The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail


Rivergator Appendix 8

Grasshopper’s Jumping Journal

By “Brax” Braxton Barden and Mark River


Grasshopper’s Jumping Journal Atchafalaya Day 1

After a night of peaceful rest listening to the beavers splashing their tails, I was a little worried this morning because I woke up grounded on the Shreve’s Bar to a river shrouded in fog.  I could hear the monstrous sounds of the towboats but I could only see the tops of their heads poking up through the fog.  John told me not to worry, the sun would soon burn off the fog.  Sure enough after breakfast the fog lifted and we were on our way.  We took off and shot across the channel, even though I was going to miss plying the Mississippi I was excited about exploring the depths of the Atchafalaya.  I exited the Big River, I was a little disappointed to find myself in a channel.  I passed a work tow piled high with rusty cables.  To further my dismay, there was something that I hadn’t seen before on my beloved Lower Mississippi.  I asked John if we were going to ram it and he said we were going to lock through.  As we approached, this monster starting yelling at us and a truck was flying down the levee yelling at us too.  A wild man jumped out waving his arms and motioning for us to come to the bank.  John greeted this wild man and explained our mission to explore the Atchafalaya.  The monster’s master turned out to be friendly and was interested in seeing me up close.  He marveled at my beauty and said he had never seen anything like it before.  I’m not sure where he has been, but I have four other brothers and sisters that have been this way before.  We had to wait for the work tow I had passed earlier to enter the lock.  The monster yelled at us three times and we went all the way to the front of the lock.  I think they thought we would need a head start, but I’m a little faster than my size lets on.  The big gates shut behind me and the water started dropping.  This water elevator dropped us 20 feet and the doors opened.  I thought finally here we go, but no!  Seven more miles of channel travel.  As far as channels go, this one wasn’t too bad because it was an old river channel.  We hit the Atchafalya, but my crew was hungry so we stopped for lunch.  As we landed, Mark River seemed to know the gentleman who had a pink horse with him.  This gentleman was trying to catch my friend the fish and seemed sad.  Mark River told me that he had lost his fishing buddy last year and was quite lonely.  Mark also told me that the pink horse was called a four wheeler.  I guess that makes sense, I ain’t never seen round legs before.  We rounded some bends and discovered a straightaway about ten miles long.  I was ready to get to camp and the crew put the hammer down.  We rounded the bend and located a beautiful spot for the evening.  Dave said look that tree looks like a porcupine.  What a ideal spot, I even had a paddleway to park and wasn’t relegated to being dragged up on land.  John had a great idea for dinner for the crew, stuffed poblano peppers.  I think he was right because the crew slept through the night peacefully while I maintained the watch at Porcupine Point.


Simmesport Gage 30.0R


Grasshopper’s Jumping Journal Atchafalaya Day 2:

Grasshopper meets the Melvillians

The Atchafalaya ain’t half bad.  Even though I miss my belly being scrubbed by the sandbars of the Mississippi.  My paddleway has risen and my friend the water has been singing to me all night.  As day breaks, my buddies the birds are starting their melodic sounds letting me know that spring is soon.  A friend from the Mississippi heard that I was missing home and came for a visit.  Spot the gar nuzzled up to my belly and took care of one of my itchy spots.  Spot was so caught up in conversation and scratching, he swam in water that was too shallow and became stuck.  Gail found Spot, caught him with her bare hands, and helped him to some deeper water.  Spot seems to like the Atchafalaya too because he decided to swim with the water into the floodplain.


John untied me and I was ready to go the same way Spot had gone, but John wanted to stay on the main channel so we could meet Adam in Melville.  My crew and I ventured downriver covered with fog.  My big buddy, the Sun, came out and bid farewell to the fog.  My crew enjoyed the fog, but were even happier to see the healthy families of Bald Eagles.  One of the Eagles told me to pass thanks to the people I was carrying for eliminating DDT.  He hoped that humans find ways to be better neighbors with nature.


As we approach Melville, there is a huge willow tree floating in the river.  I knew John would like to look at it, so I slid on over to allow him to jump out.  John jumped up on the log and started his shopping.  He found some garlic pepper, plastic bags, and some medicine.  I asked John if his items were usable, but he said everything was empty.  He said some people think the river is a garbage disposal and that is part of the reason my work is important.  Water’s health and condition are important and I am honored to be a part of raising the level of awareness.  Later downriver Brax jumped on top of a buoy and rode it like a mechanical bull.  This looked scary to me and I hid my eyes, but Brax looked like he was having fun.


