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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

Vol 10 No 1b, Monday January 13, 2014

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Paddlers with Anti-Freeze

in their Veins

(From Driftwood Johnnie): Except for a few hardened paddlers* with anti-freeze in their veins, Winter-time is a tough paddle on the Lower Mississippi River. You will be buffeted by the wind and splashed by freezing cold water. The horizon is a never-ending landscape of hardened monotone greys, blues and blacks. It’s also very dangerous. (If you go on the Big River you should wear wetsuit or drysuit and keep the hatches battened down!)

*(Kev Brady just paddled through the area, maybe the last paddler of 2013/first paddler of 2014, closely followed by Clark Chapman & Ned Savage... Google them and find out more about their cold adventures!)

That said, canoeists, kayakers and stand up paddleboarders can enjoy some wonderful (and often spectacular) alternatives on many of the tributaries that parallel (or butt into) the Lower Mississippi River along its 1000 mile north to south floodplain. This week I've been enjoying some forays on the gentle Sunflower River which is protected from the elements by deep muddy banks and full of surprising wildlife. My 6 year old daughter Emma Lou can join in without exposing her to too many of the hazards of the season. In Tennessee you’ll find the Hatchie and the Wolf. In Arkansas the St. Francis and the White. In Mississippi the Sunflower, the Yazoo, and the Big Black. And in Louisiana some incredible paddling awaits you on Bayou Bartholomew, Macon Bayou or on the Tensas River, and on some of the oxbow lakes Bruin, St. John, Concordia.

Greenery: as the above photo shows, you will experience visual therapy from the mid-winter monotone blues! There is still greenery in the deep woods! Besides palmetto, look for magnolia and berry bushes. Some cedars will be found and some pines.

This winter I am going to share some of the tributary rivers (and oxbow lakes) that us Mighty Quapaws have been exploring, documenting and writing about. This week is the Tensas River, as result of some trail-making we did for the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Delta Adventures. Even though its flowing deep within the big woods, The Tensas is easily accessible to anyone living along the I-20 corridor from Jackson MS to Shreveport LA (and is not too far of a drive from places north & south like Baton Rouge).

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Tensas River below Tendal

Louisiana Water Trails

Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge

An Introduction

The Tensas River creates a natural wonderland of big trees and spectacular wildlife through the middle of northeast Louisiana in the Tensas River Tensas National WIldlife Refuge.

The best way to experience the natural wonders of the Tensas is by canoe, kayak or pirogue. You can paddle in rivers or lakes. Paddlers will be humbled by giant cypress trees, and thrilled with excellent birding, flourishing flora, frequent turtle and gator sightings and many signs of the louisiana black bear. During winter months Bald Eagle may be sighted.

The beginnings of the Tensas River are found in Lake Providence, an oxbow lake carved by an old channel of the Mississippi River. The Tensas River flows out of Lake Providence and meanders nearly one hundred miles south before it descends into the deep expansive woods of the Tensas River NWR.

The Tensas River cuts a remarkable path through the bottomland hardwood forests of the Refuge. On a map your eyes will be attracted by its graceful loops which begin in small radial turns and then grow in size and proportion as the river coils into ever bigger meanders and eventually revolves around giant loops that are in fact ancient channels originally carved by the violent floods of the Mississippi. You will be amazed by a dizzying circle of directions as you swirl around all directions of the compass first east, then north, then south, then west and then north again. In one section the river channel loops around twenty miles to make 2 miles of southerly gain! The biggest of these loops requires ten miles of paddling to get around, and have been given local names like Greenlea Bend, Andrew’s Bend and Hunter’s Bend. One of the water trails runs into Greenlea Bend (Tendal to Crossroads Bridge to Visitor’s Center) and the another trail runs along a portion of Andrew’s Bend, the largest of all (Alligator Bayou to Red Barn).

