The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

The infinite mystery of the sky is matched by the infinite depths of the river.  It seemed as if the river had let me live one more day for a reason.  Over the years I have come to see that the river is a similar to a beautiful woman.  She seeks attention.  She withers under neglect.  And she thrives with good quality attention.  Especially the kind that paddlers can give.  How do I know this?  Simply because every time I go paddling on her waters I am rewarded in some way.  It might be with an amazing animal encounter, an osprey plucking a fish out of a muddy back channel or a coyote swimming to an island, or it might be an enthralling experience such as paddling through a thunderstorm, or it might be simply a vision of cracked mud forming some incredible patterns in a mid-island depression around footsteps left by deer and wild hogs and turtles.   Every time I go out, even if it’s every day of the week, I return home with some new knowledge, or vision, or artifact.  The river has become my teacher and I her student.  Her ever-changing landscape is also my playground and my church.  For this dynamic floodplain to survive she needs taking care of.  She takes care of us.  Can’t we do the same for her?  Shouldn’t we do the same?  Paddlers tend to be more caring, more thoughtful, and more appreciative of the river than others.  Fishermen for instance often trash out their fishing sites.  I find this incomprehensible.  Paddlers commonly pick up trash and quietly remove all evidence of their passage.  You could say that everything I do is simply a mirror to help reflect and magnify the great beauty of the wetlands and the great power of the big muddy river.   The beauty is inspirational.  The power is humbling.  Both factors work together and create one of the most rewarding natural landscapes found anywhere.  And it’s right here.  That’s the amazing part.  Right here in the gut of America.  She literally defines the center of our country.   She forms the borders of all the states along her path, the only exception being her birth state Minnesota and her end state Louisiana.  And here along the Lower Mississippi her floodplain literally created the landscape that we call the Delta when it deposited layer after muddy layer of alluvium that became arguably the richest soil in the world.


The Coast Guard rescued us and then quickly ridded themselves of us.  I remember entertaining the thoughts of a hot shower and nice dry bunks at their Memphis base.  But after a short debriefing the captain in charge instructed one of the rookies who plucked us off Cat Island to drive us to the Baptist Mission.  Poor guy, he had wanted to leave us in the lilly white Germantown Baptist Church, which of course doesn’t have any mission.  We spent several tedious hours looking for the address we had passed in downtown Memphis just a few blocks from the river.  He was embarrassed when he realized the mistake.  It was right there in the neighborhood of the county jail and bail-bondsmen.  It was full of winos and druggies and vagabonds and lunatics and us.  We went from being river refugees to homeless refugees at the Poplar Street Mission.  Neither of us wanted to frighten our parents so we buckled down like men and sustained our fates.  We were allowed hot showers, and good food, with a healthy dose of preaching of course, and after dark we whispered to each other under the blankets and tried to re-piece our lives.  After several days in Memphis we hitch-hiked to New Orleans and began new lives anew as rivermen on board the Mississippi Queen Steamboat, thereby ending one river life and beginning another. 


For years afterward I had recurring nightmares of overturning boats and going underwater.  My psyche played out this drama over and over, and slowly I realigned my life with the river.   Ten years later, in the mid-90s I happily forwarded a photo and caption from the Memphis Commercial Appeal to Sean, who was then living in Miami.  It was a cathartic mailing.  The news was that a TVA tower had been dropped with a whitewater crash into the Mississippi River south of Memphis.  It had been removed as a “hazard to navigation.”  I could now breathe a huge sigh of relief.  The tower was gone, and we were still present.  I still experience a feeling of apprehension every time I paddle downstream out of Memphis and around President’s Island.  And periodically I still have crashing boat water nightmares.  But my daily existence has been repeatedly realigned by the big river and that raft trip.

Leave A Comment

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