Melville is a small town and we weren’t quite sure if the things we saw were trash chutes or boat ramps.  We found the ramp and the crew broke out lunch while we waited for Adam.  During lunch, some Melvillians come out to look at me.  They thought we were crazy for paddling down the river.  I offered to give them a ride, but they were too scared.  Maybe next time.  Adam arrived and I said my farewell to Rory and Boyce until we meet again.  I can’t wait to see the pictures Rory took and the story Boyce writes about my friend the Water.


We launch from Melville and John tells me that we need to find a campsite.  He said the forecast called for rain and he would like to keep the crew as dry as possible.  I keep my eyes open and spot a field.  Beautiful green grass that looks like a golf course.  The crew decided we should look for a more natural setting.  We rounded the bend and found a beautiful forest.  This spot was great!  I was parked in the paddleway again and spent the night hanging out with Spot.


Simmesport Gage:  31.0


Grasshopper’s Jumping Journal Atchafalaya Day 3:

Day’s Journey in a Blanket of Fog

Just as the water is warming, so I am to the Atchafalaya.  I found myself berthed again in the river tied among the willows.  In the early hours of the morning, John displays his fire magic.  I marvel at the many uses of trees even after they have died, they continue to provide for man.  As the fire is lit, a brother barred owl joins to watch the spectacle.  He calls out “Who Who Who” and I say it is just us the Quapaws and we will be on our way soon.  He is perched high in the tree above Braxton’s tent.  Mark River heard our conversation and thought Braxton had been using his magic owl call, but Braxton was sound asleep.  Just between you and me, I think Braxton might be a bear or maybe he uses a chainsaw to cut firewood during the night.


After breaking camp and leaving the owls to talk amongst themselves, we begin our day’s journey in a blanket of fog.  As we round the first bend, I hear a sound and think maybe Braxton has fallen asleep again.  John tells me to be careful because there is a commercial fisherman headed up river.  John tells Braxton to strike the Dutch oven lid.  Braxton strikes the lid two times to indicate we intend to pass on the starboard side.  I am so excited by the sound because it reminds me of the book written by my good friend Mark Twain about his experiences on the Mississippi River.


Today my crew and I are moving down river quite quickly.  We have an important lunch date with Dean Wilson, the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper.  John uses his airwave talking machine to coordinate the meeting point.  Dean motors up with his family and we tie up alongside.  Dean is a wealth of knowledge about this water paradise.  He talks about how smart the coyotes are and adapt to their cousin the domestic dog whom they do not get along with.  The crew quickly breaks out a lunch of meats, cheeses, vegetables, and fruit.  I am happy my crew is reenergizing with healthy fuel because we have to beat feet to meet the Orr’s under the bridge for a crew swap and resupply.  We say our farewells and head downstream.


We find the I-10 bridge and head to the shore.  There is a big eddy that seems to want to smash my nose into the concrete, but John helps me ride the eddy to safety.  We meet the Orr brothers who have been instrumental in the success of our trip.  They have a bountiful array of fish, fruit, vegetables, and water.  The crew loads the provisions.  I am sad because my dear friend Mike Beck temporarily ends his journey today.  Mike told me not to worry, as soon as he returns to Baton Rouge he will be out spending time with our good friend the Mississippi.


The journey continues downstream to locate a campsite.  We find a thin sliver of sand and willows.  John is cooking for the crew tonight and whips up a fabulous fare of catfish and potatoes.  My crew is refueled and content, this makes me smile.


I find myself parked in another paddleway.  This is fine by me because I made a lot of new friends.  I haven’t seen alligator gar for a while.  Don’t let the name scare you because they are a fine bunch of fellows.  They can grow up to six feet long and love to hang out in the river relaxing.  We rested throughout the night with the occasional chit chat and they obliged me with a belly scrub. 


Krotz Springs Gage:  20.31


Grasshopper’s Jumping Journal Atchafalaya Day 4:

Dean’s Trail: Atchafalaya is a maze of waterways with endless possibilities

The story thus far: The Grasshopper 30 foot long cypress-strip voyageur canoe journeys downstream on the famed Atchafalaya, “the River of Trees”  in search of adventure, wildlife, and dry campsites, with a crew of 8 documenting it all for the Rivergator: Paddler’s Guide to the Lower Mississippi River.  Four days later the anticipation is building as the crew leaves the navigation channel and follows the twists and turns through the capillary bed of the Atchaf, which carries approx 1/3 of the Mississippi, and acts like its major distributary.