Two of these trails are on lakes that inhabit old channels of the Tensas which have been isolated by the changing nature of the river and are now charming still water pools ringed by deep forests drenched with the aroma of cypress/hardwood forests. Lakes are good alternatives for beginners and families with small children, and become the only possible place to paddle during droughts.

The Visitor’s Center at Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge should be your first stop before embarking on any water travel inside the NWR. Consult main desk for vehicle permits and information about current conditions of water trails and landings. Visit its small museum with nature exhibits, notably concerning the Ivory Billed Woodpecker and Louisiana Bald Cypress. Remember, there is no camping within the Tensas River NWR.

When is the best time to paddle?

Spring and Fall are the best seasons for outdoor activity in Northeast Louisiana, but you can go anytime that suits your schedule. The only time to avoid river travel here completely might be during hunting season. Consult Louisiana hunting calendar when you make your plans. You will find good paddling on the lakes in all seasons.

Appropriate Vessels:

Paddle-craft such as Canoes, Pirogues, Kayaks, or Stand Up Paddleboards are ideal for the river trails and the lakes. Choose a vessel you can pick up and maneuver with ease. Motorized vessels are not possible on the Tensas River, but are okay on the lakes. Consult NWR officials for regulations.

Warnings:

Don’t go during Hunting Season. Avoid river travel during extremely low water (below 6 at Tendal). Before embarking be sure to consult river gage. Low water levels might impede travel. Register your vehicle with NWR officials.

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Bear Track in the Mud

Tendal to Crossroads Bridge (3 Miles)

Summary:

Tendal to Crossroads Bridge is the single most beautiful section of the Tensas River with the biggest trees and the most abundant wildlife, but can only be done with ample water (above 6 on the Tendal Gage).

Three mile route. Flat water paddling. Some maneuvering around downed trees, snags and piles of driftwood. Cypress trees growing out of water channel. Portages might be necessary.

Google Map of Trail:

short link:

http://goo.gl/maps/bucn

long link:

https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=217859314001592865582.0004c53059bc4932b5a9e&msa=0&ll=32.359953,-91.329818&spn=0.043936,0.05506

Note on Google Maps:

Blue Anchor Icon = Landing/Boat Launch

Green Tree Icon = Notable Trees

Orange Camera Icon = Scenic View or Location

Green Picnic Table = Picnic Site

Yellow House = Hunting Camp

Red Triangle = River Hazard

Blue Question Mark = Visitor’s Center

LBD = Left Bank Descending

RBD = Right Bank Descending

Water Trail Description:

Tendal to Crossroads Bridge:

Put-in: Tendal Landing (RBD near Judd Bayou)

N32.37477

W91.341802

Tendal to Crossroads Bridge is the single most beautiful section of the Tensas River with the biggest trees and the most abundant wildlife, but can only be done with ample water (above 6 on the Tendal Gage).

Park and Put in at Tendal Landing. Carry or drag your vessel down a gentle slope with easy access from the top of the river bank. Pack and board your canoe amongst young trees, palmettos and cypress knees and set off. The river is flowing south-southwesterly. Immediately downstream you will enter a river channel lined with thick vegetation. Long reflections of trees and wedges of sky beckon you downstream, and there are several patches of rich mussel-shell beds, evidence of a healthy river.

Several hundred yards south you will pass the mouth of Judd Bayou which enters RBD from the west (right bank descending). Judd Bayou is a narrow drainage extending deep into the Tensas following an ancient Mississippi River bend. Scrutinize the bankside privets and cypress for an abandoned cantilever bridge crossing the bayou close by.

