Cruising the Cache
By Erin Taylor Photo Courtesy Of Greers Ferry Lake / Little Red River Tourism Association
It was a “hard-to-put-into-words” experience, and it left an indelible impression. The Cache River. At the time, all I knew of the Cache was that it was famous for the controversial 2005 sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker, but that was it. Well, I can now tell you, without hesitation, that floating this Delta river should be your next “go to” spring adventure.
Let me set the stage: The Cache River is a 213-mile tributary of the White River, and its watershed is notable for containing the largest remaining tract of contiguous bottomland hardwood forest found in North America. In 1986, the 67,000-acre Cache River National Wildlife Refuge was born. Characterized by extensive forested flats, meandering channels and amphibian-filled swamps, the wildlife sanctuary is also the most important wintering area for mallard ducks and other migratory waterfowl on the continent. It’s simply spectacular.
I wandered onto the Cache River NWR one morning in April for a guided tour, having little idea of what to expect. Other than photos and the stories of a few locals in Augusta, I was an unsuspecting and unassuming tourist. We put in at the Rex Hancock Black Swamp Wildlife Management Area (adjacent to the refuge) in a roomy flat-bottom boat. The Black Swamp sounded mysterious to me, and I had goose bumps as we pushed away from shore and headed into the still, quiet bottomland waters.
As my eyes adjusted to the dim light under the tree canopy, I looked around at the bald cypress trees and it seemed as though we had entered a land that time forgot. These majestic trees surround you, hundreds of them as far as the eye can see standing in the water. Everything was so green and fresh and alive. The bald cypress’ delicate, lime-green foliage contrasts with the dark waters of the swamp, and its branches have an open, airy quality that’s particularly calming. Stunned, I wanted to stay there and just keep floating. And when the sun’s rays began to shine through the trees onto the water, I knew I was some place special.
The meandering curves of the river eventually brought us to the Cache proper. As we approached, I began to hear the sound of hundreds of birds welcoming us to the river’s edge. There are more than 200 species of birds here: wood ducks, geese, eagles, hawks, wading birds, blue herons, kingfishers and other assorted migratory birds, and although the guide mentioned the refuge is also home to more than 50 species of mammals such as white-tailed deer, raccoon, bobcat and river otter, I didn’t see any. In retrospect, that’s not surprising—my senses were on overload taking in the moving canopy above.
The journey seemed shorter on the way back. Of course it wasn’t, just more familiar now. And I began to see things I missed on the way in. It’s like watching a favorite movie again and seeing something different and new.
As we closed in on the shore, I was already planning my next trip. The river begins rising in November and December, which are the peak times to see large concentrations of migrating waterfowl, and continues through April, when migratory warblers and perching birds come through. As summer approaches, the waters surrounding the Cache River start to recede and the trail we just floated goes dry. My feet planted firmly back on shore, I thanked my host, the alluring beauty I had just seen still floating in my head. An indelible impression, indeed.