and set off to drop my car at West River. There is some type of structure there, I don’t know if it is a pump station or what, but there’s a very small parking area, and a fair access to the Rogue there. It is right next to the West River Drive bridge over the Rogue, on the northwest side.

Normally, I put in at Rockford’s Richardson-Sowerby Park just south of 10 Mile Road/Division Street, but Mike suggested putting in off from River Street instead. It has been a couple of years since I used the River Street access, it is much improved! It used to be a muddy trail through the brush, now they have steps down to the river and the brush has been cleared to make it much better. Here’s a map of the parks in Rockford, and the streets, you can’t miss the parking area on River Street, even though it isn’t marked as a park on the map.

The clouds had thickened back up, and it was cool, but pleasant as we set off downstream. We hadn’t gone very far before I checked my GPS unit, and it said we were travelling at over 5 MPH, without paddling. With all the rain we’ve had the last few months, the Rogue was running high and fast, just the way I like it. The lower Rogue is much faster than the upper stretches of the river above the dam in Rockford, and has a completely different character. The lower Rogue is almost all rocks and gravel, with little sand or muck. The trouble is, it is shallow during the summer, too shallow during dry spells. The average gradient is around 13 feet per mile, making it one of the faster rivers in southern Michigan. It also has some short, but very exciting stretches of true class II whitewater, rare in lower Michigan.

We exchanged pleasantries with the few fishermen along the river we encountered, the river can be crowded with fishermen during the spring steelhead and fall salmon runs, but there were just a handful today. We were just drifting along for the most part, no need to paddle when you’re moving as fast as we were, except to steer. Even the rock garden at the powerline access was easy to navigate without hitting any of the boulders in the river there. It seemed like we had just gotten started and we were already to Childsdale, the first and most impressive of the stretches of whitewater, named for the road that crosses the river near the end of the rapids.

Even experienced Michigan kayakers usually stop the first time they get to the Childsdale rapids. The river seems to disappear, as if going over a waterfall. The river is flowing to the northwest, and is around 60 feet wide I would say. Then you get to the beginning of the rapids, and part of the river makes a sharp left turn, it is hard to see that as you approach, but that branch is very shallow and blocked by fallen trees, or at least it used to be. I haven’t been through there in quite a few years now, I should check it out when I am fishing one of these days. Anyway, what you see ahead of you is a narrow little section of the river about 20 feet wide that looks like it just ends, and trees beyond that. There is a very small part of the river that branches off to the right, only a few feet wide. You can not see down the river until you are almost in the rapids, the drop is that fast.

I was being really brave today and told Mike I wasn’t even going to stop to look it over, I have shot the rapids there dozens of times, in even higher water than today. Stopping wouldn’t have changed the outcome anyway, I wouldn’t have been able to see the changes in the river from the top of the rapids anyway.

I entered the center branch of the river just to the right of center like I always do, and the river drops about 10 feet or so in the first 40 feet of the rapids, leading straight towards a high bank right in front of you as you run the first part. It is hard to see because of the drop and the trees, but the river makes a very sharp left turn at the bank, and today, as always, there was a small tree with branches reaching out into the river, just waiting to catch people who don’t get turned quickly enough. I made that turn, then the river slows its fall slightly, makes a cut back to the right, then it falls off again. You have to make a quick zig to stay off the high bank, then an even quicker zag to avoid rocks to the left after the high bank. It was after the zag that I looked straight ahead of me and saw the top of a standing wave breaking above eye level. Actually, several large standing waves, but the one was larger than I have ever seen in the Childsdale rapids before. I hit it slightly off to one side, and water crashed into my boat, soaking me, as did a couple of the other waves as well, but not as much. Even if I had hit them dead on like I should have, I would have been swamped. Should have put the spray skirt on.

It must be that the high water this year has moved some of the rocks around, or some other debris has lodged in the river to form those very large standing waves that I have never seen there before. It may be time to walk the bank there as well as the other branch to see how much has changed, and to figure out a better line to take through there.

The river slows its descent some after that, and the part that branches off earlier to the left rejoins the main branch there, so the river widens out as well. Mike was almost as wet as I was, so I suggested that after the last part of the rapids, we stop at the sandbar that’s there and drain our boats. We ran the last 100 feet or so of the rapids and pulled out on the edge of the pool below the rapids. I had several inches of water in my boat, and I was almost as wet as if I had gone swimming.

From then on, it was a normal day on the lower Rogue, there are 3 more stretches of true whitewater, and many more very fast, very rocky stretches of the river. We saw herons and ducks, of course, turtles, somewhat surprising as chilly as it was, lots of wildflowers, and a bunny.

 I did get jammed up sideways on a some large rocks farther downstream, because I was running my mouth, not paying attention to where I was going, but nothing serious.

It seemed like a very short day, because it was. We ran almost 7 miles of the river in just over an hour of paddling time, we averaged 4 and 1/2 MPH according to my GPS unit, but by the clock and mileage, it was closer to 6 MPH, that’s fast for any stretch of Michigan river!

