The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail


How Low Can You Go?


Yes, the river has gotten too low for many of the steel monsters that ply its waters.  It has gotten too low for 7x7 barge tows fully loaded.  It’s too low for the largest steamboat ever, the American Queen, to leave its new home in the Beale Street Harbor of Memphis.  The channel is shallow and the shoals of course shallower.  Some harbors like Lake Providence Louisiana got silted in last year’s flood and now need dredging to remain open.


But no, it’s not too low for fish or paddlers.   Certainly not too low for waders and water birds like the least tern, who were recently counted (July 2012, Dr. Ken Jones) and numbered close to 10,000 individuals in 75 colonies.  Wow, nice recovery from last year’s flood!  Beavers have had to move summer quarters to their low water burrows and have been working hard to keep channels open.  Us paddlers, we’re similar to the beavers.  We think there is plenty of water.  It just requires a longer route to get there!  Most ramps end in mud or rip-rap.  For us paddlers that just means we have to carry our vessels a little further to reach the water’s edge.  


And no, contrary to popular reports it hasn’t lost any of its power or majesty.  We don’t register power in cfs (cubic feet per second).  Power is the ability of a scene to bring a person to awe, or humility.  And the river hasn’t lost any of that kind of power.  And somberly enough it hasn't lost its power to drown the unprepared and unaware.


If anything it has become more majestic and more awesome -- if nothing else than for the visual effect of the mind-boggling unending landscape of the still very wide and deep big river running in between steep muddy banks and giant piles of rip-rap, and convoluted sections of revetment that have been rolled up as surely as they were originally unrolled.  Now exposed wrecks of barges and steamboats glare darkly and menacingly, along with deep muddy cuts into backwater places and slot channels which disappear into overhanging forests.  The RV that rolled off the Natchez-Under--the-Hill ramp and twirled off underneath the Natchez Bridge last year has reappeared about a mile downstream.


Some headline stories prosaically adopted the headline the “Mighty Mississippi River has lost its Might…”  Hee-ee, very poetic, but that all depends on your perspective.  From water level, or even from the banks of the river the view upstream and downstream is majestic, serene, the long views of water, while of course shorter than during high water, still occupy the majority of your view, but now instead of running side to side, forest to forest, from Tennessee to Arkansas, and from Arkansas to Mississippi and from Mississippi to Louisiana, now it is framed by long sweeping curves of dusty yellow sandbars reaching outwards from all the islands and many bankside places and slicing the river reach with simmering sandy sword slashes.