Good morning from the Whiskey Bay Pilot Channel.  The night was quiet spent with my buddies the alligator gar who used their scales to give my belly a good scrubbing.  When the sun broke over the horizon, the river was covered in a misty blanket of fog.  I could hear a new sound in the distance that sounded like thunder echoing through the swamp.  The crew seemed to me moving a little slower today, maybe the 32 miles we made the day before wore them out a little.  After breakfast, John assembled the Voyageurs and they all huddled around a map on the sandbar.  The Atchafalaya is a maze of waterways with endless possibilities.  John had two routes in mind, stay on the channel or veer off and explore some backwater bayous.  To my delight, the crew voted unanimously to venture into the depths of the Atchafalaya Basin.


This was the first time John and I ventured down this route.  Any worries I had were alleviated because this route was recommend by Dean from the Basinkeeper.  The basin is a huge floodplain that the Mississippi shares 1/3 of its water with daily.  Today the Mississippi River is at flood stage in Natchez, the Atchafalaya is getting a big helping of water.  This is good for us because it brings water to land to help Spring get started on a good foot and opens up exploration opportunities for us.  We have spent a lot of time exploring the Atchafalaya, but one would spend a lifetime and still not know the Atchafalaya completely.


We left the pilot’s channel and entered Jakes Bayou.  Our waterway narrowed from a 2,640 feet to 200 feet wide.  I would imagine a car would have a similar experience exiting from the interstate directly onto a logging trail in the mountains.  Immediately the Voyageurs started seeing my friends.  The first sighting was a broad shouldered hawk and then a couple of alligators sunning on the bank.  I said hello to them and they slid off the bank to come out to glide down the bayou with me.  They told me about the old Texaco dock where the bayou starts and how the humans one day just up and left.  Unfortunately they didn’t take all of the stuff they had brought with them.  They also told me about a hidden lake just to the right of the bayou.  I told John about this and he was delighted to hear this inside information from the locals.  I was excited too, but the only waterway had a fortress style gate blocking the entrance.  I told John I would be okay waiting in the bayou as long as he brought back some good pictures so I could see what the lake looked like.


The route was a maze of bayous.  Jakes, Bloody, Sorrell, Indigo, and Bee.  As we traversed our way through this maze some of the water was like the Omahas like it, backwards.  These bayous depending on water level can flow in either direction.  They are surrounded by swamps and bottomland forests.  Even though there were a good many hunting camps, I was happy to see that the people that own them keep the in good shape and litter free. 


During this trip, I have seen more fishing boats than I have ever seen.  I learned that the  swamp thunder I heard the night before was really something called an airboat.  What a noisy contraption!  On one of the more narrow bayous we heard a noise and Braxton said it was a lawnmower.  Then out of nowhere a boat popped up, turns out some boats are powered by lawnmower engines.


As the day was fading, the Voyageurs were in search of some high ground in this watery maze.  They found a campsite at the bottom end of Eagle Island in Keelboat Pass.  The name of these two places remind me of the Mississippi and I feel a little homesick.  I am happy though because I have made so many new friends.  The Atchafalaya is the New York City for wildlife.


Krotz Springs Gage:  20.92

Morgan City Gage:  4.47


Grasshopper’s Jumping Journal Atchafalaya Day 5:

Into the Vibrant Green Heart of the Atchafalaya

Eagle eyes are required for navigating Keelboat Pass this morning.  Fortunately the fog burns off early this morning.  My paddleway parking today makes it a challenge to reload for the crew because they have to bring everything over my head.  I am glad they didn’t drop anything on my nose.  My nose has been broken once before and it sure did hurt.


As we go along, something feels strange.  This feeling is new, I check the water on my nose and realize we aren’t moving at our normal pace.  I ask John if the crew is tired and can’t muster the power today.  He tells me that we are in a lake and there might be a 1/4 mile per hour flow.  At first I am disappointed about our new found environment, but then I remember my ancestors which inspired my design.  The first Voyageur canoes were built by the French to ply the Great Lakes for transporting pelts and provisions.  With the thought of those that have gone before me, my attitude changes to excitement for this new challenge.


Exiting the Keelboat challenge, we return to the backwaters.  I marvel at the cypress and wonder if they will eventually provide the ingredients for future canoes.  We pass more cabins some on stilts and some floating.  I was starting to wonder if these cabins were abandoned.  As we rounded a bend, Braxton exclaimed “Look at those snakes hanging out on the porch.”  I then realized that these cabins were home to snakes and that is why they are kept up in such an orderly fashion.


