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Kentucky River Kayak Trek


Friday July 26, 2008


Dam 14 in Heidelberg to Dam 13 (Mile 240)



Wow.  The comics in the paper this morning were an absolute riot and had me laughing and in a good mood from the start today.  It began with the Argyle Sweater “Popeye” and continued with the Dyslexic Mugger in Bizzaro and the Motivational Listener in Speed Bump.  Every time I thought back on them throughout the day I’d start laughing again.  That happens to me.  One good laugh can stay with me for an entire day – or longer.


It was a little cloudy out today but I decided to head out anyway and keep a close eye on the weather.  One thing I’ve noticed about living in Kentucky is that it seems hard to predict rain, because every time it’s supposed to be really stormy it’s not.  When I first moved here I used to look at the weather forecasts and prepare around them.  If it was supposed to rain I’d stay in.  I began to notice though, that I was really missing out on a ton of sunny days.  Now I prepare as if the forecasted weather may occur, instead of will occur.


My route to the river today would take me on KY52 through Irvine and once you go through the city you’ll really be in the mountains.  You’ll wind through them, and as you go up and then down the first one you’ll be in a flatter area which contains some really scenic farmland.  These farms are nestled amidst the mountainous backdrop, and the animals grazing in the fields look like tiny specks compared to the hills which surround them.  The hills, themselves, kind of weave back into the distance and they’re sweet to look at!  I have to admit though, that I noticed the scenery more on the way back than I did on the way out.  I think that’s because I was distracted.  I was singing along to a Yellowcard disk at the time.


Heidelberg is an interesting spot.  When you get down to the ramp (see directions below) you’ll see dam 14 on the right, while the river will flow to the left, the Sturgeon Creek will be coming in behind you and the town on Heidelberg itself will be in front of you.  There’s another ramp directly across the river here too which looks to be public but I’m really not sure.  I’ve never used it. 


As I came down to the water with my second load of gear I finally noticed a couple people over there.  It was a little disturbing though as a man stood over and was yelling at what looked to be a younger person.  They were fishing too which should have been a stress-free experience!  They left as I paddled toward the dam.


The bridge I came in on for KY399 goes over just below the downriver side of this dam which is at mile 249 on the river.  It’s a pleasant looking blue bridge and it has some much older bridge piers nearby.  I knew from the previous trips I’d taken that I’d see these same kinds of bridge piers several more times as I paddled further down the river.  They must have just left part of the old bridge up when they built the new one.



The lock side of the dam was on the left as I paddled up, and once again I was ultra cautious, staying waaaay close to the left bank.  Once I got to the corner of the lock I took a look up and noticed that there were no steps here as there were on the other side.  For a portage then, it’s a fairly long climb up the rocks to reach the top.  Looking across from the lock there’s a rocky, cliff-like area on the other (dam) side.


As I began my paddle downriver there was a lot to see.  The town of Heidelberg is on the right here, while there’s farmland on the left.  The Sturgeon Creek is a fairly sizeable one which also comes in here, and when I got back I had time to explore it a little bit.  This creek seemed to share some characteristics with the Middle Fork – but not before displaying some South Fork traits - as I again noticed the brown film on top of the water in the first section.  This did quickly clear out as the creek meandered back, however. 


This stream appears to be about as wide as the Middle Fork, but it gets shallow much more quickly and I was stopped at the first deadfall.  I also heard a dog topside and wasn’t in the mood for any possible confrontation in this shallow water.  I headed back having gotten in about 1/4 mile. 


The Turnhole Branch also enters from the same side here immediately after the Sturgeon over a shoal, but it wasn’t paddle-able today.  Directly across the river from this is yet another steam, the Sawmill Branch, which was dry at the Old Gal Bar (really the name!) it runs over.  According to the navigation charts this stream flows right through Heidelberg.

After the curve left at mile 248 the farmland on the left will disappear in favor of forests, mountains and… forested mountains!  Farmland won’t appear again on this side until just prior to dam 13 at mile 240 – about 8 miles down.  At mile 247 there are some rock cliffs which border the water on the left.  They’ll be present through much of this stretch as you look back through the trees, but here they’re right up against the water.


