William Bartram, a well known explorer of the southeastern US, was a botanist, and those who have read his works know that he described the flora he encountered on his travels in meticulous detail. Right now, I was cursing most of that flora as Joan Steed and I, paddling along part of the Bartram Canoe Trail in the Tensaw Delta region in South Alabama, were dealing with our most recent fallen tree problem.
We were trying to paddle down Globe Creek, which at the moment closely resembled a deeply incised drainage ditch full of tree trunks and branches. The land was not much easier to travel over when scouting because, in addition to the native flora that Bartram encountered, there were large populations of non-native plants that have unfortunately been introduced since the time of his travels in the mid 1700s.
For some reason these interlopers are particularly inclined to form impenetrable walls of vegetation. After spending ages trying to walk around it, I finally got a look at the lower end of the tree pile in the creek. It was abundantly clear that we were going no further in this direction.
Fortunately for us, this being a wildlife management area, it turned out that there was a gravel road at no great distance to us down in the depths of the creek. Joan and I tied up our boats (not that they were in great danger of heading downstream, either with or without us) and walked up the road.
Turns out that after about two and a half hours of paddling we were only a mile from the car. So we drove back, hoisted those heavy sea kayaks back up on the racks (we are used to little play boats) and headed to our plan B destination for the evening, a designated camping area across from a firing range. Which turned out to be nice after the guy firing off some kind of gun perhaps useful for taking out elephants left for the evening.
Now, because the Tensaw delta is in fact a worthy destination for overnight canoe/kayak camping trips, and so far that is probably not your main impression, we need to explain how we got ourselves stuck in a ditch full of wood. Simple! We didn’t check any gauges!
If it had been a whitewater creek, we certainly would have. We are definitely the types to anxiously spend time on the computer tracking the progress of stream flows. But (and yes, we are aware there is a drought), having done a similar trip (from a different landing) last Thanksgiving, we felt familiar enough with the area and that it was downstream enough (most of the rivers in Alabama end up in this delta) to have enough water. Plus we are both busy.
So we missed the warning on the website which suggested that Globe Creek would be a poor choice to paddle at the moment. Especially during low tide. Which it was. And with a wind from the north blowing water out into Mobile Bay. Which it was. And with the Claiborne dam release being 4 feet instead of the recommended 15 to 18 feet. Which it was.
The second day we put in at a different landing which was on big enough water to accommodate powerboats. There are some powerboats at that time of year (November), but not enough to be overly annoying. We paddled straight to our platform that we had reserved for the second night of our trip.
These platforms are more or less like the ones in the Okefenokee except they lack what to some is a crucial amenity: the outhouse. Tensaw platforms have only a shower curtain stall, and you are to bring containers to pack out human waste. And for females, a pee container is strongly recommended, unless you are way more gymnastically skilled than us.
The platforms are tucked in coves off of the main channels and must be reserved in advance. They are attached to the shore with a device that allows them to raise and lower with the tide. The water was low enough when we were there that the platform at low tide was not quite level, but still more level than many campsites I have stayed at.
Reasons to go to the Tensaw delta include the numerous different-sized waterways to explore, from large mainstem rivers to narrow creeks. There are three overnight camping platforms scattered in such a way as to allow for a multi-night trip. The delta is mostly Forever Wild land, which means it is protected from development. You will have to share the area with power boaters and hunters, which means you might want to consider what time of year you go if those bother you.
The vegetation is largely bottomland hardwood forest complete with wildlife and birds, including the anhinga that guarded the entrance to the cove where our second night’s platform was located both years we were there. I imagine there are plenty of mosquitoes in warmer weather, although there were only a few when we were there.
Most waterways are passable year round, but Globe Creek and Bear Creek require a lot more water than was present this last Thanksgiving. I would strongly recommend getting the large glossy map (free) from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, State Lands Division, and checking out the Bartram Canoe Trail website (www.bartramcanoetrail.com), which you will need to do anyway to reserve a platform. While there, you can link to sites that help you determine water levels!
by Heather Sutton
From The Eddy Line, March 2008