The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Natchez to St. Francisville

294.7 LBD Sugar Lake Bayou

Sugar Lake Bayou drains a large lake by the same name, and enters the river left bank descending at a severe angle.  At higher water levels (above 30NG) you can paddle up this short bayou for a quick exit from Northerly winds or storms, or if you feel like exploring the bottomland floodplain below Angola State Penitentiary.  Sugar Lake is one two lakes left from the ancient meanderings of the big river, the other being Lake Killarny, which is contained within the Angola complex, although not behind barbed wire. 

 

293 LBD Tunica Bayou

Tunica Bayou separates the Tunica Hills from the Angola floodplain north for several miles, and then meanders east directly into the hills for thirty more, branching out along the way as all tributaries do, and forming an intricate branching of seeps, springs, swamps, and other forms of waters drainages out of mother earth.  In its upper reaches most of the feeders come off of steep colorful cliffs and hollows that accentuate the heights of Mississippi Loess Bluffs.

 

293 - 291.5 LBD Tunica Hills (Mississippi Loess Bluffs #7)

The Mighty Mississippi rubs its big bubbly belly here for almost two miles down the most  visible and accessible of all of the Mississippi Loess Bluffs.  Paddlers can enjoy the big beautiful Tunica Hills as a backdrop to their photo collection (towboats take on a diminished appearance behind these giant mounds of colorful clay; the other paddlers in your flotilla disappear in front of their presence), or you can paddle near and make a landing for close inspection.  If you do go to shore, be sure to pick a place where you can pull your vessel completely out of the water.  Use similar precautions to paddling along sea cliffs.  Waves could easily capsize a canoe or kayak here.  The big waves from upstream tows double in size as they ricochet off the hard cliffs, accentuated by turbulent eddies and concentrated water flow.  Also, be careful of landslides and falling muddy boulders, and collapsing cliffs.  It looks like solid rock from the distance, but pick up a piece and see how easily it crumbles in your hand.  It is also very slippery when wet.  Watch for spiders, snakes, hornets, and yellowjacket nests as you clamber around the bluff.  Lastly, this is a sensitive landscape, a paradise of plants and animals.  Walk respectfully and leave a soft footprint.

 

The Mississippi Loess Bluffs make their most dramatic presentation here at the end of Hog Point Bend around the base of Angola.  Similar to approaching Vicksburg, Natchez, or the Clark Creek hills, you first notice these bluffs innocently as a jagged line of color at the end of the visible river (i.e.: that piece of river in your view looking downstream over you canoe or kayak).  Your mind says it’s just another line of trees at the end of another Mississippi River bend.  Or maybe you are seeing the forests on a towhead island, just like the several thousands of others you have seen on your expedition down the big rivers of America.  But by and by you realize this one is different.  The line and smudge of hazy color  keeps getting taller and taller, and gradually you begin to notice that it is lacerated by other lines of color.  A brilliant splash of orange-red cliffs appear, particularly poignant in the winter months when the leaves of the tall trees are shed.

These cliffs are as colorful as something you’d see in Utah’s Canyonlands.  And then you perceive a drainage coming in from the north side of its base.  This is the Tunica Bayou, which separates this portion of the Tunica Hills from the Angola floodplain.  There are four or five other deep ravines that indicate drainages slicing through the collapsing muddy bluffs.  Some insect carves twin holes throughout the angled escarpments, maybe the burrow for its larvae.  You might discover a small blue hole cut into the cliffs, the size of a hot tub, being fed by waterfall of spring water coming out the face of the bluff.  Crystal clear spring water trickles down some of these, and are the best sources in the Lower Mississippi for your drinking water.  Use your water filter if you have one, or boil it first (for giardia or other possible parasites), and then enjoy!  You could drink this water straight out of these drainages in an emergency, say a sweltering hot day, heat index of 117, you’ve run out of water, and you’re in danger of heat exhaustion.  By all means drink the water and worry later about possible parasites after you’ve recovered from life-threatening heat stroke.

 

Like the Clark Creek Hills you passed above Angola, the Tunica Hills is another natural stronghold where you feel the vitality and diversity of life; another example of the precious pieces of paradise.  At least 20 species of plants found in these bluffs are  classified as “rare” in the State of Louisiana, and two have not been found to occur anywhere else (within Louisiana).  Resident and migratory bird species are abundant on the area, including several that are rare elsewhere in the state, such as the worm-eating warbler and the Coopers hawk. Maybe all the world was at one time like the Tunica Hills, full of diversity everywhere you traveled.  Nowadays man has joined the wind, fire and drought as one of the destructive forces capable of upending entire ecosystems.  Man’s powerful tools of industry, agriculture, and infrastructure have exploded across the face of the earth -- and could eventually lead us into the next mass extinction, and the next earth epoch of the Quaternary Period -- joining the Holocene and Pleistocene with the suggested naming of the current era the “Anthropocene,” in which some catastrophic event categorizes its end.

 

For plants you might discover a growth of the striking trifoliate orange growing on one of the muddy terraces.  This thorny bush looks like something you would find in the Sonora Desert, not the Mississippi woodlands, and produces an edible fruit with a unique tangerine/lemon/lime flavor that, and is a treat for the local mammals.  Also look for oak leaf hydrangea, growing amongst towering loblolly pines, sweet gums, sycamores, a few cypress, and cottonwoods.  The understory features a diverse assortment of saw palmettos and horsetail, many ferns, may apples, wax myrtle, evergreen, southern magnolia, American holly, yaupon, eastern hop hornbeam, and common persimmon.  The toothache tree (Hercules club) grows here.  On the tops of many of the most exposed muddy prominences you’ll find stands of eastern red cedar, and also American hornbeam, American basswood, winged elm, American elm, pignut and bitter hickories, white oak, black oak, swamp privet and white ash.  Numerous squirrels and eastern chipmunks inhabit the trees.  Crows and vultures seem to favor the bluffs for their nesting and roosting, venturing into the bottomlands by day to share the spoils of bald eagles, osprey and hawks of all sorts.   As you explore the bluffs, watch out for canebrake rattlesnakes, and copperheads.