Mouth of Judd Bayou (RBD 600 yds)

N32.371043

W91.344107

Below Judd Bayou the river swoops southward and then eastward undulating through deep forests and overhanging privets, oaks, pecans, and hickories, in many places draped over with curtains of wild grapevines and other ivies, the understory thick with briars and palmetto. You will paddle past some mature cypress, and then a large cypress angled over the river channel and then you will descend into several contiguous grand hallways of giant louisiana bald cypress trees, the banks rising steeper and higher on either side with large populations of cypress knees creating a fantastic miniature landscapes of gargoyles and hoo-doos. Monitor the trees for black bears and the river for gators! You probably won;t see bears, but the careful observer will notice scratch marks where the bears are climbing their favorite trees and leaving distinct red scratches on the otherwise grey bark of the cypress. Waders are thick throughout, tri-colored, green and little blue heron, and lesser egrets. Songbirds also like the in their season, such as the prothonotary warbler and indigo bunting. Black bear tracks are common alongside crawfish chimneys.

Overhanging Big Cypress (RBD Mile 1.5)

N32.356938

W91.337513

One particularly awesome cypress makes its presence known because its grows right out of the river and you have to maneuver around it. This cypress might be the largest one on this stretch of river, maybe a thousand years old. It has distinctive spiraling buttresses emerging out of the water and so we named it “Big Twirly.”

“Big Twirly” Giant Louisiana Bald Cypress (RBD Mile 1.6)

N32.356938

W91.337513

Not far below Big Twirly is another hallway of big cypress rising from the riverbank RBD (right bank descending) like the columns of a temple. The first of these is almost dead, but stands monumental, denuded of bark, and mother bears use a woody cavern formed near its crown as a maternity ward in the winter months.

Maternity Ward Cypress (RBD Mile 1.7)

N32.356882

W91.335942

After several more stretches of thick trees and steep muddy banks you might notice a ravine entering the river LBD (left bank descending) through a thick grove of gnarly cypress knees. You can point your canoe into the mouth of this ravine and imagine scenes from the Hobbit or the Lord of the the Rings! No exit, though, located below a small private cabin.

Cypress Knee Grand Canyon (LBD Mile 2.2)

N32.35556

W91.326048

A half mile downstream you paddle past another hallway of cypress, this time LBD (left bank descending).

The Wall -- another giant cypress

N32.355167

W91.322702

When the river channel starts curving back southward you can start anticipating the crossroads bridge. Its not far below another large cypress rooted in the river. The Boat Ramp is found RBD on the downstream side of the bridge. Even if you are not exiting here the ramp is a convenient place to stop and stretch your legs. Gentle slope with gravel. Easy walk to parking on the road. Deep mud at base of ramp in low water.

Crossroads Bridge Boat Ramp (RBD Mile 3)

N32.348803

W91.315552

Warnings: Don’t go during Hunting Season or low water. Before embarking be sure to consult river gage. Low water levels might impede travel. Register your vehicle with NWR officials.

River Gage:

“Tensas River at Tendal”

http://water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=jan&gage=tdgl1

For this section of the Tensas, you can get an approximate idea of the water level using the NWS River Gage at Tendal:

Below 6: Too Shallow. Frequent dragging and many portages.

8-14: Ideal. Possible portages

15-19: Fast Water. Some Caution Required

Above 20: Dangerous. Advanced paddlers only. Beware snags and strainers.

Reading River levels at Tendal: Low water (Too Shallow) Don’t go below 6 feet on the Tendal Gage (when a lot of dragging through shallows & mud flats will be necessary). Ideal level: 8-14 on the Tendal Gage. Above 15 on the Tendal Gage the current will be swift and extra caution is needed to maneuver through snags, sawyers and possible strainers as river rushes through the thick terrain. Above 20 all of the bankside forest will be underwater, and above 25 (flood stage) there won’t be any dry land to be found, boat ramps & parking lots will be completely submerged.

Historic Levels: Looking at historical data for the Tensas from the past ten years, the river typically bottoms out between 6 and 7 feet on the Tendal Gage with spikes due to rainfall & runoff, sometimes spiking up to 25 feet or higher.

Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center

This should be your first stop before embarking on any water travel inside the NWR. Consult main desk for vehicle permits and information about current conditions of water trails and landings. Visit small museum with nature exhibits, notably concerning the Ivory Billed Woodpecker and Louisiana Bald Cypress. There is no camping within the Tensas River NWR.

