The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

After flying past Riceland the channel opens up into an ocean of possibilities including the harbor opening (LBD 725.5), a wide back channel behind Enlsey/Dismal Point (RBD 725) and the main channel flowing along an archipelago of islands which extend so far downstream and around the next bend that they actually disappear over the curvature of the earth.  As you enter this arena of roughshod possibilities you will flow underneath a TVA transmission line which was the site of a life-and-death drama of personal significance.  In fact, it was the seminal event of my present life as river guide, author, canoe builder.  I probably wouldn’t be here today sharing this Rivergator with you if things had gone differently when I first came down the Mississippi in the early 1980s.  Please skip forward to the next section if you don’t have time for this now.  It might make better reading in the tent, or around the campfire, or perhaps best of all waiting until you’re safely off the river.  I’m going to take a little liberty here and share this tale in full for anyone who cares to hear it.  I’ve never shared this incident in such detail, but now it seems appropriate.  There might be a lesson or two within, but mostly it’s a tale of fate and foolishness.


RBD 727.3 The Wreck of the Raft

The Lower Mississippi is a 1,000 mile long graveyard of wrecked vessels and broken hearts. I’ve added at least one to the pile of wreckage.  In February of 1983 the river was seasonally high and cold, and flowing fast, furious even, full of the flotsam and jetsam associated with winter high waters: foam, logs, barrels, bottles, docks, cans, lost barge ropes, and us, a couple of kids on a rugged raft.  My best friend from high school Sean Rowe and I had just spent the previous five months on a 12×24 foot raft that we built from found materials and oil drums below the Minnesota bluffs above Lacrosse, Wisconsin.  A guy named Shimshak let us build it in his back yard.  He had a bar across the river in Lacrosse.  Anyone ever been to Shimshak’s Tavern?


Months earlier we had drawn a crude chessboard with magic markers onto the floor of the raft, and carved the pieces out of willow branches as a way of passing the time.  That fateful morning we jumped into a game of chess on board the raft as we floated under the three lower bridges of Memphis.  Our chess games passed many long pleasurable miles of the Mississippi.  There is nothing more pleasant than the sensation of a raft on a river, floating along effortlessly and enjoying the scenery sliding by with the same comfort of watching a good movie in a lounge chair.  Topping off this cozy arrangement was an open fire which we tended in a 55-gallon steel drum cut in half and filled partway with sand.  Fire, water, forests, open skies, and a game of chess.  What else could you ask for?  We were as happy as two catfish in crawdad hole.  We were embroiled in one of these legendary raft chess games as we rounded President’s Island and rolled southward in the billowing muddy blossoms of the powerful river.  The wind was out of the north.  It was sunny and cold, typical February weather.  Everything seemed aligned and in our favor.


The major difference on the river between then and now is a giant tower planted along the edge of the main channel to support the thick throbbing electrical TVA transmission lines.  Standing over three hundred and fifty feet tall, the tower rose above a square of 4 megalithic concrete pylons which were anchored into the bedrock hundreds of feet below river bottom.  We sighted the steel truss tower as we came around President’s Island, five miles upstream.  But we paid it no particular attention, and resumed the game of chess around an open raft fire, sipping cups of hot coffee.  Who would worry about one or two pylons in all of that water?  The river was high, and probably a mile wide at the time.  How are you going to hit anything in a mile-wide river?  

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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