At mile 246 there are cliffs on the right side as well where the river makes a left turn.  In fact, this bend is called Yellow Rock Bend and the cliff bottoms here have a yellow hue to them.  I’m assuming (usually wrong when I do this though) that they could be the namesake for the bend and for the town which I’d come upon shortly on the right. 


It was at this point too, that the train track which had been up and to the right atop the bank appeared to either go through or behind these cliffs.  This same track would continue to border the river all throughout this trip as it did on the last stretch between Beattyville and dam 14.  In fact, I believe it to be the very same CSX track that went through Beattyville.  I’d hear rather than see 5 trains as I paddled today.


Anyway, at the aforementioned bend the river takes the rough shape of a “W” down to dam 13 (I’m paddling from the upper right side of the letter).  The train track does not extend all the way to the bottom dips in the “W”, but is instead receded a bit from the river as it lets in a bit of farmland.  It does this right after the Salt Rock Branch enters at mile 245 on the right side (dry as far as I could tell over a shoal). 


It was here that I noticed what I thought were wood ducks (total guess).  I see these constantly.  They’re smaller than a regular duck and much more shy.  They either swim or fly away over the water (sometimes a combination of both as they kind of skim the surface) to avoid me, and I’ve seen them dive under water and stay under for an impossibly long time too – and, of course, I can never seem to get a decent picture of them!


The Old House Branch comes in on the right at mile 244 (the first bottom of the “W”), but it wasn’t paddle-able either as it entered across a shoal.  It was choked with trash and debris.  As I looked to the other side I could see part of the town of Yellow Rock.  There are some really nice looking houses and farms here and they, along with the grounds around them looked to be very well maintained.  In fact, a lot of mowing looks to have been done here. 


This is a strange sight to me since I haven’t seen such scenes much along the river – at least on the parts I’ve been on so far.  Any mowing that has been done usually isn’t visible from down on the water, yet an entire field looks to have been mowed here at mile 243.  You can see this as you pass the Long Willow Shoals Bar on the right.  Cave Branch is directly across from this bar on the other side, and I paddled maybe 100 yards up this Branch on the way back. 


It was at the mouth of this creek that I felt very small amidst all the mountains visible directly in front of me at this curve in the river.  Willow Branch (dry) was on the right after this left curve and it ushered in the community of Willow (which, from the looks of it, may just consist of one house).



After Willow, the Little Willow Branch (few feet wide) enters on the same side.  Thus, the community seems kind of “sandwiched” between these 2 branches – Willow and Little Willow.  Would you believe that a huge dragonfly landed on my boat here?  I really like these!  They’re so incredibly colorful and they just kind of cruise along with me at almost all times.  I usually attract the blue ones (maybe because of my blue boat?).



Somewhere on the left, and I don’t know what made me notice it, was what looked like a really old house.  It was almost invisible amidst the trees and I don’t know if I’d ever be able to find it again unless it was winter with no foliage.   


The train track seems to recede here again from the bank to let in more farmland on the right before the dam.  This is the second bottom of the “W” letter I mentioned before, and as you curve back upward on the letter dam 13 will become visible at mile 240 about half way up after a slow curve.  There was about a 10 foot dirt climb to reach the top at the corner of the lock (which is on the left side when you look at it from this vantage point).  


I planned to put in at this lock and dam next time, as there’s supposed to be a boat ramp directly on the other side, but today I took my time heading back to Heidelberg (exploring the side creeks as I mentioned) and departed around 7PM.




KY52 to KY399 South.  The put in is on the south side of the river just after you cross the blue bridge in Heidelberg.  It’s on the right side of the road and is in what looks like a gravel parking area.  Once you’ve turned into this, you’ll want to drive toward the left side, and soon you’ll see a little gravel road which curves down to the water.  There’s room for many vehicles and there’s no fee here.