The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Vicksburg to Natchez

426 LBD LeTourneau

LeTourneau is located in the middle of a ten-mile southerly stretch of river that can create difficult paddling conditions in a south wind.  If the wind is above 20mph its best to go to shore and wait it out.  If it’s gusting to 25-30mph or above it becomes dangerous for small craft watch such as canoes or kayaks.  Watch out for crashing waves especially after the passage of upstream tows.  One of the unexpected results of global warming is more frequent windy days with stronger than expected winds.  This is especially true on the river for paddlers, who feel the wind stronger than others, because on the big river there are few natural features to help block it.  Safeguard you and your team by making necessary precautions for windy days.  Read more about this topic here: Safe Paddling Windy Days

As you pass the bottom of Racetrack you might notice two man-made monuments grazing the horizon of trees and bluff ridges.  The first is highlighted with an eruption of steam clouds.  It is the cooling tower of grand Gulf Nuclear Power Plant, which is still a good twenty miles downstream.  The other is a congregation of tall cranes, all rising from the same vicinity directly downriver, from here less than five miles.  This is LeTourneau.  It is difficult to ascertain exactly what is going on at LeTourneau, even after you make a close sweep of the site from the cockpit of your kayak or the seat of your canoe.  In fact it is a remarkable venture.  An engineering wonder.  LeTourneau constructs oil derricks and oil platforms for transport to waters worldwide.  Most probably end up in the Gulf of Mexico, but some go to the North Sea, the Irish Sea, and other destinations.  It looks like some kind of crude construction site, like something you might find thrown up on the beach at the start of a war.  But the crude simplicity belies its sophisticated method, borne out of years of trial and error and brilliant ingenuity by its founder, Robert Gilmour LeTourneau (November 30, 1888 – June 1, 1969).


The construction site looks shaky: the derricks are completed on top of giant plateaus of sand that have been arranged along the river’s edge.  This is done on purpose. They slide the finished work to the water’s edge using RG LeTourneau’s big earth-moving machines.  After completion, and employing gravity as an assistant, the derricks and platforms are eased over the edge of the river.  Timing is carefully planned with an eye on river stages.


Known throughout the construction world as, The Dean of Earthmoving, LeTourneau is considered to this day to have been the world’s greatest inventor of earthmoving and materials handling equipment. Few manufacturers of that era had such a profound effect upon the art of earthmoving as did LeTourneau. Just two years prior to his death, LeTourneau recorded his thoughts about the future of earthmoving equipment: “Within the next few years construction machinery will grow bigger and bigger, and more and more powerful. Instead of 'tons' of capacity, they’ll all be in 'hundreds of tons' and instead of hundreds of horsepower, they’ll all be rated in 'thousands' of horsepower. We’re already seeing it in big hauling units in the mines, and believe me, when the contractor and mining companies start looking for bigger and more profitable hauling units and earthmoving equipment, I’m going to be right there, the firstest with the mostest.


Palmyra/Togo/Yucatan/Middle Ground Island

Paddling in the Port Gibson Area

Go to google map:,-91.065674&spn=0.357692,0.461082

Main Channel Route

The main channel (fast water) route follows the main flow of water past LeTorneau through Diamond Cut-Off, around Newtown Bend, then Togo Bend, over the top of Middle Ground Island past the mouth of the Big Black River, the Port Gibson Harbor, and downstream around Coffee Point.  At low water river speeds average 3mph, at high water they might be 7mph and faster around the bends.


RBD 425 Entrance to Palmyra Lake Back Channel

Paddlers intending to go back channel through Palmyra Lake should stay RBD past Reid Buford Point and look for the break in the trees two miles further downstream.  Note: the bottom point sandbar lengthens at medium low water and the opening is pushed further upstream, up to one and a half-miles further up, almost directly opposite the cranes at LeTourneau.


Palmyra Lake Back Channel

Opens up around 18VG with slow current.  Generous flow (2mph) at 25VG.  Strong flow (3mph) at 30VG.  Adventuresome paddlers wanting to get a taste of what the Mississippi used to be like before rip-rap, rock and revetment can slip into the inviting opening opposite LeTourneau and dive into the woods along a narrow meandering channel through Palmyra Lake that might take all day to get through.  Sure, you will lose some time not being on the main channel (which is about half the distance) but you will re-emerge along your route refreshed and reinvigorated by the experience!  The Entrance to the Palmyra Lake Back Channel is found one mile below LeTourneau on the Louisiana side (right bank descending) near mile 425.  The Return channel comes out at the base of Togo Island Bend near mile 415.  Twenty one miles of back channel paddling to go ten miles!   See below for possible low bridge hazard approximately fifteen miles down back channel.  Below bridge the flow slows down and becomes sluggish at medium water, and slow at high water.


HAZARD: Low Bridge Palmyra Lake


Fifteen miles down Palmyra Lake paddlers need to be wary of a low bridge which is no problem at medium water, but becomes a hazard at high water elves, and might require a portage.    Approach cautiously and pick best route for safe passage.  If the water slides directly into the bridge with little or no opening, do not risk capsize.  Pull to bank and inspect.


416 RBD Togo Island Back Channel

If the river is high enough to get through the willow forest RBD 416 adventurous paddlers can dive through the constriction and enter the cool shady tree-lined Togo Island Channel which is often full of birds and is a known alligator hangout. At low water you can't get through the opening, but the blue hole formed at its head is worth stopping and exploring for animal sightings. The bottom end is always open.