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2008 Kentucky River Kayak Trek


Friday, September 27, 2008


Steele Branch Ramp to Dam 3 (Mile 42)



This turned out to be a dawn to dusk paddle.  I woke up early and got to the ramp at 7AM.  It was so foggy out that looking at the river from down on the water was like looking at a blurred vision - I could only make out the vague lines of the scenery in front of me.  An odd, kind of eerie experience, it was like watching a person awakening from slumber and wondering what they would be like when they woke up - would this day go on to have a sunny disposition or would it be cloudy and rain?  I wondered what answer would be revealed with the lifting of the fog...




Before taking its leave, however, the fog had introduced me to some great river scenes which I had heretofore not arisen early enough to see.  I saw the first glimpses of sunlight amidst the clouds over a tier of trees in the distance and this was just like another wall of landscape.  There was one tier of trees, then another, and then there was a white tier before a fourth, grey one in the sky.  I imagined the fourth to be the clouds and the third, white one, to be the sun shining over what would be a clear sky.  It’s hard to describe this so I’ve included the picture below.



I know I’ve put up a lot of pictures of this fog, but I’ve not really had the pleasure of experiencing such scenes too often – I’m simply not used to waking up early enough to do so!  Dawn is such a gentle time of day, though, and it may be my favorite.  It usually takes me a while to wake up in the morning, but when I do I find that my imagination is at its best and that I can think more clearly than at any other time of day (although I can’t necessarily put my thoughts together into speech yet).  I’m more of a thinker than a talker.


Anyway, I enjoyed the misty atmosphere so much that the first 3 miles went very quickly and I was soon at the Elkhorn Creek.  On the charts the land portion of the left curve from mile 54 to 51 in this area looks like the upper torso of the Geico Gecko!  The Elkhorn Creek enters immediately past mile 52 at the tip of its nose.  The curve here is the tightest one I can recall on the river (except for maybe the Soap and Tallow Bend back at mile 222 in Ravenna, Kentucky).


At the point where the Elkhorn enters there were some remnants of an old ramp to the right side.  This didn’t look like it was your ordinary, run-of-the-mill ramp though.  It looked like there was a bit more to this one and I’ll have to inquire about it.  I’d noticed it before on a group paddling trip, and as I ventured into the creek there were 2 more ramps in quick succession.   They may be part of the Shrohmeier Campground which I could only catch glimpses of.  I’d get into the Elkhorn about 1/2 of a mile before a large fallen tree would halt my progress.  It’s no wonder!  Will you look at these trees!  I’m not sure how any of them are able to remain standing!



Not too far in I noticed an odd light green hue to the water…  Maybe not a cause for concern, but I was concerned as to what this could be...  Moving further into the Elkhorn I thought of Thanksgiving!  Strange, but I think it was the color of the banks.  No clue as to why I thought of this holiday instead of Halloween, which was closer in time, but that’s the feeling I got.  Nothing like beautiful scenes to make you thankful though!  Speaking of which, I heard something this weekend that made me think:  “Grateful people are happy people; ungrateful people are unhappy people.”  I believe this to be true.


That said, I would point out that if you are unhappy you can always come out to a place like a river and there, once having a chance to engage in some good, hard and honest introspection, you’ll find something – many things – to be grateful for.  I, for example, have failed in most of the things I have tried to do - however - I’ve come to realize that some people aren’t necessarily meant to be materially successful. 


I now believe that people like me were meant to be “peacemakers”.  Such people are those that are called to live a religious or missionary life.  My mission (although I’ve not ascertained it to any absolute degree) is, I believe, to help show people some of the places they can go to access the tranquility of nature so that they can escape some of the stresses brought on by an over-competitive and over-aggressive world.  This assumed calling of mine is just one of the many things that I am grateful for.


Speaking of being grateful, it was on this creek that I’d had my first real kayaking experience in 2007 with an outfitter called Canoe Kentucky.  They run all manner of trips out here and have everything a paddler needs to have fun on the water.  In fact, if it weren’t for them I may never have started any of this.  They’re located just outside Frankfort and they’re definitely worth a trip out to see.  You can check the Elkhorn water level on their website (, but they’ve got many different trip options to suit just about any occasion and water level.  They’ve got you covered if you’re looking for gear too.  They’ve got just about everything.


Back to the river…  Once out of the Elkhorn, I caught my first glimpse of the sun through the morning haze.  I also noticed that the river had gotten wider, and it would stay that way for the rest of the day.  While it might seem obvious that the river gets wider the further down you get, there are certain periods when it enters your awareness more than others.  The last time I could recall noticing a significant widening was just upriver from the Drowning Creek at mile 205.



You’re entering the “neckline” of the gecko at this point.  The skies had cleared, but there were still wisps of fog over the water.  Mile 51.5 to mile 48 is one long slooooow curve right with just a little dent in it on the way.  There are some rock cliffs visible on the left as you enter into this.


Toward the middle I was really vexed by a couple birds.  The first one was one that I can’t recall seeing, but I couldn’t get a good picture because every time I went to get a shot it would start preening itself again.  Below was the best one.



