The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
The Zen of Paddling the Big River
Once below the bridge you can relax a little, and enjoy the feel of the big river, and the beauty of a canoe (or kayak) floating along downstream. For most paddlers this is the ultimate high, and as close to heaven as many of us will get. When the weather conditions are ideal you can float along for hours on end through long river stretches like Racetrack, Reid Bedford, Oak Bend, Diamond Cut-Off, which rolls out downstream underneath you almost ten miles, curving slightly eastward, and then slightly westward, and then slightly westward again. This is especially pleasurable after a long day of paddling, when it feels good to stop and rest your muscles, and enjoy that magical time when day slides into the evening. A slight North breeze is best, 5-10 mph, the same as the river speed or just a little faster. The air currents seem to settle into the river and make the face of the water open up in sublime mirror pools of blues, blacks, greys, purples and browns in the wintertime, more hazy greens and softer blues in the summer with pastel oranges and yellows thrown in, rippling wave lines emanating from unseen places.
As darkness approaches the voice of the river seems to speak louder in the resulting calm. Owls call from the forests, and coyotes holler loudly beyond. Each time one howls, the air can get so quiet and calm, you could hear echoes from the opposite shore, and you can lay back in your canoe, kick your feet up on your gear in front of you, and enjoy howls resounding through the stillness. No tows in sight, no jet planes overhead. The whole big river and the sky above feel like they’re all yours, and yours alone because you see no one else, and there is no sign of anyone anywhere along the shores or in the forests beyond. After the echoes die down, silence resumes, and you unscrew your thermos for a cup of coffee or tea. And then lay back again and feel the river gently rocking your canoe back and forth. The river twists your canoe around it around to face upstream, so now you’re sliding backwards down the river, which causes some people discomfort, but is no more dangerous in this quiet passage than facing downstream. Then the river turns you sideways, and you go on downstream gently being pushed and pulled by the endless boils and slippery sheets of water sliding over the big belly of the solemn dusky river. And then shortly later, another coyote clan on the opposite shore responds with a cataclysm of yips and yowls, and puppies joining in, and then silence. And then another clan answers further downstream. Humans aren’t the only ones who like to strut and show off our voices. I like to listen to the individual voices of the coyotes in these reveries and try to imagine who the adults are that are getting so excited and whining, and who’s throwing back their heads and really letting belt a good howl to carry far downstream and up, and how many whimpering puppies are yipping and yapping and going crazy at their feet.
Sometimes these calm days coincide with long lulls in towboat traffic, and you might feel like you are the only creature with a beating heart on the whole Mississippi River. But then just when you think you are alone, you find out you weren’t the only one taking advantage of the beautiful weather. Maybe it’s autumn. Endless flocks of geese are calling from above, first from one direction, and then the other. They’re headed south in the first cold front of the year. Every time you come around a long river bend, another flock passes over. Maybe a low ceiling of clouds is hanging overhead, and you never actually see them in the sky, and it seems like they could be cosmic geese calling through your semi-enchanted state of mind, half of this world and half of some other magical kingdom. But then as you’re coming in to land for camp, a real live flock re-enters the visual world simultaneous with your landing, and glides in and out of the mist just downstream of your chosen place on the edge of the sandbar, making water-skiing splashes on the water, and then come to rest in the water, shaking their downy tail feathers, and then shaking their heads, and cooing to each other, the dominant ones head-butting the others to get on ashore.
On those perfect days all commercial activity is at bay as if the creator had called for a day of rest. And it’s not until much later, maybe after you’ve built a fire and cooked supper, and then laid down your head under the big skies of the Deep South, that the tows resume their grinding away and go chugging and churning all night, bringing grain downstream, and empties up. It never ceases to amaze me how much corn and soy and wheat America produces, and lets roll down her mighty river to the sea.
Paddler’s Choices below Vicksburg
Crossing over to Delta Point
Your best route for getting to Delta Point from the mouth of the Yazoo is to paddle upstream a short distance, hugging the shore for the slow water. When you are satisfied you can make the crossing, and no towboats are in view, start your ferry crossing, adjusting your angle as necessary. Don’t relax your angle until you are safely across the belly of the river. The waters here are fairly swift side to side.
Extreme caution should be exercised while paddling under the Vicksburg Bridge. Fast water and turbulence around pylons. Stay LBD in normal conditions for fastest water. Stay RBD in high winds or in case of approaching upstream tows. Watch for towboats plowing upstream under bridge, and maybe cross over in thick traffic. Waves are always bigger in this turbulent stretch.
Main Channel LBD
After coming under the Vicksburg Bridge the downstream paddler can stay mainstream left bank descending (LBD) past the power plant and follow the strong flow of water mid channel edging right bank descending past Racetrack Towhead and past Reid Bedford Point and then back to left bank towards LeTourneau Industrial Park further down. Racetrack Towhead makes for a good picnic or camp site if the water is 40VG or lower.
Main Channel RBD
On a windy day, or if a big towboat is plowing up the main channel under the bridge, you might opt for the RBD route. The water is slower, and there might be other tows being fleeted downstream, but the waves will be smaller, and there is less turbulence. Watch for workboats servicing moving towboats below the bridge.
LBD Private Boat Ramp
Paddlers might notice a limestone boat ramp just north of the power plant (LBD) downstream of Vicksburg Bridge. Dirt Works owns the property and has a locked gate on the front entrance. No surprise, this is a private ramp. Do not make landing except in emergencies.