Up to the 1880s, the Indians of the northern plains utilized bullboats to traverse the region’s rivers and streams. Tribes, such as the Omaha, Ponca, Teton Lakota, and Arikara, built bullboats by first cutting down the thin willow saplings that grew in abundance along the banks of the Missouri and its tributaries. Employing axes and stout knives, craftsmen cut away all the branches and leaves from the trunk of each sapling. They then weaved the long, pliable willow poles together to form a bowl-shaped frame. Bison sinew, tied between the saplings, reinforced the crude frame. The top, open end of the boat, was then laid face down on the ground, with the curving bottom of the frame facing up. Wet bison robes, shorn of all hair, were placed over the bottom and sides of the frame and fastened to the saplings. The bullboat was then allowed to dry in the sun. In a day or two, the robes shrank and hardened around the frame of willows. In the final stage of construction, the Indians oiled the bison robes, making the small vessel waterproof. Continue Reading »
On May 9, 2012, the Army Corps of Engineers will cut the discharge rate from Gavin’s Point Dam to zero, yes zero. That means no water will exit through the structure’s power tunnels or spillway gates. The Army must stop the flow of water through the dam in order to inspect it for any damages. Last year, the Missouri’s powerful floodwaters pounded the structure, especially its spillway. The Army wants to know just what the Missouri did to the dam. Without water pouring through Gavin’s Point Dam, the Missouri downstream through southeastern South Dakota and western Iowa will drop to a record low level. It remains to be seen just how low the Missouri will go. Much depends on tributary inflows. If the James and Big Sioux rivers do not dump large volumes of rainwater into the Missouri, we can expect the river at Sioux City to diminish to a trickle. We do know that during the eight hours the Army pinches off the river’s flow, the Missouri will drop to one of its lowest levels ever, possibly lower than at any time since the glacial formation of the stream 30,000 years ago. Continue Reading »
The Mekong Delta encompasses approximately 15,000 square miles. Its land area made up nearly a quarter of South Vietnam’s 67,108 square miles. The delta begins on the outskirts of Saigon and extends 193 miles as the crow flies to the southernmost tip of Vietnam, at the Ca Mau peninsula. In the 1950s and 1960s, the delta possessed the highest population density of any area within South Vietnam. And in 1970, U.S. intelligence estimated that the three delta provinces immediately surrounding Saigon, Long An, Hau Nghia, and Gia Dinh, each had districts that held populations in excess of 1,810 persons per square mile [“Indochina Precipitation and Monsoon Airflow Map,” 1970, Bergerud, Tropic Thunder, 136]. Even the rural areas of the central delta, which included the paddy country surrounding My Tho, Vinh Long, Can Tho and Long Xuyen, contained populations of between 520 and 1810 persons per square mile. The only other area within Vietnam that contained such a high population over such a large area was the Red River Delta of the North. The least populated, most remote, regions within the delta existed in the Ca Mau peninsula and U Minh Forest. Both of those areas held only 2.6 to 26 persons per square mile. Not coincidently, those two isolated patches of territory served as Viet Cong base areas during the First and Second Indochina wars. Continue Reading »
Bright Angel Creek runs clear and cold from the Grand Canyon’s North Rim to the Colorado River. It’s a fast, boulder-strewn stream. Along its lower reach, it makes a lot of noise as it passes over the smooth, round stones lining its banks and bed. Statuesque cottonwoods grow on the edges of the creek near its juncture with the Colorado. When spring and summer winds blow up the narrow, high-walled valley of Bright Angel Creek, the dangling cottonwood leaves make a gentle rustling sound. The flapping leaves, with their silvery undersides, resemble so many butterflies trying to alight from the branches. The lower canyon of Bright Angel Creek, which is known as ‘The Box,’ is an oasis in an otherwise inhospitable land. Vegetation grows in abundance here. That vegetation in-turn attracts wildlife. Nearly tame mule deer graze the grasses growing next to the trails, while more cautious ravens perch in the high trees, waiting patiently for a fatigued hiker to inadvertently drop a scrap of food.