Visitor’s Center GPS

N32.318201

W91.382174

Contact:

Tensas River NWR Visitor’s Center

2312 Quebec Road

Tallulah, LA 71282

(318) 574-2664

Fax: (318) 574-1624

E-mail: tensasriver@fws.gov

8:00 am to 4:00pm Monday – Friday,

(with the exception of all Federal Holidays)

http://mailman.305spin.com/users/island63/images/water trails/_ST38744.jpg

Tensas River above Visitor's Center

Crossroads Bridge to Visitor’s Center (4.5 Miles)

Summary:

Crossroads Bridge to Visitor’s Center: Four-and-a-half mile route through canyons of vegetation, with main road following left bank descending. Beautiful forests and understory throughout with plentiful wildlife, especially birds. Watch for bear tracks in the mud and gator wakes in the pools of water. Best run 8-15 on the Tendal Gage, too low below 6, too high above 20.

Google Map of Trail:

short link:

http://goo.gl/maps/mXqf

long link:

https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=217859314001592865582.0004c54069539d5cb8d1f&msa=0&ll=32.31753,-91.379814&spn=0.080442,0.075617

Note on Google Maps:

Blue Anchor Icon = Landing/Boat Launch

Green Tree Icon = Notable Trees

Orange Camera Icon = Scenic View or Location

Green Picnic Table = Picnic Site

Yellow House = Hunting Camp

Red Triangle = River Hazard

Blue Question Mark = Visitor’s Center

LBD = Left Bank Descending

RBD = Right Bank Descending

Water Trail Description:

Crossroads Bridge to Visitor’s Center:

Crossroads Bridge Boat Ramp

N32.348803

W91.315552

Park your car on the side of Mill Road on the West side of the Crossroads Bridge and carry your vessel down the short trail to the boat launch. Gravel ramp with gentle slope leading into river. At low water (below 8 on the Tendal Gage) thick mud will be encountered at base of ramp.

Paddle downstream in southerly direction past a trashy hunting camp LBD and into gently meandering river channel which opens up into a succession of long pools and which close up again in narrows where some maneuvering might be required. Towering trees crowd the bank with smaller trees and shrubs underneath. In low water these shrubs and curtains of thick vines create enticing tunnels of vegetation through which you can paddle and enjoy shade on hot days and enchanting scenery alongside.

Trashy Hunting Camp (LBD 100 yds)

N32.345503

W91.316775

River flows southeastward into typical bottomland hardwood forest with mature louisiana bald cypress sprinkled throughout. You will paddle alongside groves of oaks, pecans, hickories, elms, locust, sycamore with cypress knees, cane, briar and palmetto inhabiting the forest floor. WIld hibiscus, privet and many vines crowd the banks. Look for deer tracks in the mud alongside wild boar and waders like the heron. Watch for alligator tracks with three dominant claw/toes extending forward. Crawdaddy chimneys and louisiana black bear tracks are often seen, reminders that you are visitors in a wild landscape. Many varieties of fungi grow on the snags and downed tree trunks.

Overhanging Cypress Tree (LBD Mile 1.9)

N32.333493

W91.342655

Several miles downstream the river descends deeper into canyons of foliage as the muddy banks rise higher and steeper on both sides affording even better views underneath the canopy. Look for the scaly sides of shagbark hickories and the geometric flourishes of the palmetto fronds. At mile 1.9 a monumental cypress leans over the channel from LBD butressing into the water with a phantasmagoria of roots and cypress knees underneath. Not far downstream a grove of graceful mature cypresses are seen RBD draped with spanish moss

Spanish Moss Cypress Trees (RBD Mile 2)

N32.332618

W91.349452

At mile 3.9 the shrubbery opens up momentarily in a grove of young cypress with a flat alluvium bottom at the mouth of an un-named bayou which spills into the river RBD through a narrow muddy slot from the expansive forests beyond. This would be a good place for a landing although the bankside is crowded with a thick congregation of cypress knees in low water.

