The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail


Natchez to Palmetto Island


  We leave Natchez in the late afternoon headed  for a campsite on Natchez Island.  I make a bad decision. Arriving at camp, I noticed five beaver scent mounds on the edge of the sandbar. Not truly understanding the purpose of these mounds, I would know by morning. Another bluff island with a deep back channel that's home to a territorial beaver family. I make the mistake of camping close to the scent mounds. I took a walk on the backside of the island, a high bluff with steep drop offs with deadfall throughout. The beaver must have picked up my scent from urinating close to the mounds and followed me along the bluffs smashing its tail over and over for an hour straight. A smaller beaver followed, probably training for adulthood. I never seen a beaver more persistent. That night when leaving my tent to relieve myself the beaver would splash ferociously. That beaver never slept!


Palmetto Island to Hog Island


  We start with bacon and fried potatoes. It's a beautiful sunny day and my paddle stroke feels smooth and strong. The warm day is rewarding, while paddling around huge meanders and dodging impatient towboat drivers. We pass the water facility that manages the Atchafalaya Basin. The island is called Palmetto Island by locals. The old establishment on the bend by Clark Creek looks more presentable than last year. The loess bluffs show their sandy bottoms. We serve lunch while everyone explores. Some identify trees and some gather persimmons to supplement our lunch. I see a bee for the first time on this trip as we enter Louisiana. We passed Angola prison ferry and see the mouth of the Buffalo River. We camp at the bottom of Hogg Island. Unique camping on the sandbar or in the willow trees adjacent. We have lentil soup and vegetables with deer sausage. The coyotes yap in the distance as I say goodnight.


Hog Point Towhead to St. Maurice Island


Channel crossing to Ruccourci Runout.  The  loess bluff Tunica Hills with many rare trifoliate orange trees.  The fruit taste like a cross between  lemon and lime. Many seeds.  Paddle a short ways to have lunch at a lovely sandbar in between loess cliffs. A small beautiful blue hole, the size of a hot tub, is being fed by waterfall of spring water coming out the face of the bluff. Some strange insect had burrows throughout  the face of cliffs. We continue on pass Little Island where we camped last year. Eventually setting camp at St. Maurice Island. An eagle flew out of the deciduous forest as we paddled up. Found a somewhat petrified bees nest.


  We set out to gather firewood and noticed a small kayak beached on the bluff.  We decide to tow it. It would be great for the after school program.  The island has a large beach at low water with a thick deciduous forest at the top of the cut bank. In the night I could hear large mammals, probably deer, rustling and foraging through the scrubby forest.  We couldn't find any sandy areas in the forest to camp. Lots of waterfowl at the top of the island. The next morning, thousands of centipedes cover the sandbar. Didn't expect that in December.

St. Maurice To Fancy Point


We leave St. Maurice Island headed towards New Roads.  As we continue downstream we noticed a old rusty barge landlocked along the right bank.  As we approach, we see young men sitting peacefully enjoying the River. We say our hellos as the kids marvel at the canoe. A renegade hunting camp lies upon the left bank, with occupants firing high caliber rifles at something along the River. Being in front of the canoe, I didn't feel safe as our captain guided us directly towards the camp. I defuse my anger and look to the heavens for safety. 


  We stop at St. Francisville to resupply. The entrails of a deer littered the bottom of the ramp. Wildlife agents check our canoe for illegal activities. This old ferry landing was closed after the building of the New Roads Bridge. 


  We continue to paddle around Bayou Sarah Bend pass the Big Cajun Two Power Plant. We pick a great campsite at Fancy Point. Thousands of waterfowl and shore birds gather showing acrobatic flying skills. A water plane gives us a fly over and encore. Great winter camping, but could be buggy in the warmer months.  I got bitten by mosquitoes in December. 


  On our way back to Clarksdale by vehicle, we stop by St. Francisville to retrieve the kayak we found. We meet the steamboat, the American Queen, returning from Baton Rouge. We met the mayor and gave him a Rivergator poster.


Fancy Point Towhead to Baton Rouge


  We leave Fancy Point headed towards Baton Rouge. I take the time to reflect upon the season.   From the successful fight with the Mississippi tax commission, to our connection with kids from the state of Mississippi- Quapaw Canoe Company has had a wonderful year; but I miss fellow Quapaw Chris Wolfie Staudinger. We had mutual respect for one another and shared all the responsibilities and maintenance around the campsite. It gave both of us time to explore our personal passions, which helps my writing.  I'm a very visual person, so time to explore is very important to me. Being a team player, I did it with grace.  My philosophy of team first can be construed as a weakness to selfish people, but if you ever seen me paddle or play football, you will know I'm far from weak-mentally or physically. 


  I quit feeling sorry for myself and move on. Complaining is not my personality,so I continue to paddle hard. Nothing will ever come between me , Quapaw, and the Mississippi River- nothing.  The smell of Georgia Pacific Paper Mill feels the air as we approach the factory discharge. The water turns black as we paddle into the small bay adjacent to the plant. Decaying fish float in the dark pools. I get emotional not wanting to sacrifice my health, hoping we get away from this place as soon as possible. Apparently, they are allowed to dump this sludge into the River and that breaks my heart.

We take the long way around Profit Island dodging impatient towboats. We come upon Thomas Point to take a break and contact our ground team and shuttle drivers. We will be entering Baton Rouge in the early evening.  A family man pulls to shore with his son and daughter. We explain our mission, while his children play along the sandbar. I think how lucky the kids are to have a father that shares his time and passion for the River with his kids.  We give him a Rivergator poster and head downstream to Wilkerson Point.  A lone fisherman fishes from the point.  It used to be called Free Negro Point, but to some locals, you can imagine what it's called. We continue for Mulatto Bend heading towards Scott's Bluff. Historical college Southern University sits upon this bluff. Many NFL players come from this historical black university.  We enter the stretch of river called Cancer Alley.  Big oil tankers with foreign writing dock along the shore. The city of Baton Rouge is to our left as we come to our landing. I smile celebrating another successful expedition and start to have separation anxiety having to leave my new friends.


(Mark River)