People ask us all the time, “What river will we be on next?” and “Do we choose a river far ahead of time, or year-by-year?”
We put a lot of thought into which river we’ll spend our summer fieldwork. So far, it’s been mostly year by year. And there are a lot of considerations in choosing.
I thought I’d put together the list of rivers we’ve been considering so you could weigh in in the comments below. But here first, are the things we consideration when we are looking at a river for summer fieldwork:
- Navigable length. Is there a long enough stretch of navigable river with no fatal hazards, shallows and sufficient locks to get us past dams? Given our leisurely pace, we travel about 300 miles in a month with stops for exhibitions and interviews. A month is about the minimum to make it worth the trouble of getting there. So are there a minimum 300 miles of navigable river?
- People and communities. What do we know about the people of this region? Are their communities endangered? What is the health of river communities?
- Historic role. Is the river a historic waterway that will yield interesting interactions between regional history and where we are at in the present?
- Regional diversity. While no river or river community tells the entire story of a region, we try to explore different regions of the continent each summer. Have we been in this area before, or is this a new area for us?
- Exhibition opportunities. Are their art and history institutions along the river that may be interested in exhibiting the Secret History project? We are particularly interested in exhibiting in an art context.
- Travel feasibility. How far do we have to go to get there? Is it worth it? Is it feasible to tow a 7000 lbs trailer there?
Here now, are the rivers we are considering for future fieldwork for the Secret History project (in alphabetical order):
- Atchafalaya River and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway – The Atchafalaya is a “distributary” of the Mississippi and starts near Simmesport at the confluence of the Red River with the Mississippi, and were it not for river control structures, the Atchafalaya would be the new outlet of the Mississippi. It runs through the heart of Cajun country in Louisiana. It intersects the Intracoastal Waterway which runs over a thousand miles from Florida to Texas, with sections through Louisiana from New Orleans to Lake Charles.
- Columbia and Snake Rivers – The Columbia River starts in British Columbia, Canada, travels 1,243 miles and drains an area the size of France, by volume the forth largest river in North America. The Columbia and it’s tributary the Snake River are navigable to Lewiston, Idaho locking through four dams on the Snake and four dams on the Columbia.
- Hudson River – The Hudson starts in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, flows through the Hudson Valley, and dumps out in New York Harbor between Manhattan and New Jersey. Rich with indigenous, European, and American history.
- Upper Mississippi River – In 2014 and 2015, we traveled from the highest navigable place on the Mississippi above Minneapolis to Burlington, Iowa at river mile 469. That is 469 miles of the Upper Mississippi including Quincy, Hannibal, Clarksville, the confluence with the Illinois River, Alton, St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, and Cairo, we’ve never explored.
- Lower Mississippi River – The Lower Mississippi starts at the confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois beyond New Orleans, Louisiana. Historic cities Memphis, Vicksburg, Natchez, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans await, along with dozens of other small and less-well-known historic hamlets.
- Missouri River – The longest, fastest river in North America was our first terrifying punk raft trip, and a wonderful way to start my nautical career. I’ve always wanted to return for a much longer journey from Sioux City, IA to the Mississippi River to talk to the people in the little forgotten towns along the Missouri, and idle through the wiggly bits in the heart of Missouri.
- Ohio River – the Ohio River is nearly a thousand miles long and flows through six states, and has a basin that drains parts of 15 states including the Tennessee River. It is a huge river, even bigger at its mouth than the Mississippi River into which it dumps. It starts in Pittsburg and ends at the confluence with the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois.
- UK Canals and Locks – We’ve long hatched a plan to travel to England, rent, borrow, or steal a canalboat and spend a summer floating the English canal system that runs throughout the country talking to people
I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below.