The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
166.7 RBD Cliff Cave County Park
Leaving St. Louis behind the river rolls along the base of the Missouri bluffs and the limestone cliffs seem to rise higher and higher. At mile 166.7 a spectacular cave opens its mouth to the river below. Cliff Cave (also known as Indian Cave) was used during the Archaic Period (ca. 7000 to 1000 BC) like other caves and rockshelters in Missouri and Illinois. The cave is thought to contain an Osage Waukon, which is a kind of spirit being that inhabits mysterious places like this cave. The cave has 4 entrances and literally “breathes” during extremely cold winter days. It is very likely that the Osage and Illini people believed it to be inhabited by a Waukon (Osage, spirit being) during the days when the mist issues from the mouth of the cave. The cave is used by bats during certain months and some Native American traditions linked bats with the supernatural world. It is possible that Native American rock art once decorated the walls, but it has been defaced by modern graffiti. A 3 foot water fall cascades into a pool of water which is located approximately 200 ft. from the entrance of the cave where the passageway turns and total darkness is encountered. Historically this pool would have supported albino crayfish (Cambarus sp.), albino salamanders (Typhlotriton spelaeus) and blind fish (Typhlichthys subterraneus) before urban pollution destroyed the fragile habitat of the cave. The albino and eyeless lifeforms in the cave stream would have thrived in the 3 ft. deep pool; their eerie features would have been seen by the Osage as supernatural manifestations.
Cliff Cave was also the site of a horrific drowning following torrential rainfall and a flash flood in 1993. Seven hikers died, all young men and their chaperones from the St. Joseph’s Home for Boys in St. Louis. The bodies of two boys and a man in his 30s were found in a twisted knot just outside the cave. After being drowned they were pushed out by water that poured through several holes in the cavern ceiling. The body of another boy, about 10 years old, was recovered hours later 500 yards inside the cavern. A missing woman and two missing boys were swept out of the cave and into the Mississippi and were presumed drowned.
You can make landing at Cliff Cave. Even though the banks are collapsing into the river, paddlers can find a good place to stop and stretch your legs. You will find bathrooms in season (April-Oct). Paddlers can pull out anywhere along the bank here at low/medium water and enjoy a walk up through the heavily wooded park to the mouth of the cave. The cave has about a mile of caverns to explore, but it’s only open by special permission. At high water, you can paddle right into the park and find a grassy landing to disembark.
166 RBD Fleeted Barges
Watch for fleeted barges often encountered along the Missouri shore below Cliff Cave Landing and opposite the Luhr Brothers Landing at the mouth of Carr Creek. As noted above in the St. Louis Harbor, fleeted barges present special challenges to paddlers. Do not allow your route to pass in front of any anchored vessels. For one thing, there will be an anchor point somewhere upstream, which may or may not be visible. If you inadvertently get to close, the water current can easily suck you under and the rake ends of the barges will immediately flip you over. This has happened to at least pair of paddlers with disastrous results. Stay well away from fleeted barges, in particular don’t approach from top end. Plan your route to take you hundreds of yards away on either side.
166 – 165 RBD Wing Dams
Possible low water camping in sandy places behind and in between wing dams. Paddle into outside of eddy which typically revolves below point of the dike. Swirl around and make stylish landing on sand.
166 LBD Luhr Bros., Inc.
Luhr Bros., Inc. operates a fleet of 28 towboats which specialize in moving stone and other aggregate. Their bright green and yellow stripes makes them immediately recognizable to anyone who frequents the Mississippi. They seem to be paddler friendly. The Army Corps of Engineers and others contract Luhr Bros for wing dams and rock projects around the Middle and Lower Mississippi from their stone yards in Cape Girardeau, New Orleans, and along several tributaries. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans area, Luhr Bros was able to mobilize immediately to construct rock dike closures at the breaches on the East Bank of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal.
Luhr tows range from 460 to 7200 horsepower (hp), and Four boats have greater than 6600 hp and are capable of delivering 30 barges of stone per trip to New Orleans with each tow having approximately 40,000 to 45,000 tons. Five of the towboats have 3,000-4,000 hp and are capable of delivering 12 barge tows and 16 barge tows.
Besides rock, Luhr can deliver Aglime, Manufactured Sand, Bedding, Aggregates, Filters, Gabion Stone, Rip Raps, Corps of Engineers graded rip rap of various sizes, and up to 4 ton Armor Stone. Luhr quarries its own materials from Tower Rock Stone Company, RBD four miles above the Ste. Genevieve Harbor, at Mile 127
Luhr Bros was founded in 1938 by brothers Alois and Eugene Luhr. Eugene borrowed money for a Cat D8 tractor, and Alois began working on their first project, digging the basement for the Valmeyer, Illinois, high school.
164.5 LBD Pulltight Landing Blue Hole
Just below and opposite Pulltight Landing is a large blue hole carved out of the riverbank parallel to the outside of the bend here by the Flood of 1993. As you’re paddling by you probably won’t notice the slight variation in treeline where the river runs in and out at highwater. A blue hole typically gets carved during highwater, or in this case a flood. An obstruction of some sort sets the blue hole digging mechanism into action. When fast water hits a solid mass like a sinker log, or a wrecked barge (or here the rip-rap alongside the riverbank), it boils upwards. Everyone knows for every action and equal and opposite reaction. As it billows upwards in boils, reactionary currents suck downwards filling the vacuum of the upward motion. As the reactionary waters suck downwards they strike and gouged-out holes in the river bottom, sometimes in sand, sometimes gravel, sometimes mud. Here at Pulltight it’s that rich American Bottom mud. The results are seen in various isolated lakes and holes scattered throughout the floodplain. For years people wondered where blue holes came from, and what caused them. We used to wonder the same about “kettle holes,” those lakes that are created when giant chunks of ice melt (left behind by the retreating ice cap).
161 LBD Meramec Bar
This chain of wing dam bars forms around the dams scattered over four miles of river roughly centered around and opposite the mouth of Meramec. The water starts flowing behind this Island of the Meramec Bar around 10SLG, and the entire island disappears underwater with a few scraggly willows gasping for air around 25. The best campsite in this stretch has one severe downfall: it is opposite the electrical thunder-bluster of the Ameren Meramec Power Plant. If you can ignore the light and thunder show, pull in below the 1st wing dam LBD below the powerline crossing. Even in low water the eddy pool is deep, and usually close access can be gained to the island sandbar and the protection of the scrubby growth of trees above. There are plenty of other campsite choices in low water throughout this stretch of river, so if this one doesn’t look good, or if it’s inhabited keep searching downstream.