Cache La Bayou, Arkansas
The best thing about searching for a formerly extinct bird is that it can force you out of your comfort zone. Take Bayou DeView, for example, or any of the other adjacent bayous, swamps, and sloughs within the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in east-central Arkansas. This heretofore all-but-ignored refuge, which preserves a fraction of the dark emerald forests that once carpeted the bottomlands of America's broad southern rivers, suddenly went viral when an ivory-billed woodpecker was reportedly sighted here about a decade ago—the first time that this most iconic of birds had been observed in North America since 1944.
Located at the crossroads of nowhere, these seasonally flooded, sludge-brown bottomlands where the Ghost Bird reputedly still roams is as confusing a place to paddle as you can imagine, known mostly to good 'ol boys—hunters, fishers, trappers—who don’t seem to appreciate camera-toting birdwatchers in their fancy canoes and kayaks. So why would any sane paddler voluntarily enter this labyrinth, especially in the steamy summer months when the heat index can easily top 135 brain-scrambling degrees, when the serpentine green mazes turn into dry, dead-end chutes, and when the mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, and deadly cottonmouth water moccasins are as thick as fleas on a coon dog? Because, as I discovered during my Quixotic quests when searching for America's rarest bird, these deliciously unfamiliar, ill-begotten, yet subtly beautiful bayous, even at their vilest, are rather fun to explore by canoe in a masochistic man-on-a-mission kind of way. –Larry Rice
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