Mouth of Un-Named Bayou (RBD Mile 3.9)

N32.325042

W91.372217

Below the un-named bayou trees have fallen from the steep right bank. A mountain of debris has accumulated around these fallen trees (mile 4) necessitating a short portage. LBD offers the easiest route. Make your landing amongst a thick grove of privets and drag or carry your canoe over the muddy bottoms to the other side of the blockage and resume your journey. NOTE: from summer of 2012. Might change after next high water.

Fallen Trees/Blocked Channel (Mile 4)

N32.325042

W91.372217

The river banks become less steep and the shrubbery becomes deeper and thicker as you approach the Visitor’s Center Landing and take-out. Look for signs of the forest opening up LBD. Make landing and drag of portage your canoe up the short bank to parking area above.

Visitor’s Center Landing (LBD Mile 4.5)

N32.317815

W91.379367

River Gage:

“Tensas River at Tendal”

http://water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=jan&gage=tdgl1

For this section of the Tensas, you can get an approximate idea of the water level using the NWS River Gage at Tendal:

Below 6: Too Shallow. Frequent dragging and many portages.

8-14: Ideal. Possible portages

15-19: Fast Water. Some Caution Required

Above 20: Dangerous. Advanced paddlers only. Beware snags and strainers.

Reading River levels at Tendal: Low water (Too Shallow) Don’t go below 6 feet on the Tendal Gage (when a lot of dragging through shallows & mud flats will be necessary). Ideal level: 8-14 on the Tendal Gage. Above 15 on the Tendal Gage the current will be swift and extra caution is needed to maneuver through snags, sawyers and possible strainers as river rushes through the thick terrain. Above 20 all of the bankside forest will be underwater, and above 25 (flood stage) there won’t be any dry land to be found, boat ramps & parking lots will be completely submerged.

Historic Levels: Looking at historical data for the Tensas from the past ten years, the river typically bottoms out between 6 and 7 feet on the Tendal Gage with spikes due to rainfall & runoff, sometimes spiking up to 25 feet or higher.

Warnings: Don’t go during Hunting Season or low water. Before embarking be sure to consult river gage. Low water levels might impede travel. Register your vehicle with NWR officials.

Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center

This should be your first stop before embarking on any water travel inside the NWR. Consult main desk for vehicle permits and information about current conditions of water trails and landings. Visit small museum with nature exhibits, notably concerning the Ivory Billed Woodpecker and Louisiana Bald Cypress. There is no camping within the Tensas River NWR.

Visitor’s Center GPS

N32.318201

W91.382174

Contact:

Tensas River NWR Visitor’s Center

2312 Quebec Road

Tallulah, LA 71282

(318) 574-2664

Fax: (318) 574-1624

E-mail: tensasriver@fws.gov

8:00 am to 4:00pm Monday – Friday,

(with the exception of all Federal Holidays)

Happy Canoe Year!

From all of us at Quapaw Canoe Company

and the Lower Mississippi River Foundation

Wherever the year takes you

Wherever the road leads

We hope that you & yours

Can go with the flow

And may the river be with you!

Upcoming on our 2014 calendar:

January:

Delta Griot Youth Program (ongoing)

Helena Canoe Club (ongoing)

1Mississippi Campaign Kickoff

4-5pm Thursday January 23rd:

Opening of the True Delta Photography Exhibit

(23-26 Clarksdale Film Festival)

February:

Friends of the Sunflower River

Hushpuckena River Exploration

March:

18-28 Big Island Circumnavigation

April:

Grand Opening -- Quapaw Natchez

16-30 Rivergator: Vicksburg to Baton Rouge

(Now taking reservations!)

May:

Rivergator: St. Louis to Caruthersville

(May 22 to June 8 -- Now taking reservations!)

Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

brought to you courtesy of the:

Lower Mississippi River Foundation

For recent stories & news with photos:

www.bigmuddyisland.org