The River Journal Chapter 17 Norfork, Arkansas end of the first leg.


After the bluff I had to start paying more attention to guiding the little canoe I called “Proud Mary”. The map showed highway 341 crossing the river. The bridge was a tall one. I was surprised at the expense and the expanse. Not long after the 341 would be the town of Norfork and the mouth of the Norfork River.

I had driven the two lane highway past this spot many times but never realized the river was directly behind the Old Wolf Homestead cabin. I just remembered the cabin as a special pioneer family location and knew it had something to do with John Quincy Wolf who, if I remember correctly, wrote the “Life in the Leatherwoods” book. I read the book in college but didn’t know a great deal about the family. I think the Wolf folks had some relatives in one of Batesville’s older families but can’t remember which one. Our Main street and the older section of town was full of pioneer descendents.

I could see the gravel shoulder just the other side of what appeared to be a big bayou or slough coming into the White. After a quick glance at the map I realized that was the Norfork. While I had been drift fishing and day dreaming the gates of Bull Shoals Dam must have opened causing the river to rise once more.  I yelled to a fly fishermen at the mouth of the Norfork and asked if the gravel beach was the Game and Fish Ramp. He said it was but there was a newer one right around the end of the gravel bar. I thought the heck with it the bar looked fine so I gunned the little Mercury and beached the Mad River like an old salt. I got out of the boat and searched for the ever present often needed out houses but couldn’t find them. I learned you had to walk up the road a way.

I checked and there was excellent cell phone service. I called Debbie at Cotter Trout Dock and asked if she was ready to come pick me up. She was surprised as usual at the early arrival time but very pleasant and said she would be in Norfork in 30 minutes. What a great lady and what a great service they provide. There is no way I could float camp this river without the help of a shuttle. The last thing you want to do is beach your boat and leave all your camping and fishing gear at a public access point. Without a land crew you would have to hitchhike for hours while your gear lays there totally exposed. The shuttle service is so important, it will dictate what rivers and sections of rivers I am able to travel.

I called my wife and let her know I was o.k. I told her the first leg was finished and I would be starting home soon. She was relieved and cautioned me about driving too late. It would be 3 p.m. before I was on the road and five hundred miles is a long way. Unfortunately I was carrying gear in an open canoe and dreaded unloading the whole shebang into a motel. It seemed easier to keep driving.

I got to work repacking everything for the ride. I took the motor off and laid it on the grass. The bags had to be shuffled around and the water wings had to be deflated and taken into the car. As I worked the sun beat down. By the time I had finished my little chores I was soaked from sweat. The oldest air conditioning method was 15 yards away. Kersplash. Ouhh that thing is still cold. It didn’t take me long to get cooled off. I was out of the river in a flash.

When I came out of the water I sat in the grass under a great shade tree. There I drip dried, drank a cold bottle of water and watched the people fishing. As I sat there, I saw something I hadn’t seen on this river. Here was a seasoned citizen couple guided by a fellow standing at the oars of a Snake River dory. Kewwl, I thought. They were flyfishing down the Norfork. The last one of those things I saw was “on-assignment” in Idaho. I always thought they were super neat and would love to fish from one someday. Maybe I will. I need to go back to the Snake and Idaho to shoot some more pictures of the dories in action. I loved the beautiful scenes, with the classic fishing action, perfect for stock photography.

Debbie arrived and we loaded the boat onto the trailer. The first thing I did was forget to unplug the trailer’s taillights before I backed her into the water.  A few minutes later I noticed what I had done and unplugged them. I was afraid I had shorted the whole thing out and would have to drive through all those little towns and I-30 east Texas speed traps without taillights. The lights seemed to be about half full of water so I was sure I was doomed.

I got her loaded easily enough. The river was rising rapidly again. I think it was a private little message to let me know it was still in charge. I got the message. I believed the river. It would always be in charge. I pulled the boat and trailer out of the water and then went back to hook up the lights. I let them drain for a minute or two and then plugged them into the car socket. They worked great and nothing blew up. Wow! Maybe the luck had changed with the weather. At least it looked like it.

We got back to the Cotter Trout Dock and Debbie made coffee. I cleaned out the boat the best I could but I had standing water in the floor and apparently some gas had leaked from the motor as it lay on the bottom. The bath towels I used to pad the floor were soaked with a gasoline smelling brew. I found some more towels in the back of the car and placed them under the prop as it lay on the floor of the canoe. I wanted to prevent it from rubbing the floor but I wanted to soak up that gas as well. I used the towels to soak up the foul liquid and rung them out a few times. That was the best way I could figure to get the water out. So the theory of soaking it up then blowing it out over a 500 mile, 70 mph evaporation process should take care of the problem. I know that was the lazy way to bail the canoe but I was ready to drive.

Debbie wished me well and pointed me toward a great bar-b-que joint. It was near Cotter just a few miles back to the east on 62 in a community called Gassville I think. The place was called KC’s.

I went there and ordered two small bar-b-que pork sandwiches. The young woman running the cash register was very professional and the place was clean and decorated well. The smell when you walked in was of hickory smoke. The sandwich was wonderful and much larger than I had expected. As we talked the young lady introduced her husband and said they had purchased the restaurant from a retired Cajun couple. The new owners were from the great city of Bellingham, Washington. I had good memories of some ex Marines and a rugby game there in the late sixties. They were a nice young couple and asked me to try a couple of their baby back ribs. Dynomite, hickory smoked with a glaze of some sort I would guess. I enjoyed the conversation and the food and was impressed with the way the treated an old cat with several days of beard and a funky river look to him.  Nice place, nice folks they will do very well there. The Ozarks seem to attract people like that.

I asked the bar-b-que lady to wrap my second sandwich up as I would probably need it before I reached Dallas. I took the tinfoil package and headed to the car. I checked all the straps and taillights once again. Then off our little outfit went toward the big city lights of Dallas some 500 miles to the South West.

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