One of my favorite sections today was Little Bayou Long.  This bayou was full of bald cypress and swamp tupelo.  What a majestic place!  I hope that someday I can carry a group of children through this primordial wonderland.  It is my hope that future generations will set aside more floodplain to allow better homes for my friends so they won’t have to build those cabins on stilts and styrofoam.


At the end of Little Bayou Long we find ourselves in a possible Omaha situation again.  John checks the map and finds a small bayou that is going our direction in both ways.  We once again find the Quapaw way.  This is another beautiful paddle way.  As the path narrows, we find ourselves blocked in by water hyacinth.  The crew is worried, but I tell them to take a break and fuel up because I am sure my nose can part this invasive plant.  After a quick break, I tell the hyacinth look out cause here we come.  They trembled in fear at the sight of my nose and stepped aside to provide a path.


Duck Lake should be called Sumo Cypress Lake.  The cypress that lined this lake were big, round, and stout.  These cypress are great platforms for the Osprey who built their nest on on the heads of these sturdy sumo.  It was good that these sumo had strong legs because there was water everywhere.  This presented a challenge for finding a campsite.  John is prepared for a watery campsite, but he knows the crew might like to set their tents up on land.  Just as the last rays of the sun are saying goodbye, Gail spots a small parcel of dry land.  We paddle over to this sliver in the swamp and the crew rests for tomorrow’s adventure.


Krotz Springs Gage:  20.97

Morgan City Gage:  4.53


Grasshopper’s Jumping Journal Atchafalaya Day 6:

Chatting with Frogs, Beavers, Raccoons, Alligators and Nutria

This morning is like all the other mornings so far on this trip down the Atchafalaya, the river and land covered in fog.  What is fog?  I am glad you asked and I should have explained her earlier.  I like to imagine that the clouds I see high in the sky during the day have come down during the night from their lofty position to sleep near the river, trees, me, and you.  When the sun rises to wake the day, fog has rested so well amongst friends she has a hard time getting back to work in the sky.  I asked Braxton what he thought and he said, “Fog happens when humidity is near 100 percent and the air temperature drops.  When these conditions occur, tiny water vapor particles condense into tiny water drops making this misty layer over the land.”  I like my version better, his is just kind of boring.


The campsite that Gail found was a spectacular site for the weary Voyageurs.  This narrow piece of land was the only dry land to be found for miles and provided the feeling of camping atop the water.  One of side of the campsite was flooded bottomland hardwood and the other old river channel.  


I spent the night chatting with the frogs, beavers, raccoons, alligators, and the nutria.  The nutria were brought from South America and I had to brush up on my Spanish.  They are lively fellows that love to burrow in the river banks and eat plant stems.  My new friends from South America have a voracious appetite.  They eat so much they are slowly wreaking havoc on my beloved river.  I spent the night explaining how they must conserve their resources.  Just because river roots are bountiful and delicious, they must not gorge themselves.  If they take care of the river, the river will take care of them.


My conversations with the locals provided melodic medicine to the Voyageurs during their night of rest.  At the morning meal, I heard Mark tell John about hearing a group of hunting dogs singing throughout the night.  John was a little confused because he had not heard any dogs during the night.  After some reflection, the group came to the conclusion that Mark had been hearing the sounds of bull frogs during the night.  Everyone had a chuckle and John aptly named this tuneful campsite “Frog Dog”.


The fog returned to the sky earlier today and we were able to see clearly.  Even though I missed the surreal effect the fog created, it would have been difficult navigating the open expanses of Duck and Flat lakes.  These big lakes are home to ospreys and bald eagles.  Birds of prey love to eat fish and the lakes are rich with food for these skillful avians.  I asked the eagle to talk to the nutria about eating too much.  He has tried, but the nutria is scared of the eagle.  Maybe I should ask the next beaver I see to teach the nutria.


The excitement rose as we approached Morgan City.   We were on our way to pick up Wolfie.  A writer from Louisiana, Wolfie helped bring me to life as a Voyageur canoe.  As we approached the ramp, I saw Wolfie waving and I let out a big WHO-UTE to let him know we were near.  He replied with so much enthusiasm, I knew he was excited to see us too.


