The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
878 LBD Marr Towhead Secret Sandbar
Just below the Marr Towhead Light 878.1 LBD) paddlers will discover a large dune carved into a cut-out place in the bank which would make great protection in strong winds out of the south or east, but would become exposed to westerly or northerly winds. Stop here if you are heading into south winds gusting 25 or higher and enjoy the delights of a protected camp.
878 – 875.5 LBD Marr Towhead
Marr Towhead sprawls outwards around Marr Bend in low water, but disappears fast as the water rises. Above 20CG the only sand you will find will be tight against the steep sandy interior bank.
877.2 RBD Williams Point
An intriguing break in the willow forests and dip of the muddy banks indicates the opening right bank descending 877 where paddlers could dive into the forest for relief from the sun or wind, and fantastic opportunities for birding and wildlife viewing. Not passable below 15CG, but you could still make a landing and explore by foot.
876.5 RBD Linda Boat Ramp
Linda is a good concrete boat ramp laid out at steep angle downstream over the rip-rap on the outside of Marr Bend at 876.5 RBD. Remote location, no services. We found thick dewberry bushes growing at top of ramp with ripe berries in May 2014.
874 – 867 RBD Stewart Towhead
Like many of the giant sandbars in this area, Stewart Towhead is very wide, shalllow and exposed. Great picnic site, but not recommended for camping in winds or oncoming storms. There is one small (tiny in relation to the bar) clump of scrubby willows set on a medium high sandy ridge amongst the sea of flat surrounding sand at 871 RBD. The sand all disappears around 20CG. The small willow bump described above goes under around 30CG. The interior of much of this bend is contained within the Girvin Conservation Area. Best low/medium camps on Stewart Towhead would be found on the bottom end right bank descending between mile 868 and 867.
873.7 LBD Bixby Towhead Light
Bixby Towhead has migrated to the Tennessee shore, and steamboat Captain Bixby is long gone. But his story has been immortalized by one of America’s greatest authors. Captain Horace Bixby was one of the best-known steamboat pilots on the river. He was piloting an old boat called the Paul Jones when a boy named Samuel Clemens left his home in Hannibal, Missouri, and went down the Mississippi, determined to become a pilot. For the modest sum of $500, Horace Bixby agreed to let young Clemens serve as his “cub pilot,” so that he could “learn the river.” Later in his life, Captain Bixby would be harrassed by newspaper reporters and others who wanted him to tell them what he knew about the youngster who had become the famous writer, Mark Twain. In exasperation, the old pilot once exclaimed: “I wish that fellow Twain was dead!”
When Mark Twain did in fact die in 1910, Captain Bixby wanted to set the record straight. For years, river men had belittled Twain’s knowledge of the river and his ability as a steamboat pilot. One well-worn witticism was: “That fellow Twain knows a hell of a lot more about book-writing than he ever did about steamboats.” Bixby had some surprising news for the reporters who questioned him after Twain’s death.
“Sam Clemens was a good pilot,” the old man declared firmly. “He was also a smart fellow, and it was his brains that made other pilots jealous and led them to say he didn’t know the river-that he was just an inspired loafer, or something of the sort. What they said wasn’t true; Clemens was a good pilot — and he learned it from me.”
872.2 LBD Tiptonville Boat Ramp
Paddlers wanting to reach Tiptonville can pull off at the old Tiptonville Ferry Landing (cracked concrete sidewalk over rip-rap below parking lot) or pull off at the boat ramp a hundred yards downstream. If the river is above 25CG you could also pull into the drainage in between the two (Old Graveyard Slough) and find a good protected harbor where you wouldn’t necessarily have to lift your vessel out of the water. Tiptonville is a two mile walk (Tiptonville Ferry Road) and has all the services paddlers could want including water, groceries, restaurants with great food, library, post office. Tiptonville is also the best access to Reelfoot Lake State Park. As always, remove all valuables when you go to town. If staying away for extended period remove your vessel from water and carry it with you.
869 LBD Sheep’s Ridge Break
In the 2011 flood the Mississippi River almost carved a new path across the backside of old Is. No 13, which would have turned Little Cypress Bend into an oxbow lake and made a new channel for the big river to follow. Engineers believe this would have definitely occurred had the river stayed high longer than it did. After passing Tiptonville you might notice a bright stretch of the riverbank on the right near mile 869 RBD. The Army Corps had to go into overdrive with their rip-rap operations to refill the deep hole made in the muddy bank. The water dove a hundred feet deep here and scoured out a blue hole still intact, 4,000 feet long and 1,000 feet wide, with another big blue hole next to it. Check it out on Google earth. You can still see vast landscape of sand that was thrown out over all of the fields. Many thousands of acres of fertile fields and some roads were lost to the flood, and thousands of animals, but fortunately no human lives.
The Alaska Light was destroyed in the 2011 flood and never replaced. It is named for a steamboat that sank in this area more than 100 years ago. Colonel Suter’s map of 1874 showed the steamer Alaska lying on the edge of a sandbar in the snag-filled channel above Island No. 13. (Braggs: Historic Names & Places)
868.9 LBD Sheep Ridge Secret Camp
A hidey-hole sandbar is found in a small cut out harbor left bank descending below the Cherokee Light 867.3. Good rest stop or possible camp in case of oncoming storms from any southerly quadrants, but also accessible by roads from land.
867 – 861 Little Cypress Bend
Few things impressed early voyagers on the Lower Mississippi more than the beautiful tree for which this bend was named. In Little Cypress Bend and other areas. the bald cypress grew to tremendous heights and sizes. The spreading branches, with light feathery foliage, and the massive trunks surrounded by the peculiar protuberances called “cypress knees” made it as picturesque as it was beautiful. When loggers and lumbermen began their operations on the Lower Mississippi, cypress was su abundant that the straight·grained and easily worked wood was often used for fence posts and railroad ties. Today it has become relatively hard to obtain, and the expensive lumber is often used in house interiors. On old plantations in the south, a few of the cabins that housed slaves or farm laborers are still in existence. Made of rough·sawed cypress that has weathered to a silvery gray, the marvelous texture of the weathered boards makes even the most tumble- down cabin attractive. Cypress lumber, which is extremely durable, was often called “the wood everlasting.” (Braggs: Historic Names & Places)