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Tubing the Shell Rock an excellent adventure

By Joe Buttweiler

PLYMOUTH – Floating backward toward a small herd of cows standing in the river, the trio of tubers became more than a little concerned.

“MOOOVE” they yelled, laughing and hoping like heck that the huge animals now just 10 feet away would giddyup, or whatever cows do to get out of the way.

As if tired from having to yield yet again to another flotilla, Bossy and the gals ambled up the river bank and out of the path of the tubers, who were very grateful that no tails went up.

Tree branches, rapids, rock outcroppings. Maybe an encounter with a turtle or goose or muskrat, or a rowdy raft of or two of revelers. But bovines?

Hey, you get what you get when you float down the mighty Shell Rock River — lots of relaxation and fun in the sun, but many mini episodes, especially when two of the three tubers are 10 and on their first float.

The soon-to-be fifth-grade boys couldnÅft wait to score some tubes and get in the water Saturday afternoon after asked about the idea. Faces lit up like a big bright smiling sun.

Finding some water thrones proved an adventure itself, with stops at Jake’s Place, Lucky’s Last Resort and Camp at the Woods before snagging the phone number of Don Cobb (photo, left).

We met at Wilkinson Pioneer Park in Rock Falls. First Mate Chelsi Ciavarelli drove the eager navigators up to Strand Park in Plymouth, aired up the tubes, fitted the boys in life jackets and briefed them on the best way to get through the rapids near the end of the ride.

Splash! We were off, holding on to each otherÅfs tubes as we began what would be a two-hour journey down a rapidly moving river.

Ahhhh. Lean back, soak up some sun the chillaxing begin.

“Let’s go, every man for himself,” Michael said, preferring to let go of each other’s tubes and float individually for a while.

After a couple 360’s and some arm-paddling, we reconvened for a while and fished some soda pops out of the cooler tube.

Several floaters in front of us — some of whom were on their second time down the river that day — shouted as they bobbed over more rapids.

Scores of other tubers and rafters lazed down the Shell Rock. Their colorful watercraft, hats, swimwear, tattoos and sometimes hilarious antics made for an amusing parade. Dozens of easy-goers watched from riverside campsites at their homes away from home.

Recent rain made for a stronger-than-usual flow, but not too fast.

“The river is certainly something to respect,” said Cobb, who opened Shell Rock Tubing on Memorial Day weekend. He has 22 tubes for rent at $10 apiece, plus $5 extra for a cooler tube. Life vests for the kids are no extra charge, and highly recommended.

Cobb said he’s enjoyed tubing in the past and saw a need for a rental business. Camp at the Woods used to rent them but was essentially regulated out of the business by the state Department of Natural Resources.

Shell Rock Tubing tailors its trips to the customers, Cobb said, depending on the size and experience level of the group, the amount of time they have, and the pace of the river.

The colorful Airhead tubes are covered and have plenty of handles and straps, plus cloth bottoms to help protect passengers from unexpected bumps to the backside.

Cobb said he hopes to expand his fleet next year and do more advertising, reaching beyond North Iowa to Rochester. “I just want to ease into it,” he aptly said.

Asked about any remarkable tales from customers, he said he had a guy get tangled up in a tree.

The encounters with bridge supports, mucky river bottom and rollicking rapids — and don’t touch the electric fence spanning the river! — make for a memorable journey.

“The unpredictability keeps it exciting,” Cobb said.

That’s for sure.

“This is the most fun I’ve had all summer,” said one of the 10-year-olds. He quickly corrected himself: “Any summer.”



Shell Rock Tubing operates from 11 a.m. to dusk on weekends and by appointment on weekdays if operators are available and floating conditions are favorable.
For more information or to make reservations, call Don Cobb at 641-420-5373, or e-mail The company’s website is

More photos:

Yellow daisies bloom along the Shell Rock River in Wilkinson Pioneer Park.

Bossy looks none too pleased about commotion on the river.

Kickin’ back on the Shell Rock. Aqua socks or other foot protection is recommended.

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