The title Rivergator is derived from the runaway best-seller The Navigator first published in 1801 by Zadok Kramer, with 25 or 30 subsequent printings. The Navigator described the Mississippi Valley for pioneer settlers streaming out of the Eastern United States in the first great wave of continental migrations that led to the settling of the West. Thomas Jefferson and other leaders were fearful that the French or the English would get there first. With the Lewis & Clark explorations and the introduction of the steamboat to the Mississippi River in 1812, Americans followed the big rivers up and down through the heart of the country, and The Navigator was their guide. In this spirit I have adopted the name Rivergator with the hope that America’s forgotten outdoor paradise the Lower Mississippi, the wilderness within, will be used by successive generations of canoeists and kayakers. Zadoc Cramer also invented the numbering system for Lower Mississippi River Islands.
All points, islands landings, and features will be identified with the mileage system used on the 2007 US Army Corps of Engineer River Maps, which can be viewed or downloaded as a pdf from:
Left Bank and Right Bank
RBD = Right Bank Descending
LBD = Left Bank Descending
The Rivergator will use the standard left bank descending (LBD) and right bank descending (LBD) to indicate which side of the river the various landings, islands, back channels, and other features are located. Because of the twisty nature of the meandering river east bank and west bank have little meaning because the river is rarely flowing north to south! Ditto for state names. This section concerns and Arkansas, Mississippi, and some of Tennessee. But because of channel cutoffs created by the dynamic power of the river as well as the Corps of Engineers’ 1933-1942 man-made cutoffs, there are pieces of each state on both sides of the river! We’ll also use “left bank” and “right bank” or “left shore” and “right shore” to denote the same.
Introduction: Memphis to Helena
After exiting the Missouri Bootheel and bouncing along the Chickasaw Bluffs past Memphis, the Mighty Mississippi flows southwesterly in giant meandering loops into the verdant and fantastically fertile Mississippi Delta. This is the land that gave birth to the Delta Blues, and was once the cotton kingdom of the world. Its forest was America’s Amazon, millions of acres of deep woods now removed for farmland. Leaving Tennessee and entering Mississippi the paddler is welcomed by a long line of casinos that rivals Atlantic City, but which you’ll see little evidence of as you paddle behind long chains of islands in the same area, although you should stop for a visit to the Tunica Riverpark Museum. The river carves elegant S-curves through deep woods as it meanders through Commerce Bend, Mhoon Bend and Walnut Bend, and then wanders down through a floodplain fifteen miles wide to the mouth of the St. Francis River. The big river engulfs mind-boggling swaths of muddy landscapes as it is forced southerly by the strange geophysical anomaly Crowley’s Ridge, which parallels the Mississippi out of Missouri. Buck Island invites exploration, picnicking or camping, and Helena, Arkansas commands the base of Crowley’s Ridge, and is the only population in between Memphis and Vicksburg (300 miles) that sits right on the main channel as result. Visit the Delta Cultural Center, or coordinate your adventure with one of the world’s greatest celebrations of music, the King Biscuit Blues Festival (October). Canoeists, SUPs and kayakers will find provisions, maps, gear, and paddling tips at Quapaw Canoe Company - Helena, as well as water and Wi-Fi.
CLICK HERE for the next section