The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

But we did.  Fate had a hand in the matter.  As we floated along unconcerned and infatuated with our game the river brought us past the grain elevators and smack dab directly into the fast waters plowing into the tower.  Only a hundred yards upstream the tower loomed ominously overhead, too close.  Much too close!   We leapt to action on the sweep oars and pulled like mad.  We probably pulled the wrong way.  Then again maybe we pulled the right way and it didn’t matter.  This raft was very ungainly and slow to propel.  On a good day it would take us three hours of pulling to cross the channel.  We frustrated the patience of many a lockmaster down the Upper Miss, including one especially impatient fellow who jumped on his go-cart and burned out his engine trying to tow us through!


It’s hard to remember now what exactly happened and in what sequence of events.  All my memories of that day are like a stream-of-consciousness reel in an avant-garde movie with a hand-held camera that rolls and tumbles through space and time, and then flips over, and then goes completely dark.  The river pushed us directly into one of the concrete pillars.  I can’t remember now which of the two upstream pillars it was, the right or left, but regardless which one it was, we hit it hard, with so much force we both were both knocked over and everything loose skidded across the deck.   The raft had come to a sickening halt, not budging one direction nor the other.   We could neither crawl up the rounded wall of concrete, nor could we push the raft away from it. 


As all paddlers know, the power of water on a vessel trapped in the current against a stationary object is insurmountable except by mechanical means.  We experienced more horror as one end of the raft was sucked down, and the other pushed up the pylon, and all our possessions like our journals and my camera and a 12-string guitar were swept overboard, along with all of the familiar raft comforts that had become our home, the cast iron pots and pans, the barrel fire, the chess pieces, the ropes, the sweep oars, our food supply — we had just resupplied in Memphis: some chickens, a ten pound bag of potatoes, a bag of onions, cooking oil, eggs, and some jars of peanut butter all lost — and then we too were tossed into the frigid February waters, and the raft was snapped like a saltine cracker around the base of the pylon where the river hit it, and everything became dark and quiet and cold, and we were sucked down by the alternating vortexes and explosions of the river and it felt like my whole life was passing through me and around me.


I’ve always been attracted to water.  As a child growing up in the mountains of Colorado I always sought out a place to splash around and get wet, which wasn’t always easy to do.  My friends and family thought I’d gone astray when I left the big mountains for the big river of the Lower Mississippi River Valley.  But here in the willow-thick riverbanks and deep woods and endless expanses and expressions of pure muddy joy I’ve found what seems to be my life’s calling.  It’s the one place where everything makes sense.  It’s the one place where I find peace and solace, and many other paddlers and river rats feel the same.  It’s the one place where the opposing forces of nature seem to mix in some kind of rough harmony.  It’s the one place where heaven comes close to earth.  Here on the river, the lifeblood of mother earth.  And now fighting for my life submerged into a watery crossroads strung between a major TVA power line and the most powerful river in this quadrant of the earth I could feel the wonderful turbulent surge of creation being edged by an equal awesome force of destruction, the two intertwined and rubbing sides in opposite directions, spinning me round and round, and now my life was in the balance between the two, caught in the tightrope between life and death deep within the violence of the angry winter waters.

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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