Immediately to the right was another which I’d seen before, but it was just sitting right there on a branch posing for me.  I jammed on the “brakes”, and once I finally got my boat positioned and my camera ready, I couldn’t see the dog-boned thing!  I ended up getting 2 blurred pictures with it being completely cut out - I got pictures of the tree branches instead.  Birds!  I tell ya…


I said it in the last entry but I’ll say it again:  the farmland has come back with a vengeance.  After getting only little doses of it for 2-3 pools due to the palisades and little communities, it is back now and becoming more and more of a shoreline standard.  In fact, this is the first section which will have the same scenery on both sides of the river for an extended period (i.e. more than a mile).  Prior to this the landscape has always been different in this regard.  If there had been the same thing on both sides it was quick to change.  Not here.  Will this continue to be the case?  I’m thinking it will as I get closer to the Ohio River.  Again, we’ll see, but the farms are more visible here too due to the river being wider.


The community of Polsgrove enters the picture from mile 49 to mile 48, and the Flat Creek comes in between these miles.  I got further into it than I did the Elkhorn - 550 vs. 450 paddles – but still about 1/2 of a mile.  There were some remnants here too of something near the mouth.  It could have been a bridge, but there’s a trace of both a metal support and a stone wall down by the water.  There’s a bridge of the current variety back a little further, and there might just be an orchard of some kind on the right because I saw little trees as I paddled in.


Something quite extraordinary greeted me toward the back of this creek.  I was paddling through a dense green alphabet soup!  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  What…   in…   the…   heck?!?  Unlike the green stuff in the Elkhorn, there was no doubt that this stuff was natural.  Something else too:  I cut a swath through it with my boat when I went in with the kayak, but when I looked back my path had been completely swallowed back up by these things!  Are they maybe some kind of tiny water lilies?  I’ll sure try to find out!



As you paddle out of this stream you’ll be looking at what looks like a farm atop the outside corner of Payton Bend (right curve).  This bend is interesting in terms of county divisions because the straight stretch between it and the next bend, Webb’s (left curve), appears to be the dividing line for Franklin County on the south side, for Henry County on the west side and for Owen County on the east side.  On the outside of Webb’s Bend there was some land that had been cleared out, and I could see a crane over the trees just atop the trees on the hill.  They were doing something – don’t know exactly what…


After mile 47 you’ve got another slide shape if you turn the page on the charts and face it in the direction you’re heading.  You’ll be moving up the ladder for the next mile and a half and will be going down a bumpy slide for the next 3, from mile 45-42.  The last part of this stretch was all farmland all the time and just before the top of the ladder I spotted some horses and cows mingling in the shade trees on the bank.


The Sand Ripple Creek enters at the top of the slide (mile 45) and I got in ¼ mile with more of the green alphabet soup at the end.  The Stevens Creek at mile 43.5 is almost identical in terms of paddle length, and I got into it only about a yard further with more of the soup.  More houses were visible mainly on the left side between these, and I could, in fact, see more of them than I could at Polsgrove.  In this way it had the appearance of being more Polsgrovish than Polsgrove!  OK, maybe I’ve completely lost it now…


On the right side just across from the Sand Ripple Creek on Sand Ripple Bar you have what looks very much like an overgrown herb garden.  There were many varieties of plants here, and I could smell many different aromas.  Balls Branch enters just past this at mile 44.5 but it was blocked by a deadfall right its mouth.


Back to the left side again, and just before I reached the Stevens Creek I saw an old car down by the water.  I wouldn’t mention this except for the fact that this car really looked like it might have been a classic.  I have no idea what kind of car it was but, had it not been junked here, it might have brought the owner a small fortune the way the classic car market has gone in the last couple decades.


As you wind your way further down the wavy slide after coming out of the creek, you’ll begin to see the dam after a nice looking farm in a clearing on the right.  It looked like there were some more dwellings on the rolling hills just past the dam, and there was another massive cylinder on the left just before the dam – the largest I’d seen.  It was a little off by itself.


Once at the lock corner I saw that the only portage impediment would be some weeds on a muddy bank.  It wasn’t a bad climb and I was really tempted to do it even though I knew I’d be low on time.  I did set one foot outside the kayak, but when it sank a foot deep in the muck; I decided to pass on visiting this Lock and Dam today in order to check it out more thoroughly next time from the other side.  There might be a lock house up there, but I couldn’t quite tell.  So far the best preserved lock locations where you can still see both houses are at dam 10 in Boonesbourough (where the river museum is and the houses are totally restored), and at dam 12 in Irvine (where the houses are still there but in need of some TLC).


On the way back it became more and more apparent that I was getting one of my optical headaches.  My father and I are both cursed with these.  They start over your eyes, gradually move to the back of them, then to the back of your head, and finally down almost to your neck.  They’re bad and they don’t go away, at least for me, until I’ve taken a couple aspirin and have gotten a full night’s sleep.  Well, I had no aspirin and I certainly couldn’t sleep!  Thus, the trip back took what seemed like a looooong time!  I tried to paddle in shaded areas as much as possible to avoid eye strain in the sun unless I found something that I absolutely had to take a picture of.I got back to the ramp about 7:30, yet the drive back to Lexington also seemed eternal. 


Wouldn’t you know it, but once home the headache had receded a bit.  I still went to bed almost immediately anyway though.  The headache and the almost 30 mile paddle had drained every last ounce of energy from me.  How did I sleep?  Well, the best way I can describe it is to borrow a line from what Eddy Harris wrote in his incredible book, Mississippi Solo (   I slept:  “like a dead man!” 




Take US127 to Steele Branch Road at head west.  Meander down past the campground and take a left just past it into the parking lot for the ramp.