The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
437 Centennial Cutoff
In the high water of 1876 the river sliced across the narrow yoke of land at the base of Centennial Bend, and isolated Vicksburg from the big river, threatening to kill its economy. This natural shift must have come as a demoralizing blow to the “Citadel of the South.” A little over one decade earlier the Confederacy was forced to surrender on Independence Day. It was as if the big river was punishing the city. And boy it must have smarted that this happened during the Centennial year. Vicksburg refused to celebrate our nation’s holiday until well into the next century.
Marion Braggs gives a detailed account of the Cut-Off and its consequences: “At 2:10 p.m., April 26, 1876, the Lower Mississippi took one last bite out of a narrow neck of land in front of the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and went surging across DeSoto Point, Louisiana. The river had done what General U. S. Grant and more than 50,000 soldiers had failed to do in 1863. The old town of Vicksburg was removed from the Mississippi.
The cutoff that occurred while the nation was celebrating its 100th Anniversary came as no surprise to residents of the area. For many years, eminent civil and military engineers had been examining the narrow neck of land in front of the city and predicting that the river would soon cut through it.
“Before the cutoff occurred, many people had argued that a cutoff would have little if any effect on Vicksburg. The old bend would remain navigable, they said, and the town would therefore retain its waterfront. The city’s docks would continue to be as busy as ever. Others predicted gloomily that a cutoff would cause the old bend to fill with silt, that the point opposite would recede, and that Vicksburg would be left on a shallow oxbow lake, two miles from any potential steamboat landing.
“The pessimists were correct. Vicksburg had lost its waterfront. At low water, a vast expanse of sand and mud prevented steamers from entering the river’s old bed, and the docks in front of the city were silent and deserted for months at a time. Vicksburg would stagnate for a quarter of a century before the Army Corps of Engineers would build a canal that would restore the town to its former status as a river port.”
434.5 LBD Ergon General Store (Tow Boat Supply)
Watch for workboats and resupply vessels running in and out of Ergon General Store which services tows on their way up and down the river. Popular location for towboat resupply. Not oriented towards paddlers, but sometimes paddler friendly. They have helped various expeditions in the past with supplies, logistics, and shuttling. But call first (601) 636-6552, or you might get cussed out by busy and impatient staff. Hit or miss Southern Hospitality!
437 – 435 LBD Walnut Hills (Mississippi Loess Bluff #1)
The river dives to over 200 feet as it comes around Delta Point through Centennial Cutoff, forced downward by the Walnut Hills upon which Vicksburg sits. The turbulent action of the water carving deeper and deeper through the Mississippi Mud makes this one of the deepest holes along the entire Mississippi River.
When the water is below 30 in the Vicksburg Gage, horizontal cliff loess cliffs emerge below the City of Vicksburg Riverfront Park at 436.5 RBD, providing a special view into the geology of the bluffs, which is everywhere else covered by trees, vines, and other thick vegetation. From here downstream to Baton Rouge the loess bluffs express themselves to view, and each one is distinct. This first one was named Nogales by the Spanish Pioneers, and is the least colorful of all the bluffs, a monotone grey (except for one splash of color at the very end, a hump of yellow orange, similar to colors seen further downstream). The horizontal layering is probably due to the way the dust settled in layers tens of thousands of years ago after the melting of the continental ice caps. The scouring action of the river has rounded all of the hard edges of the rock, giving it a friendly feel.
Paddlers can pull off into the slow water usually found along the bluffs and get close to this unique topography. Landings are possible on some flat rounded shelves, or in a pile of sand deposited in some alcoves where a loess boulder broke off and created a harbor below. Make a landing and take a walk to get the feel of the loess formation, but watch out for upstream tows whose passing might make big waves along the shore.
The bluffs are best seen below the Riverfront Park at mile 436 LBD (these emerge around 30VG) and a second expression below the bridge at 435 LBD (emerge around 20VG). The second exposed bluffs form broad shelves of rock, sand and mud below 15Vg which would afford a unique low water campsite for anyone needing an overnight directly below Vicksburg. As stated earlier, the best high water camping near Vicksburg would be at Delta Point opposite the mouth of the Yazoo.
Greatest Dust Storm Ever
The Mississippi Loess Bluffs tower above the river the result of massive dust storms that blew across the Great Plains ten thousand years ago and picked up dried sediment off of 22 million acres of dried glacial dust between the Ohio River and the Gulf of Mexico. It was a Great Dust Storm on steroids, millions of acres of pulverized and dried sediment leftover from the melting of the last ice age (when the continental ice cap retreated northward, yielding its great stores of water into a labyrinth of lacerated streams, all twisting and writhing in snake-like mating season fecundity, forming and reforming channels and carving the Middle and Lower Mississippi valleys at the same time, and the Ohio River valley also, the sum of which was twenty times the present volume of the Mississippi, in the same league as the contemporary flow of the Amazon).
Thousands of years of blowing dust borne by the wild winds of the west hit the calming moisture-rich floodplain of the big valley and was brought to rest by the relatively peaceful atmosphere in giant dunes over its eastern edge, all loess dunes are found east of the Mississippi River. And like all dunes they were piled in repeating patterns of big piles and small piles and no piles at all, tributary valleys in between. And like all wave or ripple patterns they left behind a syncopated miasma of big bluffs and small bluffs rising out of the otherwise flat landscape of the Lower Mississippi Floodplain.