The Fourth of July was full of activities, but we still managed to enjoy a nap at camp in the afternoon. We paddled a little over 8 miles on the Spoon River, our shortest of the three days. The put-in was the most adventurous, requiring a drive down a hilly one-lane gravel road. After dropping off the kayaks, I had to push my little Honda Fit hatchback when it got stuck in a muddy rut. Getting to the Spoon isn’t easy, but navigating the actual river isn’t too bad. There were only a couple of narrow sections around deadfalls and, of course, constant twists and turns, but the channel is deep and there are only a couple of riffly areas. If you’re looking for a whitewater adventure, this is the wrong river. But if you’re looking for pastoral solitude… For the second day in a row, we didn’t see another soul on the water. Once again, we were a muddy mess after taking out just south of the Hwy. 95 bridge. It was a relief to take a shower and change clothes back at camp. After lunch and a nap, we went to Putman Township Park, just south of Cuba, and played a round of disc golf. There were no marked tees, so we just made up spots to throw from. This area must be prone to tornadoes. Our campground has a “safety shelter,” a concrete bunker, and this park has an underground shelter accessed by a wooden hatch.
The next day, July 5, was our longest, as we paddled 14.5 miles from Dahinda to Maquon. After packing up our camp, we drove north along Hwy. 97 for about an hour. We stopped at the Wolf Covered Bridge en route to our put-in. Anyone used to docks and ramps would call our put in and take out difficult, but these were our easiest of the trip. We managed to avoid mud at both places.
For the first time, we saw people on the river. There were a couple of groups tubing the river and one very brave (or stupid) person that flew by in a powerboat. We were surprised, as this is the narrowest and shallowest (further upstream) section of the Spoon we paddled. Still, we were outnumbered by the wildlife. For the second day in a row, we saw a bald eagle, close enough to hear its wings flap. We also saw what looked like an otter and a snake swam right up to my kayak.
This section also has the most dramatic white sandstone cliffs and for the first time on this trip, I saw mussel shells in the various mudflats (also a rarity so far), from where the Spoon gets its name. According to Paddling Illinois, “Native Americans used mussel shells as spoons, and that the river later came to be known by this application.” While not as wild as the previous sections (we passed under many bridges, including noisy Interstate 74), this section of the Spoon is the best for a long, lazy day on the river.
It took us five hours to paddle this stretch. We all let out a whoop when we saw the bridge for the take-out. Although we had a pleasant day on the water, we were ready to be done. We stopped back in Dahinda to pick up the other car, eat, and change before the two-and-a-half-hour ride back home.
A word from the contributor: Thanks so much for helping facilitate this fun outing. We really enjoyed the kayaks. They are so much more maneuverable than our 17 foot Coleman canoe. I don't know if I'll ever want to use it again. I rented two kayaks (a single and a double) from the Adventure Center at NIU on June 29, 2021, with a return date of July 6. I used the book Paddling Illinois by Mike Svob to plan our trips on two rivers, the Fox and the Spoon.