If the weather had been nicer, or if we hadn’t been soaked to the bone, I would have tried to talk Mike into running at least part of the river a second time, but as it was, we headed back to Rockford to pick up his truck. We also dried off and changed into dry, warm clothes, and went to the Timbers on Lake Bella Vista for lunch. Great food, and a “perfect” waitress. I say “perfect”, because she used that word more often and in less time than any one I have ever heard.

 It was over lunch that Mike asked me an interesting question, the answer to which I had been thinking about the night before. What he asked was, “What would you be doing if you could be doing what you want?” It just so happened that I had come up with a great, but unworkable idea the night before as I was driving the last leg of my run Friday night. I am not going to try to write this correctly, I am going to write this as my wandering mind went off on its own, and it will give you an idea of how convoluted my train of thought becomes at times.

The starting point was that I am thinking of doing another blog about how silly some of the so-called green or alternative energies are, both on a financial, and an environmental standpoint. This is where it went from there.  The triple tragedy in Japan, of the earthquake, tsunami, and disaster at the nuclear plant have probably set nuclear energy back another 30 years here in this country. Building a nuclear plant in Japan or southern California is like playing Russian Roulette and unloading only one chamber of the gun instead of all but one, you’re going to die. Michigan is a safe place to build a nuclear plant. The geology around Lake Michigan makes a tsunami almost impossible. We don’t have earthquakes in the region. But, there has to be a very old, very deep fault in the Great Lakes region somewhere, and if we did have an earthquake, it would be a big one, like the ones near New Madrid back in the 1800’s. I was taught the geology of Michigan and the region is boring, but it’s not. There has to be a fault around here somewhere, running down the Saint Lawrence River. We’re just south of the edge of the Canadian Shield, some of the oldest rock on Earth. When the tectonic plate that includes Michigan rammed into the Canadian Shield it pushed up the highest mountains that have ever existed on the planet. Remember that TV show on the Discovery Channel about Georgian Bay, and how I’d like to go there and see the old roots of the mountains that are all eroded away? And those old fossils found in Nova Scotia, it takes very old rock to trap very old fossils. Was that the same show as the one that showed the Torngat Mountains? They were beautiful, I’d like to go there too, and to Nova Scotia to see the fossils. I’d love to go on those kinds of expeditions, I should have become a scientist like I planned on way back when. But what field? That’s what stopped me. I couldn’t decide what interested me the most, biology, botany, geology, archeology, or any of the other “ologies”, and they all required some degree of mindless memorization that does nothing to advance science, it’s all a made up language just so those in the field are the only ones who know what they are talking about. Then there is all the boring parts of being a scientist as well, it isn’t all field work, the part I would like the most. It’s too bad I couldn’t do just the field work, being outdoors, exploring, it’s what I love and what I do best. What a minute here, they always have a guide with them that shows them where to go and helps them find what they are looking for! That’s the job! I know enough about all the “ologies” that I know I could be helpful to scientists, and I know how to run an expedition into the wilderness, I should start a company and call it…..that’s it, Scientific Expedition Outfitters, and cater to scientists who are going out in the field. I could be their expert in getting around in the wilderness, and helping them find what they’re looking for. Wait, you don’t have any experience outside North America…..hmmm….no problem! I could be a source of information and the person who puts the expeditions together using local guides.

 OK, so if I were in my twenties, and knew what I know now, that’s what I would shoot for. I would start an oufitting business that caters to scientific expeditions, set up a network of reliable local outfitters, and be doing what I love, being outdoors, exploring, and learning. I would be taking part in the field work, assisting in research, and leaving the boring part of being a scientist to the scientists. But at my age, starting it now isn’t realistic. By the time I got it going, I would be too old to do it.

I guess I will have to fall back on my other dream. Win the lottery, build a small house in the woods, and build a pole barn to do woodworking in, and split my time between building furniture to give away to the poor, and doing my own amateur exploring.

Oh, and the river was a blast! It was nice with it being just Mike and I, great times, great company, great food, sounds like a beer commercial.

Mike in his new boat, wearing his way cool hat

And here’s a map of out trip, you can click on it for a larger version to print if you like.

Lower Rogue River Map


5 responses

  1. The small hawk is an adult accipiter (the gray blue coloration of the back, the reddish barring on the chest, the pattern of stripes on the tail). There are three different species- Goshawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and Sharp-shinned Hawk. This is not a Goshawk, and appears a little more like a Sharpie (from the eyes), although it is a little hard to tell. I could likely identify it with a slightly larger image.


    September 25, 2011 at 12:35 am

    • I think that it’s a sharpie as well, but even my being 6 foot 6 wasn’t enough to get any closer to it for a larger image. I was zoomed to 48X, so if I try to enlarge the photo, I lose too much detail.


      September 25, 2011 at 1:26 am

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