The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

On the other hand 100 miles of the Platte River ran dry (in Nebraska), and that’s worrisome, especially this early in the season.  I was born and raised along the headwaters of the Platte in the Colorado Front Range.  It’s the major river of the central plains, draining everything from the Front Range to the Snowy Range to the Rattlesnake Range, from Denver to Laramie to Casper and eastward to its confluence with the Big Muddy Missouri below Omaha.  The Platte River is not supposed to run dry.  It receives waters from some of the major ranges of the Rocky Mountains and also the famously rich Oglala Aquifer of Nebraska.


“I wonder what the bottom of the river looks like?”  This is one of the most often repeated curiosities our clients press upon us as we’re floating along and buoyed by the bosom of the biggest river this side of the globe, the beautiful and mysterious Lower Mississippi River.  After the summer of 2012, we’ll be able to answer succinctly and with personal knowledge.


We are learning exactly what the bottom of the river looks like.  And we don’t even need diving gear.  Over one century ago James B. Eads walked the bottom of the river in a special diving bell he invented and learned it better than anyone before or since.  But this year U.S. river runners don’t need any life-support system.  We simply make a canoe or kayak or SUP landing and start walking!  


It’s a history lesson.  It’s biology (mostly dead stuff).  It’s geology.  It’s a class in river bottom geomorphology.  Our walk takes us up and down endless dunes and layers of mud and sand and gravel, and small plankton pools full of flopping fish or their carcasses, and turtle tracks, and the remains of feasts of bald eagles and coyotes littering the shore line, and through the evidence of ancient forests, and alongside strange eruptions of blue and green mud, and blue logs now exposed and disintegrating in the presence of oxygen UV rays, and fields of driftwood and trash, and in between beams, posts and rotting piers and amongst barge wrecks and steamboat wrecks and through jumbled slabs of wood, things long covered by water are now unveiled, the bottoms of landings, the tops of lost dredges, and even the RV that disappeared last year at Natchez-Under-the-Hill!


Everywhere we stop and walk and explore and play will eventually be covered up again in sliding layers of muddy water.  The river is low now, but it will of course rise again as it always does.


If you stay on the paved highway you won’t see it.  If you stay on the gravel road you’ll miss it.  If you stay on any road it can’t be accessed.  If you stay on the “Great River Road,” you will see only gasping forests and glimpses of sand.  But if you get on the “Real River Road,” you will see the rest of the story.   Your road reaches only the high places.  But our road goes wherever the water goes.  And this year the real river road is low, low, low!


As paddlers we of course have to stop wherever the water allows us to stop.  And so we have been ending up on the edges of the long slivers of sand reaching out way out above and below the islands, the low water sequestering blue holes, mud holes, and making inlets along a ragged jigsaw shoreline longer and more tattered then the Maine shoreline (if you added up all of the zigzag shoreline on all of the islands and channel in between St. Louis and the Gulf of Mexico).

