On Saturday, April 15, 2006, the weather in NW Alabama was perfect for what I call float therapy. The temp was peaking around 89 degrees by 1:00 pm, and the sun was bright and sky clear with few clouds. Perfect sunburn conditions, just ask the author of this report! The particular float I did yesterday was on the Buttahachee River. This was one of my best local floats yet because there were virtually no snags or consequences to this trip except for the suns potent radiation. Water levels were noticeably optimal too. Very calming, very enjoyable, and a nice pace that anyone could be comfortable with.
After the last big rain we had was 7 or 8 days ago, the river had cleared up to a nice transparency without being too shallow or low. My friend, Eric and I had considered doing this float last weekend after the big rain storm. But after stepping to the mud-laden rivers edge, we decided it too unsafe because of the strength of the current and the large debris we saw cresting through its rapid movement. The river was definitely high, and from yesterdays float I gauged it to be at 6-9 foot or so. On yesterdays float, I saw one of my dads old friends, Jackie H., who owns land on the edge of the Buttahachee. He was sitting on a boulder or rock and smoking. He said that some guys from Haleyville did float this same run last weekend and were very lucky to have made it out alive.
No doubt! My buddy, Eric said he wouldve much rather went on yesterdays float rather than the one on the high and flooded Sipsey that we experienced last weekend. The excessive rain just made every float dirty and dangerous last weekend. This weekend, however, was a different story!
There are only two or three put-in/take-out options that I would recommend on this river because they are not only the most scenic, but also because the water slows to a standstill once it snakes around the town of Hamilton. Also, the attractive quality of the river fades from sandstone bluffs and whitewater to more muddy banks and sounds of traffic once one begins twisting through the city limits. This last trip was my second solo float on this same particular part of the Buttahachee River and probably my 14th overall float on this river. The Buttahachee River in Marion County is a very scenic paddle if you put in and take out at one of two key locations.
I highly recommend putting in at the Hwy. 278 Bridge just east of Hamilton. You could put in by locating the mobile home on the highways edge, and parallel to the Hwy. 278 Buttahachee river bridge. On the opposite side of the highway, theres a small turn-in that crosses a culvert. You drive up to this turn-in, as it ascends to a pasture or field. Then you see a No Trespassing sign on the fence line, but you turn to the left and head towards the high bank of the river. Park at the top and carry or drag your gear to the bottom of the bank. Thats the put-in.
To get to a nice take-out, park beside the bridge in Hamilton on the road commonly referred to as Munsingwear road. This is the road that heads east from the 4th traffic light on the south side of downtown Hamilton. Thats it. There are other combinations of put-ins and take-outs but these are the two I recommend. This float is a day float but can be used as an overnighter, as there are a few nice places that would be good for camping along the edges.
The reason I recommend this particular area for put-in is because that this is the most scenic of stretches of the Buttahachee. The sandstone bluffs, faster moving water, small and large boulders dotting the edges, and a few evergreens pitched on the steep edges make this river unforgettable. Combine the scenery with the fact that you are less likely to run into the masses of people as you would while floating the watersheds of the Sipsey Wilderness. You quickly find the float more relaxing and more enjoyable. Yesterday, I spotted an area where a wall of sandstone drops 50 feet from the high forest bank and then stretches across to the other side of the river. The water flowed over this solid piece and had made potted holes and small rapids across this section. Stopping here was irresistible. The edges of the sandstone wall roll down to form a solid stone beach of sorts. I laid out any of my gear that needed to be dried here, and stretched out for a good 20 minutes or so. This was where I got hardcore sunburn! The Coppertone sun-block was no match for the intensity of the direct sunlight combined with the reflective and refractive nature of the quartz embedded sandstone. You gotta go above SPF 4 to get any real protection in the Alabama sun.
I took some Kodak disposable cameras with me but didnt get the waterproof kind. I bought these cause I had twice sunk my Toshiba digital camera and had to let it dry for a week before it would function again. I had soaked one of these disposable Kodak cameras and had let it dry on this sandstone beach. Although water was still evident in the lens, a small fog showing, I did get some amazingly good photos. When I began photographing waterfalls along the edges of the Buttahachee, I got some neat special effects from the lens condensation. I dont usually re-work my images with Adobe PS unless they are overexposed or underexposed. But these turned out naturally good!
This was in my opinion, the most beautiful of places. It is not far after one starts this float and is about 300 or 400 yards after one passes under the first bridge. Time-wise, I put in at 11:30 a.m. and got out at 4:20 p.m. You would likely invest at least 5 hours into this run unless you plan to do any stopping along the way. This went by fast as the current was not dead. I imagine if the water were too much lower, one may spend a lot of time dragging across rocks and having to get in and out often. I got stuck only once on this entire float, in a wide but shallow area of rapids just as coming into Hamilton. I did scuff rocks about 20 times at most, but most of these were light and were indicative of good flow for this particular river.
Another put-in and take-out spot is to put in at the Hwy 253 Bridge between Hamilton and Haleyville. This bridge is on a turn-off on the opposite side of the road of Burleson Church of Christ. If coming from Haleyville, take the first left after passing this church. Putting in anywhere further up the river from this bridge is probably not a good idea, as the river is really nothing more than a creek at this point and it is quite shallow here as it is. For a shorter trip, one can invest around 4 hours here by putting in at 253 and taking out at the area known as Burn-out Bridge. To park at the take-out, drive on down Hwy 278 from the aforementioned 253 put-in and take your first right, a sharp turn that cuts back parallel with Hwy 278. This road used to be part of 278 as one can readily tell after driving it. Drive to the dead end, and park. This area was also known as America the Beautiful and was a small picnic area or park area on the rivers edge. You could also put in at 253 and take out at the main Hwy 278 Bridge mentioned at the top of this report. A climb up that bank would be a lot unless you have a winch on your vehicle.
If you do this particular float, you stop once, at Pierces Mill where you have to pull your rig out of the water and carry it around a dam. Its not too bad, but it sucks if you carry a lot of gear. There are a few nice rapids on that float as well but not until the end where you take-out. This is a scenic float too. I like both of these two float but find it best once a mile or two down from the Hwy 278 Bridge.
If you got the time and get out when the weather is right and flow is good, definitely experience the Buttahachee. Lot of small Class I rapids, and no logjams! This daytrip was truly float therapy.
No accomodations or facilities.
No fees. Be cautious to stay on right of way and to avoid trespassing.
Drive to U.S. Hwy 278 bridge east of Hamilton, AL. Put in at this bridge. Park one vehicle at take out at Munsingwear Rd. in Hamilton, AL.