“Cemetery Ridge” on the Osage

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Mar 062016

One of the best parts of working on a book is the research – specifically the road trips to locations we’re writing about. Hard to believe that eight years ago Damming the Osage was still just the “Osage River book” and we were still photographing out of the way places that were key sites along its banks. The first week of March 2008, we roamed the north side of what is now Truman Reservoir from Clinton to Warsaw and spots in between.

We struck up a conversation with a man from Monegaw Springs who pronounced it ‘Mon-e-goh.’ He was not happy with the state of the river since Truman Dam closed. The lake near them had become a “willow-nasty-ass bottom.” He told us about “Cemetery Ridge” near Monegaw. We hiked through the woods along the ridge (“if you get to the slough you’ve gone too far”) and found a few tombstones leaning against trees, scattered in the woods. Possibly others were stolen as there appeared to be more receivers for the headstones than there were stones.

IMG_0414.-v2  IMG_0420 IMG_0416

Through the trees we caught a glimpse of the backed up waters of the Osage/Truman. The resident of Monegaw was accurate in his descriptor – mud flats were indistinct edges to the trapped water.  Dead tree trunks, broken branches stuck up from the mud. Lost life stories and the lost river …


Aug 052014

July 20, 2014: The last Sunday in Colorado, we made a round trip drive along Trail Ridge Road from Estes Park to Grand Lake.

Grand Lake – elevation 8,367 feet; formed by glaciation 30,000 years ago; estimated depth, 265 feet.

Largest natural lake in Colorado and headwaters of the Colorado River

Grand Lake, Colorado: Largest natural lake in Colorado and headwaters of the Colorado River


July 27, 2014: Back home in Missouri, we made a Sunday drive to the Warsaw area and Truman Dam and Reservoir.

Truman Reservoir – elevation 706 feet; formed by the Corps of Engineers in 1979; average depth 22 feet.

Truman Reservoir on the Osage River: purpose - flood control, hydropower, recreation

Truman Reservoir on the Osage River: purpose – flood control, hydropower, recreation

Mountain lakes are commemorated in paintings, promoted on postcards and praised in poems. One could draw the conclusion that in areas of high relief, lakes are more successful. Even artificial lakes built for both flood control and hydropower purposes are more effective in mountainous areas. Blocking prairie streams with relatively gentle relief – like the Osage and South Grand rivers – creates inefficient flood storage and minimal hydropower possibilities. One would think the Corps of Engineers would have realized this. Actually – they probably did, but they were being incentivized by construction companies and encouraged by delusional local advocates and politicians. Today they would never undertake a marginal project like Truman Dam and Reservoir. Lessons have been learned … at least we like to think so!

May 122013

Paddlefish eggs at Blind Pony Hatchery

When Truman Dam closed, the paddlefish was cut off from its primary spawning grounds, the gravel bars of the upper Osage. This ancient fish has inhabited the Mississippi and Missouri river system for more than a hundred million years. Today the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Blind Pony Hatchery supplies an average of thirty thousand 10″ to 12″ fingerlings for stocking in Lake of the Ozarks, Truman and Table Rock reservoirs and in the Black River.

This close cousin of the sturgeon is highly valued, not only for its meat, but also for its roe (eggs) which makes a respectable form of caviar.  With the cooperation of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service the Department generously provided eggs, fry and even some adult Osage River paddlefish to the Soviet Union from 1974 to 1977.  Between 1984 and 1986, the Russians successfully bred this Osage River stock at the Experimental Fish Breeding Plant near the Black Sea. As well as raising them for food and caviar, the Russians have distributed paddlefish to Romania, Moldavia, Ukraine, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. International interest in the Osage River paddlefish coincides with the 1972 environmental lawsuit to stop the dam and save their spawning grounds.

The Chinese began obtaining paddlefish fry from the United States in 1988. Soon they realized that fertilized paddlefish eggs had greater viability and they began buying them from private hatcheries in the U.S. and Russia. Today, paddlefish are successfully spawned in China and raised for food in ponds in more than 10 provinces. In addition to the flesh, the head, gills and intestines are incorporated into dishes in China.

You can see more on the Globalization of the American Paddlefish on our YouTube channel.