Paddler’s Guide – Introduction

There are 24 million paddlers in North America; very few of them know about the Lower Mississippi, and even less use it.  The river is a mystery to even its closest neighbors.  This is a much overdue project that will benefit locals, visitors, boaters and all outdoors enthusiasts.  It will create the missing link between paddlers & the river: routes, river descriptions, good maps & paddler-friendly information.  It can be used by fishermen & hunters, although it will not be a fishing guide or a hunter’s guide.  It’s a paddler’s guide.   It will open the potential of the Lower Mississippi as a paddler’s destination.  The Lower Miss’ (as she’s fondly known) should be as popular a destination as the Boundary Waters of Minnesota or the Allagash of Maine.  And yet it remains as little-known & little-used as the most remote of American rivers like the Yukon.  Millions of paddlers every year get on the Buffalo and other Ozark rivers in Arkansas & Missouri, and yet only a few hundreds at most get on the Lower Mississippi.  Why?  Because it is a big wild river and there is no guide available for paddlers.  Until now.

For the long-distance traveler, the Rivergator will include information and links to provide a completely integrated visit to the mid-south (obviously centered on the big river).  Good supporting land conveniences & services (such as food, accommodations, and groceries) and superb cultural enhancement (such as the Delta Cultural Center and the Delta Blues Museum) are found in all towns & cities along the route.  This website will list them all in side bars or separate pages for easy access.

Paddling the big river

The beautiful word Mississippi is derived from the Ojibwe name misi-ziibi, meaning “Great River”, or gichi-ziibi, meaning “Big River.”  The awe-struck DeSoto expedition called it “El Rio Grande” the big river.  You often hear it called the Father of Waters, although I prefer the name “Mother River” on the Lower Miss because it runs so wild and has so many moods, and simultaneous gave birth to the productive Lower Mississippi Valley.  Paddlers in Natchez have named it the “Phatwater” and celebrate its greatness with an annual forty-five mile challenge.  

Whatever you call it, the big muddy river dominates the landscape more proudly and pervasively than any of the many forces which combine, multiply & divide over the middle of America.  The sun rises and sets.  The moon rules the night sky for a time and then is reduced to a sliver, and then ends its cycle as a pale ghost.  The wind blows itself into gusts and gales and then subsides and stills.  The forests explode in greenery through the warm months and then become naked barren brown & blacks in the cold. The passage of severe thunderstorms comes & goes.  Hurricanes threaten for a season.  Only the river remains present — forever strong, unruly, unstransmutable.  It fluctuates in scale, from low water to high water to flood, but its inherit character remains constant.

Below the Arkansas everything increases proportionately: the face of the river, the pools between shoals, the size of the islands, the sweep of the sandbars, the length of the willow forests, the depth of the muddy banks.  Even the narrows are less narrow.  As you look downstream you will find an enlarged expanse of muddy brownish greenish water rolling & tumbling through incrementally bigger river bends.  There are a few smaller tributaries downstream, notably the Yazoo and the Big Black, but none effect the scale of the big river as significantly as the Arkansas.  Here the Mississippi River swells to its mature fullness  and happily fills its wide valley with the gurgling waters of a nation, everything in between Montana and New York State, everything from the Rockies to the Appalachians, from the Smokies to the Alleghenies, from the New Mexican Plateau to the Cumberland Plateau, from the Great Plains to the Eastern Woodlands, and through the heartland, the midwest, the mid south and deep south, and most famously from the North Woods (Lake Itasca) to the Coastal Marshes of the Gulf of Mexico (Birdsfoot Delta).

For the paddler this largesse can be at turns enlightening, frightening and  overwhelming.  It can inspire you to new perspectives and motivate life-changing decisions.  It can subdue you to the point of boredom, and leave you confused and utterly alone.  You’ll never feel more challenged; you’ll never be more humbled.