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 River is one of the world’s longest rivers at 2,703 miles, longer than North America’s Missouri River (2,341 miles) and Mississippi (2,530 miles). Among Asian rivers, it ranks seventh in length, easily surpassed by China’s Yangtze and Yellow rivers at 3,917 miles and 3,395 miles respectively. By volume the river is dwarfed by the Amazon and Congo, but it still carries an impressive amount of water to its juncture with the South China Sea. The river’s average annual discharge rate is 565,008 cubic feet per second, which is almost exactly the same as the Mississippi’s discharge rate of 572,070 (cfs). Continue Reading »
[Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming] In the winter months, when deep snow covers the sagebrush plains, hilltops, and scenic river valleys of Yellowstone National Park, bison abandon their trails and smaller traces and instead travel upon the park’s plowed asphalt highways. The animals have adopted the use of human highways for a simple reason. It is much easier for them to trek down a cleared, snow-free highway than it is to trudge off-road through several feet of snow. They expend far less energy moving from point A to point B, or from grazing site to grazing site. It is also safer for the big wooly mammals to move atop the paved highways. They can run faster from pursuing predators on the hard-surfaced roads. Plus, shy predators, such as wolves, are less likely to get close to the roadways for fear of coming into contact with homo-sapiens and their gawking, intrusive behaviors. It is likely that the plowed roads have increased the winter survivability rates of the park’s bison herds.
The Missouri River Canoe Expedition of 2003 took Todd Siefker and I through the White Cliffs of the Missouri and past several of the campsites of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. We actually stayed overnight in a few of the same camp sites used by the famed explorers. We did not stay in those campsites because we wanted to somehow imitate the explorers. As a matter of fact, we knew our two-man expedition paled in comparison to their epic journey. For starters, we navigated the Missouri in a plastic Royalex canoe. We also carried with us an array of ultra-modern outdoor gear that made our expedition more comfortable, faster, and lighter than that earlier sojourn. We slept inside a nylon tent, kept the rain off our bodies with Gore-Tex jackets, cooked food on a Primus multi-fuel stove (it could burn everything from unleaded gasoline to jet fuel), and called our loved ones from the remote reaches of Montana on a cell phone. We had nothing in common with Lewis and Clark. Rather, we chose to camp where they camped because their 1805 and 1806 campsites were still the best sites for camping along the Upper Missouri, especially in a land dominated by towering bluffs and gullied badlands. Continue Reading »