The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
Floating Underneath a Bridge
Floating underneath a bridge is one of the most sensational of Mississippi River experiences. For the paddler on the wide open Mississippi River it’s difficult to get a sense of motion, speed, and the river current. Sometimes it feels like you are sitting in a lake not a river, even though you are indeed floating within the throes of the biggest and most powerful river in North America! That is until you pass underneath a bridge. As you scoot downstream the water piles up high against the bridge pylons and then swirls around the backside with violent convulsions and contortions of water, and you will enjoy the distinct sensation of river motion as the bridge abutments mysteriously slide by and the geometric truss work and solid concrete road bed swing overhead with surprising speed, the higher the water the faster the speed. At high water this experience can be slightly disconcerting so fast the bridge slides by with sickening sucking sounds and explosions of agitated water. If you entertained any previous doubt about the power of the big river it will now be forever dashed away!
734.7 Lower Bridges/Engineer’s Bar
Engineer’s Bar is a giant sandbar at low water but quickly disappears as the river rises, and is completely swamped in medium water MG20 with only a few narrow bars clinging to various places along the right bank. Don’t camp here at low water unless you can sleep comfortably through rumbling trains, non-stop interstate traffic and eighteen wheelers flying overhead. No matter which way the wind is blowing you’re going to get noise, caustic aromas and sulfurous carbonaceous outpourings from many nearby sources. Unless it’s dark, continue downstream ten miles and camp on the luxurious sands of the giant Ensley Bar/Dismal Point archipelago. There are actually three bridges all clustered together that from the Lower Bridges of Memphis. Avid Memphis kayaker Joe Royer says he prefers the shape and structure of the Lower Bridges over the more popular M Bridge. When you float under their masses you can’t help up but notice the detailed frame work above and the beautiful stone abutments below. Keep reading below for the history of each bridge. If not interested fast forward to President’s Island.
734.7 The Frisco Bridge
It must be a law that any type of architectural structure in Memphis should have more than one name. The Frisco Bridge is no exception. Its original name was The Great Bridge at Memphis. Later that was shortened to “The Memphis Bridge,” and commonly referred to as “The Iron Bridge.” The name was changed again to The Frisco Bridge when the Harahan Bridge was built in 1916. But no matter what name you call it, it is considered one of America’s great bridges.
The Frisco Bridge was the first bridge built on the lower Mississippi, and the only bridge south of St. Louis when it opened in 1892. Building it was a monumental undertaking. The US Army insisted on a 770 foot clear span for river navigation, and at least 75 feet of vertical clearance under the bridge. The result was that the Frisco Bridge had the longest span of any bridge in the US at this time. In order to secure a building permit, city officials insisted that the bridge somehow would carry pedestrian and buggy traffic as well as trains. Thus the deck was built somewhat wider than would have been required for a single railroad track. As a result, two way buggy traffic was periodically allowed. If a train needed to cross the bridge, wagon and buggy traffic was stopped and cleared from the bridge, and then the train was allowed to cross.