MOHAWK - Discovering the Valley of the Crystals Copyright 2002
Chapter 11- The River
Cohoes to Hudson River
Discovery: Around and Around We Go
August 5, 2002, 85 degrees, Sunny
We decided to go over the falls with the canoe.
From Cohoes to the Hudson, the Mohawk River carved three branches and several islands in the uplifted shale. The middle branch---1.2 miles---flows north and east between Peebles Island and Van Schaick Island. Another branch---1.4 miles---flows north around Goat and Second islands, along the west shore of Peebles Island and turns east to the Hudson at Waterford. The third branch---2 miles---flows south around Simmons Island and along the west shore of Van Schaick Island before turning east to the Hudson. There is a waterfalls on the middle branch and dams on the others.
By 9 a.m. water was coming over the 1500-foot long
feeder dam at Cohoes, so we launched the canoe from the
north end of Simmons Island.
During high water periods and when the Erie Canal is closed, the river is high and almost impossible to explore afoot or by canoe. When the canal is open (May-November) Crescent Dam diverts most of the river water to the canal. The rest is diverted at another dam to feed the power plant at Cohoes. The water in the lower river rises and falls with the demands of the power plant.
When Dave and I met for breakfast on Simmons Island at 8:30 a.m. the river was practically dry, so we decided to launch the canoe at the mouth of the middle branch, paddle upstream, climb over the waterfalls and then wade up to the feeder dam. But, when we finished breakfast, water was coming over the feeder dam and there was water in the river. So, we reversed our discovery plan, leaving Dave's van at the expected takeout at Peebles Island State Park and launching the canoe from the north end of Simmons Island. It was 10 a.m. when we finally got the canoe in the water.
We carried the canoe over the waterfalls on the middle branch of the Mohawk River.
The concrete dam, located just downstream from the Route 32 Bridge, is over 1500 feet long and water was coming over its entire length. Hundreds of seagulls and dozens of ducks had gathered on the wide expanse of the river below the dam, but the bass that were so active on our last trip weren't interested in anything I had to offer. The rising water had apparently messed up their feeding habits.
There was plenty of water in the river below the Peebles Island Falls, but the bass were off their feed.
We had seen the waterfalls from the trail on Peebles Island, so we knew the shale riverbank on each side of the river was too steep to climb. However, I deduced, during the summer, it shouldn't be too difficult to take the canoe over the falls. Dave wasn't so sure.
We floated the empty canoe for less than a hundred yards, before climbing aboard and drifting towards the waterfalls. The river was broad but not too deep. Nevertheless, when we heard the falls at 10:15 we angled towards the Peebles Island side of the river. I wanted to get as close as possible to the top of the falls before getting out of the canoe, but Dave would have none of that, so we waded to the top of the falls holding on to the canoe. We carried the canoe over and around the falls, and thanks to Dave's cautious approach, we did so without incident.
Below the falls I cast to some fabulous looking water that just had to hold fish, but there were no takers. There was plenty of water, so we launched the canoe and explored the base of the falls. On the opposite side of the river, rushing water had carved a large basin into the shale bank. After fishing, exploring and photographing the waterfalls and the basin, we paddled downstream.
The river had carved a large basin into
the shale river bank below the falls.
Except for a great blue heron, some ducks, a cormorant and a few jumping carp, the rest of the trip was uneventful. We passed under the bridge to Peebles Island, and drifted into the Hudson River at 11 o'clock.
Left: The mouth of the middle branch of the Mohawk River with the Peebles Island Bridge in the background. Right: The mouth of the northern branch of the Mohawk River with the Waterford Bridge in the background.
While Dave went to shore to take photos, I had a brainstorm. Rather than take the canoe out at the State Park, why not paddle up the north branch of the river; carry the canoe over the dam and paddle back to where we launched at Simmons Island.
When I presented my plan to Dave he wondered if we could get the canoe over the dam, I noted that there was an island between the two dams, so getting around them should be a piece of cake. Dave wasn't so sure.
Fish were rising below the old railroad bridge at Waterford. Cranes and crews were visible on segments of the bridge that were being repaired and adapted for hikers and bikers. The rattle of a jackhammer echoed across the river.
We paddled under the bridge, past the entrance to the Erie Canal, past a riverside factory complex, and arrived at the dam at 11:50. We towed and carried the canoe to where the east segment of the dam butts against a small island. We had no problem lifting the canoe over the wooden splashboard and launching above the island.
We carried the canoe over the dam on the northern branch of the Mohawk.
