The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
419.6 LBD Lake Karnac
The main current swishes around Newtown Bend Sandbar and is propelled outward past several intriguing openings and cuts in the bank, some filled with powerful eddies that you could eddy out into. But there are also several openings along the left bank descending, one at Karnac Lake (low place in the riverbank and trees at LBD 419.7). This is an old channel of the river, which the state line still follows. You could pull into this opening at high water and find a charming (and protected) sandy landing in some mature willows, and maybe even camp overnight. Private land all around though, and not advisable during hunting season. Further exploration of this chute will eventually bring you to Karnac Lake, which inhabits an old channel of the big river. From there any incoming water current gets dispersed through the big woods surrounding, and no definable channel can be located back to the main channel. It’s a dead end. Your only choice is to turn tail and paddle back upstream from whence you came.
417-414 RBD Togo Island
About a mile below the last bump of sand (during high water) on Newtown, RBD near mile 416, you will find an opening in the wall of willows. This is the entrance to the back channel of Togo Island. Always an interesting place to make a stop and stretch your legs. Bring your camera and walk softly for and you will likely see wildlife. But don’t go too far, and be ever respectful of private property. Togo, as most Lower Miss islands is a hunting camp. Wear hunter’s orange in hunting season. For exploration by water, you can continue around the back channel of Togo Island four miles if the water is above 20 VG (slow flow) best paddling would be at 25VG or above. If the water is 18VG or below you can’t go any further than a low bridge built not far beyond the mouth of the chute at RBD 416. In Dec 2014 we found the entrance open to the first pool (which is a deep hole cut into the mud immediately beyond the mouth of the chute) open at VG 15 through a thin wall of young willows.
416.5 LBD “Big Momma” Dike
As you get propelled westward past Karnac, Island No. 110, Canon Point, Togo Landing, and on around Big Black Island canoeists and kayakers will paddle past a series of three dikes known appropriately as the Togo Island Dikes. The topmost of these (LBD near mile 416.5) is known by locals as “Big Momma” and has a notorious reputation as a dangerous dike that will flip a canoe or rip out your outboard motor (in medium water). Crazy big piles of driftwood wash up here into the eddies, and then get hung up on the banks and the dikes as the river drops. Of course, like all things concerning the Mississippi, it all depends on river level. Big Momma exposes her rocky fangs only at low and medium waters. At low water her main hazard is a strong eddy below the outer tip of the dike, which cuts through the water like Grendel’s tooth. At medium water she is especially fearsome as the currents getting squished past Canon Point get thrown into her waiting teeth and her insatiable appetite shows it greatest ferociousness with convulsions of water and barely hidden rocky fangs. At high water Big Mama’s teeth disappear in the flood but makes herself known with periodic explosions of water in the form of boils and turbulence. You can find good all weather camping around Big Momma left bank descending.
418 – 413 RBD Big Black Island
Due to the ever meandering nature of the big river, Big Black Island is now landlocked and connected to the east bank, although it is still legally considered Louisiana. Great all water level and all weather camping can be found around the entire perimeter of the tight bend of river around Big Black Point, if it’s that time of day keep your eyes open for the spot that attracts you and paddle until the wind, the sandbar, the landing, the proximity of trees and firewood all come to collusion for the balance of the perfect campsite.
417-414 Togo Island Bend & Dikes
The Mississippi makes a tight bend at Togo, a one hundred and eighty degree about face. The waters running northwesterly past Big Black Island find themselves turned around at Togo Island and made to exit this bend running southeasterly! That’s some wrangling of forces, water and land, the land eventually winning the battle, momentarily, as it pushes the river around and makes it turn face. Of course, this is helped along by our army engineers with the Togo Island revetment! There is a giant sandbar LBD hugging the inside of the bend at low water, which diminishes as the river rises and then pulls its carpet completely in during high water (although a steep shelf of sand remains at the base of the forested point). Several possible protected campsites could be located with the forest if needed at high water, but your best bet is to continue on to Middle Ground Island which boasts the best camping in the area. Watch for towboats as you come around this bend and yield to their progress. The severe angularity brings downstreamers to a halt as they go into the flanking maneuver, even during high water. You can easily pass a towboat engaged in the flanking maneuver, but watch carefully for the moment they throw their engines into full steam forward and come shooting out of the bend like a bag full of grapeshot. You will not want to be in their way, and if you are they will let you know with much cursing and earth-shaking blows of their horns! Once they get their nose pointed in the desired direction they throw all engines forward and need to move fast (in towboat speed) to get out of the bend before the water pushes them into the outside bank.
Mississippi River Dead End?
Does the big river dead end at Togo? It sure looks like it. As you paddle into Togo Bend coming around Big Black Island from above it almost appears that the entire Mississippi is coming to a dead end, the lines of trees meet abruptly in your perspective with an unbroken line of forest. To the uninitiated it seems like you are paddling from one side of a lake to the other. Especially when there are no towboats.
In good Tom Sawyer spirit I have purposely shared this appearance with some friendly paddlers I had in my canoe. This was the announcement: “Well, we’re going to have to turn around. This is where the Mississippi comes to an end.” What? Everyone stops paddling involuntarily, water drops dripping off their uncertain paddles. Someone turns and looks back and all around the line of trees with Incredulousness. What!? The Mississippi dead ends?” This statement is met with some surprise, then confusion, then general dismay… These intrepid and gullible paddlers lump down this falsehood, and move on to action. “What do we do now? How will we get back home? Where are we going to camp?” And other exclamations… Of course, eventually you come around the bend, the channel straightens out, and the opening appears downstream in front of the prow and passage of the canoe, and the falsehood is exposed with laughter from the crew and a twinkle in the eye of the perpetuator. The “Dead End” or “Lake Illusion” is strongest as you come around one of these tight, complete turn-arounds like Togo, where the river revolves completely round 180 degrees so that you leave in the opposite direction you entered. All rivers do this at some point in their course. Even big rivers. The Mississippi is especially prone to these tight bends by nature of its muddy substrate which encourages this kind of extreme meandering. Other bends in this stretch of river which create the “Dead End Illusion” are Widow Graham Bend, Morgan’s Bend, and Mallet Bend. In low or medium water watch for and avoid big tows going into the flanking maneuver around these 180 degree bends.