The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

We all have someone in our lives who opened up the door to the wilderness for us.  Think on it a minute and thank them for that gift.  My parents were outdoor lovers and adventurists, especially my father, but my mother also. They wouldn’t like to think so, but they led me, somehow, to that raft and to this river.   I am amazed now when I remember the adventures we had and the great risks they took with us and with their lives.  And yet those same risks opened our eyes to a parallel reality that exists just outside the safety of our comfortable homes, just over the riverbank off the highway, back in the woods beyond the last line of fences and private property signs.  My parents would pack my family of ten into our green van and make crazy camping vacations deep into the Baja California or up the Canadian Rockies (where my father family lived) into Alaska.  My mother is Colorado born, 5 generations deep.  I would have to say that more than anyone my father opened my eyes to the beauty and thrill of the great outdoors… something that was repeatedly carried on through my older brothers who continued to backpack and cross country ski and involve me in the same throughout my childhood.  There was something slightly out of control about these family adventures, but that is one of the universal aspects of the wilderness, isn’t it?  That is, being awestruck and governed by something larger than yourself, something chaotic, which is sometimes frightening, sometimes enlightening.  And yet out of the chaos emerges profound beauty and renewal.  Anyone who has spent any time on the Mississippi River could easily share those same feelings.  At turns frightened and enlightened.  If you don’t let the fright get the best of you, don’t let it transform into paranoia, that helpless feeling that will confine you to the couch, then the shock of fright opens up a pathway to learning.  Fear leads to amazement.  Amazement becomes wonder.  And wonder opens your imagination to the endless possibilities of the universe, which seem to be expressed and re-expressed in infinite varieties of forms here on the restless face of the mightiest of all rivers.


My older brothers alternately terrorized and then tantalized me into a soulful love of the outdoors.  One of my strongest early memories is my oldest brother Frank holding me by my arms over the lip of the Grand Canyon and grinning devilishly.  I knew he wouldn’t let me go.  At the same time I was unable to hold back the terror of the unknown.  I think I was 6 or 7 years old.  Later he prodded me down the Bright Angel Trail for a frigid swim in the freezing waters of the Colorado River, and then carried me back out on his shoulders by the light of the full moon.  Westerners in general have a different ethic about the outdoors than southerners.  I grew up at the edge of Arapaho National Forest in the Front Range of Colorado, which rises from the Great Plains like a tsunami wave, and this was the playground for my friends and family.  Everywhere we travelled throughout the Rockies and Desert Southwest we hiked and camped and swam.  On road trips when it was time to camp we simply turned off the highway into the nearest National Park and picked out a place.  I grew up with the feeling that the outdoors belonged to everyone, not only to those who can afford a hunting camp over the levee.


It was much later, when I grew into the difficult teenage years, that I rediscovered my love of water, and became more involved in its meaning and importance, not only to myself but all Americans, and really to the benefit of all people on the face of this planet.  Water connects us all, for better or worse.  The wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate, while floods are becoming more frequent and catastrophic, and seem to be alternating with severe droughts.  The recent push to remove the New Madrid Floodway seems absurd in this light.   So when Sean and I scuttled any ambitions for higher education (much to the dismay of our college counselors) and instead built our giant wooden raft and floated down the Mississippi River out of the Minnesota woods, it was the start of a journey that resonates loudly today.  It saved me.  It almost killed me.  Five months later when we lost all of our earthly possessions and became shipwrecked on a muddy island in Northern Mississippi, and I became infected for life.  I became infected with the muddy river.  I was struck by a ray of light that still guides me to this very day and illuminates the way down the difficult dusty road of business and an ever rewarding life as a river-rat. 

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