Enjoy the Scenic Missouri

Usually, the Missouri River stays within its banks, but when it doesn't, it's deadly. Headlines from 1937, 1947, 1951, 1952, 1984 and 1993 describe the devastation that occurs when the Mighty Missouri floods.

To be fair, this powerful waterway also deserves some credit for many days, weeks, months and even years when it's better characterized as a calm, peaceful, tranquil, inviting and entertaining place to be. These qualities make the mighty Missouri one of the most alluring rivers in the Midwest.

I've logged more than 700 miles floating this magnificent river. In July 2000, for example, my son-in-law and I floated on a 20-foot pontoon boat from Sioux City, Iowa, to Kansas City. In September 2002, I floated from Sugar Creek to St. Charles in a 17-foot fishing boat.

From those two endeavors and a few weekend trips, I have learned that there is no best way to float the river. The method of travel is merely a means to an end. Simply being there makes it memorable.

On the 2002 trip down the lower Missouri River, I planned to spend 13 days floating 325 miles. For my "raft," I selected a 17- foot aluminum fishing boat equipped with an all-weather top. I christened her the Gray Eagle. Her top was made of metal, but she was configured more like a prairie schooner than a fishing craft.

The design was quite comfortable. Across the back was a bed frame that contained my sleeping bag. Inside the canopy and attached to the top were fishing rod holders and storage racks. Along the interior walls were hooks for clothes, switches that controlled the running lights, and racks for my maps.

The floor compartment held a single-burner gas stove and other cooking utensils. I carried enough canned, non-perishable food to last 14 days. I carried enough water to consume one gallon every 24 hours.

While planning my adventure, I contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and requested a set of Missouri River Navigation charts. These charts show the course of the river and the location of mile markers that show the distance upstream from the mouth at St. Louis. The charts also show the locations of various public recreational facilities.

I also carried a copy of the boating regulations from the U.S. Coast Guard. I made sure the boat met all the requirements for lights, horns, flotation devices, fire extinguishers and safety