The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
273 – 270 RBD St. Maurice Island
Two mile long island and about half miles wide, seal shaped from the air, like so many Mississippi River islands, St. Maurice is the best camping between the Tunica Hills and St. Francisville. Most sand is found spilling onto and over both sides of the top end, one large plateau follows the main channel, and then it’s nothing but steep muddy banks. The large plateau on the back channel is smaller but boasts a convenient harbor at the base of the trees with access between 10 and 25BG. The back channel grows another smaller dune at 10BG or below, and then like the main channel, it’s nothing but steep muddy banks on down to the bottom end. A small sandy/muddy bar is found at the very bottom of the island up to 20BG, almost directly across the channel from the Double Silo Hunting Camp (AKA Cajun Condo).
More detail about the sand and campsites: In low water the sand might add another mile to the length of the island, and a half mile in width. In medium water it diminishes rapidly, but the broad sloping sand plain remains up top until 35NG, with protected harbors created in a scouring chute up against the forest top where you can pull into for safe shelter from currents and waves. As mentioned above best of these is found in the back channel between 10 and 25BG, after which the calm water starts overflowing with main channel water and muddy flow (flecked with the foam — one of the marks of a rising river). Continuing on down the back channel there another bar forms a flat of sand below 10BG, after which it disappears into a steep bankside bar that could be usable (and would be preferable in north winds). This last choice also rises to a high top covered with sycamores that might make a good high water camp, probably up to bank full 30BG. Behind this bar is one of seven wetland ponds located on St. Maurice Island, six of which are in the long troughs cut through the top of the island in flood. The last is a round pond formed at the bottom end. All are hotspots for wildlife viewing, but remember this is private property. Avoid the woods during hunting season.
St. Maurice Island becomes visible after you paddle around Morgan’s Bend and roll past Boie’s Point, ruling the middle of the river with its three mile long forested mass, the main channel pushed off to the left, the deep back channel to the right. If the wind is coming out of the southeast your nose will be filled with the Caustic Carbonaceous air blowing up the back channel directly from Big Cajun II, the three smokestacks visible over the right bank forest downstream. You are still protected by walls of trees, and broad floodplains, but civilization is crowding in just over the levees, and beyond the surviving wetlands, all of which make a big appearance below St. Francisville, a little taste of what’s to come in Baton Rouge. And this beautiful island is at the crossroads.
St. Maurice Island is as wild as they come, uninhabited and seemingly unclaimed, but all around you your sonic experience is assaulted by rumbling engines, accelerating cars, trucks grinding their gears, the clink-clank of tractor treads, periodic gunfire, bursts of repeating rifle or semi automatic pistols, pressurized booms; and your vision is distracted with eruptions of smoke from unseen sources, and after dark the ominous glow downstream, which causes some discomfort for those who know what’s coming, like crossing the river Styx knowing you are descending into hell.
In addition to all the man-made sonics surrounding you, listen for Bald Eagle click-whistling from the forest of giant sycamores upstream from top end, beaver making his rounds in the back channel, raccoons scuffling through the forest bottoms, and wild boar squealing from the underbrush. When you wake up, walk the nearest sandbar for a quick read of the previous night’s (and day’s) activity. You might find bobcat, coyote, deer, hog, and river otter mixed in amongst an aviary of bird tracks, pipers, gulls, herons, cormorants, ducks, geese, pelicans, and other waterfowl. Black crows abound in the forest, but rarely make landing on the sandbars. Wild cucumbers grow on vines in the sand below the forest, along with yellow rocket, small cottonwood saplings, and the ever present cockleburs.
272.4 LBD Hardwick’s Ditch/Access to the Co-Champion Cypress Tree
Paddlers have a unique opportunity to walk up to one of the largest and oldest trees in the south, the co-champion bald cypress of North America. If the river is high you can paddle all the way, but it will have to be bank full 30BG or higher. If it is below 30BG you will have to make a landing somewhere and walk. One of the best places to make a quick stop and hide your vessel is within the shady overhanging trees at the mouth of Hardwick’s Ditch at 272.4 left bank descending.