We paddled up the channel between Peebles Island and Second Island. When the noon whistle blew we were carrying the canoe around a short rapids created by the remnants of another old dam. From there on it was an easy paddle to the bottom of the feeder dam where we were greeted by gillions of gulls, geese and ducks. Well, when the sky was filled with birds, it seemed like gillions.
From the feeder dam we walked and carried the canoe through shallow water back to the launch site. It was 12:30. In two and a half-hours we had explored two of the three branches of the Mohawk River. One to go.
Discovery: The South Branch
Bass, Carp, Ducks, Eagle . . . and the Kitchen Sink
September 25, 2002, 55 degrees, Sunny
We spent so much time driving around trying to find a place to launch the canoe that we didn't get it in the water until almost 11 o'clock. We might still be driving around if the good folks at the Ukrainian-American Club on Simmons Island didn't give us permission to launch from their property at the south end of the island. From there we had to walk the canoe almost to the Bridge Street Bridge before paddling down to the Hudson River.
We launched the canoe from the Ukrainian-American Club grounds on Simmons Island . . .
The river was too shallow to canoe on each side of Simmons Island, so when we returned to the island, we waded down the west side and up the east side . . . and thus completed the exploration of the three branches of the Mohawk River near Cohoes. Along the way we discovered bass, carp, ducks, a bald eagle . . . and the kitchen sink.
Dave left his fishing rod at home, so I had to test the waters all by myself. A gold spinner cast into the waters below Bridge St. Bridge produced a couple hits and a foot-long smallmouth bass. Although this stretch of water was probably loaded with bass, we didn't stop to fish, but continued downstream between wooded shores, flushing mallards, wood ducks, and a couple of cormorants.
. . . and paddled under this abandoned railroad bridge into the Hudson River.
As we paddled along the east side of a wooded island, wakes rippled the surface of the river. Telltale clouds of silt told the tale. We had paddled into carp heaven. Carp seemed to be everywhere. Although most of them were long gone before we got to them, we saw several moving among the weeds, and one jumped right next to my paddle, scaring the bejeses out of me.
It was 11:30 when we paddled under the abandoned railroad bridge and into the Hudson River. We continued north on the Hudson to photograph the oil tank that was converted into a marina office and restaurant.
On the return trip, we noted huge cottonwoods, big willows, box elder, maple and oak trees on the west side of the river, and second-growth trees on the east side. The river bottom near the mouth was covered with silt and the shoreline was mostly mud, but as we progressed upstream to the islands and beyond, the bottom was comprised of uplifted shale covered with a thin layer of silt and the shells of dead zebra mussels.
Once filled with oil, this tank is now a marina office and restaurant.
When fast and shallow water made canoeing impossible, we waded up the river. It was here that we discovered tires, bicycles, bricks, street signs, an old hot water tank, a weedeater, a mop . . . and a kitchen sink. I suspect some of these items came from old landfills, but a few, like the almost new, broken in half gasoline-powered weedeater was more likely thrown into the river by its frustrated owner.
While Dave towed the canoe using the mop as a wading staff, I caught a 13-inch bass from the waters below the Bridge St. Bridge. From there we towed the canoe over a rough and slippery bottom to the south end of Simmons Island.
It was 1 o'clock when we loaded the canoe on the Jeep and drove up to the Golden Krust Restaurant. An hour later we started wading around the island. On the west side we walked downstream past the bridge, the Ukrainian Orthodox church, the old stone dam and a monolith of uplifted shale. Then we headed up the wide expanse of river on the east side. Dave discovered enough bricks to build a house and I caught several small bass.We waded down the east side of Simmons Island
past the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, a stone
dam and an uplifted shale monolith.
Just above the east-side bridge, I followed a shelf of shale out into the river so I could cast to a run of deeper water. After catching a couple of bass, I angled towards shore . . . and got in trouble. I had to cross a depression in the shale to get to shallow water. As the water crept up my hip boots and the current threatened to push me downstream, I shuffled along the bottom, wishing I was wearing waders and carrying Dave's mop. With the water just splashing over the top of my boots, I made it to shore without getting dunked.
Just a little ways from this eastside bridge we saw a mature bald eagle.
As we came around the north end of Simmons Island, where there are almost always hundreds of waterbirds, a big bird left the top of a cottonwood and flew across the river. There was no mistaking the white head and tail of a mature bald eagle. A magnificent sight . . . and the perfect ending to our final discovery trip at the mouth of the Mohawk River.
Photographs by David W. Hamilton and M. Paul Keesler
Follow the path of this discovery trip by clicking on Mohawk Valley Maps: by Maptech.
Type Cohoes select New York, press GO!
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