Archived Story

Huge sandbars with odd names, beautiful scenes

Published 11:55am Monday, September 3, 2012

By Harold Banks, Special to the Outlook

Editor’s note: This is the 13th installment in a fascinating diary chronicling a 400-mile paddle down the entire length of the Alabama River. 

April 13, 2012 – Day 13

Hi 82, Lo 52 – Partly cloudy

Thursday night – Mile 284 – Sandbar one mile below the Dixie Cutoff

It is a little cool this morning, and as I eat breakfast I dread having to strip to nothing but swimsuit and short sleeve shirt.  It is a bright sunny day, and I seek the sunny side of the river to warm up.  I will wish for a shady side by afternoon.  There are now huge sandbars on the inside of all the river bends and they all have names on my maps.  Today it was names like Pigeon Creek Bar, Mistress Gray Bar, Flynn Bar, Shackelford Bar, and California Bar.  They appeared on all the old steamboat navigation charts that told just how to navigate around them for the deepest channel.

Midmorning I see the first tug pushing a barge.  At first I thought I was finally seeing some commercial traffic, but it was actually a Corps of Engineers tug pushing some kind of maintenance barge with a large crane.  There are a lot of people fishing today, by boat and on the banks.  Near a stream called Waller Creek, I see what appears to be a community gathering or a big family outing, many fishing with cane poles.  There is a large woman cooling her feet in the water by sitting on an overturned bucket right at the edge of the river.  She is wearing a pretty, bright green dress that strikes me as odd attire for cane pole fishing.  When I pass nearby she waves and then surprises me by yelling, “Hey mister, I saw you yesterday ‘bout 20 miles upriver.  Where you goin’?”  I say, “Ma’am, I’m hoping to make it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico at Fort Morgan.”  She exclaims, “In that little bitty thing?”  There is no use trying to respond to that so I just say, “Will I see you again tomorrow another 20 miles downstream?”  She chuckles and adds, “You just can’t never tell.”

Early afternoon the sun is really bearing down, but I laugh to myself when I pass Shomo Creek.  I don’t know the origin of the name, but it seems like something I would see on a T-shirt or homemade sign during Maris Gras in New Orleans.  But there is no one around for me to Sho’ Mo’ to.

I come to Red Eagle landing, and not too far downstream there is a Red Eagle creek.  Also nearby is Weatherford road.  These are just a few of the many places in Alabama named for William Weatherford, or Red Eagle, the famed Redstick Creek warrior who led a most remarkable life in war and in peace.

A mile further downstream I pass by the site of Fort Stonewall on river right.  This was a Confederate fort built to protect river traffic on the Alabama River.  A cannon retrieved from this fort sits in front of city hall in Jackson, Alabama.  I am told the earthworks for this fort are intact and well-preserved, but it is on private property and I have miles more to paddle and no time to explore.

A mile past what is known as Dixie Cut-off, I come to a very large sandbar on river right.  That is where I’m stopping for the night and I have had more than enough paddling for one day.  I made 30 miles today, quite an accomplishment for me on this barely moving river.  At the back of the sandbar I find a level spot in the shade of a sycamore tree, and my tent can face east to catch the early morning sun. Across the river and just a little over a mile to the east is the grave of William Weatherford, or Red Eagle, along with a cairn memorializing his mother Sehoy, who was the sister of the great Creek leader Alexander McGillivray.

This is a picturesque site, but there is only one problem with camping on a sandbar—the dadblamed sand.  I have a sheet of plastic for a doormat and with great care and a bushy limb for a broom, I whisk enough sand off myself on each entry to keep most of the grit out of my bedroom.  I take a quick swim and air dry on this remote nudist colony of one.  I cook supper and while waiting for it to cool, turn on my cell phone for an attempt to call home.  There is no hint of a cell signal though, and I’m not sure there will be for the next two nights.  Amy knew this was a possibility, but I think she has confidence in my ability to make it through to more civilized parts and won’t worry.  By pushing hard these last two days, I’ve potentially cut a whole day off my trip.  Amy, daughter Jennifer, and grandson Jack are not picking me up until the 20th, but I have been worried about what I would do if I encountered unfavorable conditions on Mobile Bay.  Now I should have an extra day to play with and can sit tight for a day if necessary.

I am very tired but feel good about how well the trip has gone thus far.  I sit on my doormat and watch the river change colors from the reflected sunset behind me.   I own this sandbar and this beautiful scene and could not be less connected to the concerns of the modern world.  The night sounds begin, the light fades, and I crawl contented into my sleeping bag.