Natchez to St. Francisville
340.1 RBD Oil Well & Boat Ramp
A throbbing donkey engine grinds and whines through the woods as you approach RBD 304.1, a reminder of the oil rich layers below the sandy soils of southern Mississippi and northwestern Louisiana. While the sound is not as invasive as a power plant’s, you won’t want to camp anywhere within earshot of this rhythmic monster. By nightfall you will be driven to deliriums but the unchanging up and down slide of groans and moans, and the normally peaceful hush that follows sunset in the stillness of a river night will make it even worse.
340 - 338 LBD Buck Island
A series of sandy high bank landings makes this section of river attractive for high water camping, especially if you needed to take shelter in southeasterly winds or storms.
338.5 - 334 RBD Fritz Island
There is a beautiful sandy beach bluff caught behind and below the first dike at Fritz Island (348.5) for superlative medium water camping, but most of it goes under around 30NG. In higher waters continue to Jackson Point or Palmetto (Artonish) Island. In low water, below 20NG, sandbars can be found along the entire four mile length of Fritz Island. If the weather is calm, and you don’t mind the close proximity of upstream tows, you could make a camp here. Bring a stove or pack your own firewood.
340 - 332 Dead Man’s Bend
A long string of secret camps are strung out along the perimeter of Dead Man’s Bend, the first and biggest at Cerro Gordo Landing (LBD 337.3) and another half dozen smaller ones further down, all the way to Jackson Point. Dive in and take protection if you have been fighting south winds and need some relief. In oncoming southwesterlies, you would be happy to do the same. When the river provides, listen and accept her gifts!
These sandbars are tucked into riverbank harbors formed in breaks of the rip-rap and revetment along the outside edge (left bank descending) of Dead Man’s Bend, making for some very attractive, easy to access, and very protected camp or picnic sites. The only drawback is the hunting road and hunting camps behind. But with a little common courtesy, and respect for private property, you can avoid the woods and hug the riverbank for a great stop.
332 - 328 Jackson Point/Widow Graham Bend
Jackson Point makes for beautiful high water camping, but not so good at medium water. At low water extensive sandbars extend outwards and provide many choices for landings, but none are protected. Calm weather camping only. Hunting camps all around. Respect private property and stay out of the woods.
Fifteen years ago, on an expedition the winter of 2001, I felt the need to paddle past dark while headed down through this desolate stretch of river. I had received the message that my father was on his death-bed. I was trying to get to St. Francisville as soon as possible to catch a bus back home. In my emotion-tinged haste I wasn’t paying good sailor’s attention and came too close to a tow pushing 42 barges in the inky blackness of the night river. Un-nerved I started looking for a place to lay my head. I later recorded some impressions from that dreary anxiety filled night-paddle:
“...Shaken, and becoming weary of the vigilance necessary in the fog, I tried to come in for a landing around Dead Man’s Bend. The name wasn’t particularly heartening at this point, but there I was. (Not to mention that Dead Man’s Bend is located directly downstream from “Destruction Light.”) The charts showed a spit of land on the Western shore that looked like good camping. I paddled and paddled for what seemed like an hour. The tree line was barely visible above a haze of fog, like a streak of charcoal on a gray canvas, but it never seemed to get any closer. I kept paddling but my paddle developed this weird groove along its shaft. I looked closer with the flashlight and found the shaft was almost cut in half by the constant grinding against the side of the canoe. I grabbed my spare and kept chopping away at the black waters. By-and-by I came to realize that I wasn’t headed towards shore at all, but pointed downstream towards the next bend of the river, Widow Graham Bend. Terrified of running into buoys I periodically lit my torch and shined it downstream. But the fear of being swamped by a buoy collision was tempered by the hypnotic back and forth swaying of the lit buoy in the beam of my torch, rocking back and forth in the muddy currents. The buoy seemed to be approaching and tracking my progress, no matter which way I turned. I had to extinguish the torch and go by sound and peripheral vision to keep away. I finally reached shore. It was a desolate long willow forest which rose out of the river from sheer-faced muddy banks. Enormous crashes came resounding through the darkness, and shortly thereafter waves rocked the Water Pony. Clumps of the forest were collapsing into the rising flood waters. Tall willows and some cottonwoods could be seen crippled over into the channel. I sure as hell wasn’t going to pull in over there.
“Further downstream, the steep bank disappeared into the water, the river rising above the shelf into the woods beyond. I came to shore to reconnoiter at the top end of Widow Graham Bend. It was a bank of Mississippi/Red river clay, a new extremity of clay I’d never before encountered, a primeval clay that opened and cracked like a pile of bones after the cremation, a clay that was not a medium but a permanent region. It had a primeval look, like lava, like it had been there since the earth was created. It’s wrong to even call it clay because it has evolved or metamorphized into something like rubber. It’s slippery on top in the rain, and squishes slightly to your step. But even after weeks of storms it did not give completely, as compared to that of the Yazoo Delta which when moistened will eat you up to your knees. A throbbing sound came booming through the woods, a giant hammer or something, but the fog was so thick I never saw what it might be. Tattered pieces of sulfurous light tried to push through, but kept disappearing. It was then started wondering what had occurred to her husband that made the unlucky Mrs. Graham a widow, and why it happened below Dead Man’s Bend. It’s funny the things that go through your mind under pressure when you’re lacking in sleep and emotionally stressed.
“In the beam of the flashlight I checked the charts and saw what looked like a sandy bar opposite me, on the Eastern shore of the river, at Jackson Point. I didn’t really feel like re-crossing the channel, but I also didn’t want to float along all night long. My mind was becoming confused by the constant watery motions in the dark. I knew I had to get off soon. I began paddling again - power stroking - the navigation lights around Widow Graham Bend guiding my direction from behind. I paddled for what seemed like eternity, and came to realize that the rising waters had covered up the sandbar indicated on the river charts. I kept paddling anyway, stroking on the right until my shoulders began to pain, and then switching to the left. A tall bank emerged in front of me, topped with a few trees. I winced in frustration (it looked like more mud) but kept on paddling, determined to make a landing at whatever cost. Swhoosh! The Water Pony hissed into land. It was a sandy bank, rising steeply. I climbed out and actually kissed the sand, so happy was I. Camp that night was a lean-to made of an overturned Water Pony and a tarp slung over. It stormed all night with thunder and lightning. I laid down my two life jackets and fell immediately to sleep on top, not even bothering to remove my soaked rain gear.”