Friday, June 26, 2015

Killing Time

After a week of driving around country roads looking for old barns to photograph while my daughter attended morning classes, I was looking to shake things up a bit. I came across this river southwest of town and after consulting a fisherman, I determined that it was the Skunk River. I am familiar with the river but from quite a ways farther west where one can just about jump across it. Along the Skunk I found a park that contained the old bridge seen above which is now just a pedestrian bridge with some park benches and a picnic table on it. I like these old iron bridges but the sign saying that a maximum of 100 people could be on the bridge gave me some notice. That doesn't seem like a lot of weight for a bridge.

The bridge, like many of its kind, was full of interesting decorative ironwork that you just don't see these days.

Downstream of the bridge about a 100 yards was what used to be a hydroelectric dam. If you had asked me if there were any dams on the Skunk river I would have told you absolutely not, much less dams that used to produce electricity. The dam had been defunct for many years by the looks of things but according to the fisherman poling for flatheads off of it, there had been talk about bringing it back to life.

The scary part of the dam was that there was absolutely no warning that it existed on the river and no cable or self-rescue device for a boater to save themselves before going over the brink. The way the water was flowing due to recent rains, I judged from passing stumps and logs like the one above, that you had about two minutes after coming around a nearby bend before going over the dam into the huge re-circulatory wave at the bottom that was full of logs that would have ground you into a bloody pulp. As someone who kayaks, those are one of the most dangerous things you can find on the river. I watched the above massive stump flow over the dam and recirculate for over 15 minutes before I tired of watching it and moved on. That is an eternity for a human to survive especially when most of that time would be spent under water.

On the upstream side of the hydro part of the dam, I saw a large tree trunk about 18 inches in diameter wedged against the dam and a huge whirlpool about two feet in diameter and going down deeper than I could see at the end of the log. While this might not kill someone, it would sure scare the bajeebers out of someone to get caught in one of those and sucked down.

After that first time at the dam, I came back a couple more days and spent lots of time parked on the other side of the river reading and watching logs and entire trees wash downstream over the dam. (Note you can see the hydro part of the dam in the background of the above picture.) The first tree I saw happened so fast that I didn't get any pictures and then I didn't see another one the rest of the day. On my final day, I happened to see one in plenty of time to get a series of pictures. You can see the base of it jutting out from the water after the edge of the dam and a large part of the upper structure in the far right of the photo.

The tree got caught up in the recirculating water beneath the falls and thrashed about there for about 15 minutes and was quite a site to see. I could hear deep booms from beneath the water as other logs mashed against it stripping it of much of its small branches and washing them off downstream. A couple times it got closed to the concrete jutty on my side of the river and I backed off for fear that the water might flip parts of it up onto the jutty and seriously injuring me.

Finally after 15 minutes of this and about 50 pictures on my part, the tree finally escaped the boil line beneath the dam about 30 feet which divided the recirculating part of the water from the water heading downstream. I took one parting shot of the tree as it made it's way south to the Des Moines river and then the Mississippi where it would likely spend it's life upstream of the river lock just south of their confluence.


Vince said...

That's a beautiful elegant bit of stonework. But is it me or did the iron work look a bit thin. A 100 bodies on the structure supported on such piers and boxed steel shouldn't bother it overmuch I'd have thought. The design looks like something a corps of engineers could put up in a day or two. Are those decorative bits only or are they structural. And what's that lid thing in the middle about do you know.

Leigh said...

That whirlpool gives me the creeps.

Ed said...

Vince - In our area, we have lots of stone like that though it has to be quarried from underground. We have lots of buildings, bridges, etc. that are made from it, many from the days of the great depression by the corps of engineers. I'm guessing this bridge was from that time period. The decorative bits due serve as corner gussets to prevent the bridge from racking but a single piece of straight iron would do the same function. So they are structural but decorative because they could, something you don't see much these days. You may not be able to see it but in the middle of the bridge (which is closed to all but foot traffic) there was a picnic table in the middle and the lid thing was a sun screen for those wishing to dine at it. Because the river was up pretty high, I didn't linger long enough to eat lunch there but when it is lower, it would be a nice place.

Leigh - Me too. When I boated the Grand Canyon, in the very lower canyon right before you reach lake Mead, it is full of car sized whirlpools. The guides said they would suck you down a ways and flush you out with no harm but I still stayed well away from them.

sage said...

Those dams are always dangerous. When I first started paddling back in the mid-70s, before guidebooks and such were out, I remember "discovering" first hand old dams on rivers, where the horizon just dropped and that was your only warning and you'd have to find a way to portage. Dams can be death traps and are dangerous to try to run.