My crew had lunch on the dock and watched the local fisherman come and go.  John and Braxton took the time after lunch for a refreshing dip in the cool waters of the Atchafalaya.  Wolfie had brought supplies for the rest of the trip and brought his famous gumbo for the evening meal.


We rounded a couple of more bends of the Atchafalaya.  I was happy to be back in the big open spaces of the ever widening Atchafalaya main channel.  John found an island right in the middle of the channel.  I felt like we were back home on the Mississippi.  John wanted to leave me in the water, but I told him I preferred to spend the night with my belly in the sand.      As the crew pulled me up on land, I reminded them to look out for broken glass.  The only difference between this island and islands of the Mississippi is that this island is visited by those who do not hold it in high regard.  I felt sorry for this lovely little island to have to endure the pains of human litter.  I asked John to help spread the word about proper use and stewardship of these wild places.


Morgan City Gage:  4.67


Grasshopper’s Jumping Journal Atchafalaya Day 7:

End of the World as We Know It

It’s a big channel morning and the water is flowing with the continuous rising of the Mississippi river’s Spring pulse.  We jump on down the channel clickety-clack.  We round the bend and find our path to the gulf.  The entrance to this small channel is landmarked by Shell Island.  There are 22 species of mussels found in the Atchafalaya basin and their remains wash up on this lonely point.  The crew takes a quick break because we are almost at the end and the prospect of finding land seems remote.


As we make our way to the gulf, we find more gated waterways.  John photographs and notes the locations of these gates for Dean.  I hope Dean can use the resources of the Basinkeeper to have these unnecessary obstacles removed.


We paddle on and we round a bend and it appears that we have reached the end of the Earth.  There are no trees in sight and I worry we might fall off the planet.  John sings part of a REM song that causes me to be alarmed.  The sight and sound seems to have affected the crew too, but I realize they are excited and not fearful of going over the edge.  It seems we have reached the Gulf of Mexico and not the edge of the world.


Crossing the bay, we were guided by a elevated piece of land.  Belle Isle is a salt dome that rises 82 feet above sea level.  Even at a lowly 82 feet, Belle seems like a mountain when compared to the land that surrounds it.  As we said our farewells to the gulf, John tested the water and mingled with the mussels for one last time.  


Our return trip to Morgan City was a challenge.  At every turn we encountered water rushing to the be reunited with the gulf.  Even though this type of paddling is slower, it provided us with ample wildlife sightings.  We saw two gregarious Roseate Spoonbills, I like to call them swamp flamingos due to their brilliant color.  They feed by swinging their bills from side to side as the walk through the water.  These abundant sightings helped keep the crew focused on their upstream paddle.


Daylight was fading as we searched for land that seemed to elude us.  John spotted some high ground and the crew raced towards it, they were hungry and tired from a hard day of paddling.  I find myself once again parked in a pleasant watery paddleway.


Morgan City Gage:  4.90


Grasshopper’s Jumping Journal Atchafalaya Day 8:

Surrounded by the Sounds of the Swamp

The Voyageurs once again found themselves surrounded by the sounds of the swamp during the night.  I think most people would not be able to sleep because they would be fearful of the creatures that make these sounds.  My crew has realized that the creatures have no interest in harming them and welcome their neighbors’ music with open arms and sound sleep.


The crew breaks camp with heavy hearts because they know their Atchafalaya journey is coming to an end.  As they continue upstream, they spot numerous nutria and alligators.  Gail spotted a raccoon high in the tree taking a nap.  He was sleeping so deeply, he didn’t seem to mind the numerous photos that were taken.


The tidal marsh returned to bottomland forest signaling that the crew was making progress on their trip inland.  We stopped to check out a beautiful bottomland forest decorated with fans on the floor.  These fans are Saw Palmetto which have been used in the past for food and to roof primitive dwellings in coastal regions.


Exiting the natural landscape to the inter-coastal waterway was a big surprise.  The crew expected this waterway to be more like a ditch, but to their surprise it was more natural looking than expected.  The banks were lined with cypress and cottonwoods.  We once again were sharing the water with the tows carrying materials around the world.  A tow followed me for a couple of miles, he finally passed when the crew took a break to enjoy the surroundings.  


With the boat ramp in sight, the crew took one last break before returning to civilization to reflect on our journey.  What a magical journey of discovery.  I hope the work we have done on the Atchafalaya water trail opens up this magical place to paddlers around the world to discover the wonders of this fabulous floodplain.


Morgan City Gage:  5.05


(by Mark River and Brax Barden)