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Middle Mississippi & Bluegrass Hills / Bootheel 195-0, 954-850 ST. LOUIS TO CARUTHERSVILLE
Chickasaw Bluffs 850 – 737 CARUTHERSVILLE TO MEMPHIS
Upper Delta 737 – 663 MEMPHIS TO HELENA
Memphis to Tunica
736 LBD Memphis, Tennessee, Mud Island Harbor
Buoys and Docks  
Floating Underneath a Bridge  
734.7 Lower Bridges/Engineer’s Bar
734.7 The Frisco Bridge
734.7 The Harahan Bridge
734.7 The Ghost Bunker
734.7 The Old Bridge (Memphis & Arkansas Bridge)
733 President’s Island
Fleeted Barges  
732 LBD Hole in the Wall ##2
727.3 TVA Transmission Lines
727.3 RBD The Wreck of the Raft
Tennessee Valley Authority  
725.5 LBD Entrance to McKellar Lake
7 Miles Up harbor Riverside Park Marina On McKellar Lake  
724 T.E. Maxon Wastewater Treatement Facility
Paddler’s Routes Below Memphis  
727 – 712 Dismal Point/Ensley Bar/Cow Island Bend Area
726 – 717 Armstrong/Dismal Point/Ensley Bar
720 Josie Harry Bar
718 – 713 Cow Island Bend
Goodbye Tennessee, Hullo Mississippi  
The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta and the Blues  
711 – 705 Cat Island No.50
710.8 LBD Starr Landing
712 – 695 Paddler’s Routes Around Cat Island and the Casinos
Pickett Dikes Back Channel  
639.8 RBD Tunica Riverpark Museum Boat Ramp
Tunica Riverpark Museum  
Basket Bar Dikes/Porter lake Dikes  
693.8 RBD Lost Lake Pass
703 Buck Island (No. 53)
701 Gold Strike Casino
700 Fitzgerald’s Casino
Tunica to Helena
700 Basket Bar
Paddler’s Routes Through Commerce and Mhoon Bends  
695 – 690 Commerce Bend
692.5 RBD Peter’s Boat Ramp
690 Rabbit Island
Switching to thhe Helena Gage  
Dikes and Water Levels  
687.5 Mhoon Landing
689 – 685 Mhoon Bar
690 – 683 Mhoon Bend
682 – 679 Whiskey Chute/Walnut Bend
680 Whitehall Crevasse
Paddler’s Routes Below Walnut Bend  
Stumpy Island, Shoo Fly Bar and Tunica Lake  
Main Channel  
677.4 LBD Tunica Runout
Behind Shoo Fly Bar  
Stumpy Island  
Walnut Bend Boat Ramp  
Tunica Lake Boat Ramp  
679 RBD Walnut Bend Boat Ramp
679 – 677 Hardin Cut-Off
677.4 LBD Pass Into Tunica Lake
677 – 676 Shoo Fly Bar
677 – 674 Stumpy Island
674.5 Harbert Point
672 RBD Mouth of the St. Francis River
Primitive Landing at the Mouth of the St. Francis Rive – Conditions  
RBD 3 Miles up St. Francis River Three Mile Ramp
Daytrip: St. Francis to Helena  
St. Francis to Helena: Paddler’s Descriptions  
For Intermedite Paddlers: Right Bank Route  
For Expert Paddlers: Left Bank Route  
St. Francis River  
671 – 673 LBD St. Francis Bar
669 LBD Flower Lake Dikes
668 RBD (A View of) Crowley’s Ridge D
668-663 RBD Buck Island (Prairie Point Towhead)
668-663 RBD Buck Island (Prairie Point Towhead)
665.5 LBD Trotter’s Pass
663 RBD Helena Harbor
Helena Boat Ramps  
663 RBD Helena-West Helena
Quapaw Canoe Company – Helena Outpost  
Helena’s “Low Road” Into St. Francis National Forest  
King Biscuit Blues Festival (2nd Week of October)  
Helena to Friars
661.6 Helena Bridge (Hernando De Soto Bridge – US HWY 49)
663 RBD Leaving Helena Harbor
Fleeted Barges  
Small Towns in Harbors  
Buoys and Other Stationary Objects  
Highlights of Civilization  
Pollution Within the Helena Industrial Reach  
661.6 Helena Bridge (Hernando De Soto Bridge – US HWY 49)
657 LBD  
How to Get Into the Old Entrance of the Yazoo Pass  
LBD: Alternate Route to Vicksburg: Yazoo Pass  
Yazoo Pass Milage  
Rivers & Robert Johnson  
656 LBD East Montezuma Bar
657 – 654 RBD Montezuma Towhead
654.7 LBD Montezuma Landing
Shuttle Route Montezuma to Clarksdale  
652 LBD Friars Point
652.2 LBD Friars Point Landing (Unimproved)
What’s to Come Further Downstream  
Middle Delta 663 – 537 HELENA TO GREENVILLE
Loess Bluffs 437 – 225 VICKSBURG TO BATON ROUGE
Atchafalaya River 159 – 0 SIMMESPORT TO MORGAN CITY
Louisiana Delta 229 – 10 BATON ROUGE TO VENICE
Birdsfoot Delta 10 – 0 VENICE TO GULF OF MEXICO