Rivergator Appendix VI
Mark River Blog
Journal kept by expedition member Mark River Peoples
Vicksburg to Baton Rouge, Dec 6-16, 2014
Vicksburg to Racetrack Island
The expedition crew assembles at the Port of Vicksburg, packing and greeting old and new friends. I meet Tom, a wildlife enthusiast and writer for an Idaho magazine. I meet Ralph, a videographer from San Diego, trouble shooting a new series of cameras for google and the River View project. I meet Nathan, an avid hunter and editor for a Southern magazine. I start to get excited knowing this would be a great expedition because of the diversity of the group. Deer hunters launch their motorboats and cross the channel of the Yazoo River. Family members and friends start to say goodbyes and safe journeys. The editor of the Port Gibson newspaper snaps pictures, while the expedition crew slide on wetsuits and floatation devices. It's December and the water is very cold.
We enter the water in the early afternoon headed downstream looking for a nice campsite on Racetrack Island. We pick a site on the bottom end of the island , tucked into the backside on a high cut bank created by a eddy during high water. This would give us great protection from the north wind. Sandy bluffs during low water, with thick floral fauna covering the floor of deciduous forest atop the bluff. An industrial deck lies across the channel, but you feel that you are out of town.
Racetrack Island to Middle Ground Island
A busy day on the Mississippi River. Towboats and Army Corps of Engineer work boats are up and down the River working on revetment. Winter is the season to do river maintenance knowing the spring rise is near. We go around Newton Bend where many fleets of Corps boats are docked. Workers from the boats wave with amazement of our loaded voyager canoe and wish us safe travels. One of the boats transporting workers stop in the middle of the channel to find out our purpose and destination. We have a good conversation and gives their captain a poster of the water trail. We get the opportunity to witness revetment being wired and laid along the bend.
We continue on passing Togo Island headed for Middle Ground Island for camp. Grand Gulf nuclear plant is in the distant as we explore island characteristics that look unusual. There were willows trees laying at the base of the island with the landscape pushed into the island as if a bulldozer had worked the land. We figured out that towboats stage empty barges there during high water. The campsite was high on a bluff facing the main channel with plenty of great camping in the tall willows. Plenty of deadfall and firewood, but lots of hornets and ants.
Middle Ground to Fairchild Island
The morning starts with a lone eagle looking over the campsite, saying its goodbyes admiring the canoe. It flies off in the opposite direction. We paddle past the Grand Gulf Nuclear Plant, around the Hard Times Bend, to the Hard Scrabble Bend. Lake Bruin lies to the right over the levee. Continuing through Bondurant Chute to Cottage Bend eventually taking lunch at Spithead Towhead. We enjoy a salmon lunch with cormorants and pelicans covering the sky. A lone fisherman reels in a fish from the shore as we head toward our campsite at Fairchild Island.
Fairchild Island to Natchez Island
We start the day eight miles outside of Natchez. A historic river town set on a beautiful bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. From our campsite the night before, you could see the lights of the city flickering in the distant. The steamboat, the Queen of the Mississippi River passed our campsite at dusk. Two fisherman set nets , while we hover around the campfire telling hunting and football stories, as the stew stews on the fire.
We wake to a mystic fog covering the top of the island we appropriately named Skull Island on our previous trip. The weather is beautiful as we paddle into Natchez unlike the winds gusting to thirty five mile an hour we witness last year. Luxury homes sit upon the bluffs to our left. The steamboat American Queen is docked at the landing as well wishers and friends greet us at the boat ramp which heads to the Under the Hill Bar. An infamous establishment, it continues to thrive like the River it sits above-surviving fires, floods, and restructured management. You can feel the history when you walk through the door. They have some interesting spots in the back of the bar where you can contact friends and relatives in a semi-private setting. Some friends own a bed and breakfast adjacent to the bar and they treat me to my favorite meal, pork chops and rice. They explain to me that more people are paddling down the River than ever before, having to turn away many. I attribute it to the on going popularity of the River and the Rivergator project from Quapaw Canoe Company. I say my goodbyes and contact my brother in the back nook inside the bar, as I wait for the resupply crew to return. I eat again as a friend treats the crew to smoke pork sandwiches from a nearby restaurant. One friend brings us cheese,appropriately named, River Rat Cheese.
A large, beautiful, iconic sycamore tree sits on the bluff in front of the bar. Its branches reach outward in every direction with dynamic winter colors and fauna. You can't miss this tree.