Lower Mississippi River Dispatch No 441
Stepping Stones of Wilderness -- Into the Inferno:
Rivergator: Bonnet Carre to Twelve Mile Point
Monday, November 20th, 2017
John’s recap: In May we had to postpone the Rivergator Celebration due to high winds, high river and falling trees. In the middle of a particularly strong storm, around midnight on May 3rd, a large hackberry tree fell in between Mark River’s and Lena’s tents, almost crushing Lena. Yikes! This was the 4th close call. We felt we had been lucky too many times. So we pulled out at Bonnet Carre. Now it is November and we are back to the same location. The river has fallen 9 vertical feet on the New Orleans gage (from 12 to 3). Lena’s tree is still on the ground, a reminder for us all of the preciousness of life (especially Lena’s life!).
Happy Thanksgiving Week to y’all from us Quapaws and Gators (that is River-Gators!). Every day for the next 10 days I am going to try and post photos and personal writing about the expedition, and the nature of the big river in her final miles before emptying into the bosom of salty water, the Gulf of Mexico. (Special thanks to Quapaw Vicksburg Layne Logue for posting his "Layne's Log" during the expedition!). Also, before the end of the year you should be hearing also from Mark River, Boyce Upholt and Chris Battaglia, and maybe others. Also, on Sat Dec 16th you are invited to our annual solstice bonfire & celebration.
Along the way, I hope to describe our “New Discoveries,” and also “Lessons Learned,” every day is a new day on the river. Every time we get on the river we learn something new, even paddling the same stretch of river I have seen many times before.
So here we go, join us in the big canoe and let the adventure begin!
Don't put your tent near a hackberry tree in high winds
Lesson Learned #1: The Danger of Hackberry Trees in High Winds: do not set your tent near hackberry trees in high winds or stormy weather. We had 4 mishaps with falling trees in April/May 2017. 2 tents were crushed. 2 tents were scraped. All instances involved hackberry trees.
Bonnet Carre at 12 NO gage
John’s Journal, Thurs Nov 2: I woke up pre-dawn after a fitful night of tossing and turning in the bright lights and loud noises of surrounding industry. Visible pipes and petro chimneys from giant Norco and Union Carbide plants created texture in the furthest horizontal distance. But the stars were visible -- and we were getting ready to get on the river! What joy! Life was good, even in this strange spot. I set up a painting looking over the levee into the early morning sky. Orion, Taurus and even the Pleiades faintly visible overhead, as strains of reds, then oranges and yellows began pouring into the industrial darkness from somewhere far over Lake Ponchartrain. Faint traces of brackish water could be palpated in the breeze.
When I jumped in the Spillway slough for a morning swim, a faint trace of salt tickled my tongue. The Gulf was around us, and yet we still had a long paddle to go: the river creates a long narrow sluiceway before emptying into the ocean... and we intended to follow it to the very end, as far as one of the large passes found below mile -0- in the Birdsfoot Delta.
We are camped in the floodplain of the Bonnet Carre Spillway in a Parish Park run by St. Charles Parish. Our nearest neighbor, just over the Spillway levee is Air Liquide, which supplies liquid nitrogen, oxygen, CO2, and various other gasses to the larger facilities within Chem Corridor. Air Liquide made its presence known with awesome flarings that lit our campsite like a cheery bonfire, and repeatedly woke us... as if sunrise was imminent... this was later sobering when we discovered the source of these volcanic flames...
Some of the unusual monuments found around the Bonnet Carre Spillway
New Discoveries #1: Bonnet Carre Spillway Parrish Park. Run by the St. Charles Parish for the USACE. Go to Parrish website http://stcharlesparish-la.gov/departments/parks-and-recreation, or call 985-783-5095. Free camping, but must make reservation beforehand. Primitive camping, but portajohns on site. Boat Ramp with access to Lake Ponchartrain. *Note: this site is not a viable option for downstream paddlers, as it is too far away from river (4-5 miles by the road).
From Rivergator: Air Liquide acquired an air separation plant from Dow Chemical in December 2003 and is the exclusive supplier of oxygen to Dow's 270,000 tonne/year n-butanol (NBA) plant in Taft and its operations in Seadrift, Texas. Galata Chemicals is one of the world's leading producers and marketers of additives for the Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and associated industries; including plasticizers, lubricants, and foaming agents. The facility primarily manufactures polymer additives, which maintain the durability and longevity of PVC pipe, fencing, and plastic products. Koch Nitrogen anhydrous ammonia import/export terminal. In 1995 a leak caused ammonia to spread over the St. Charles Parish area causing health effects in many residents and resulting in a lawsuit with 8,000 individuals who believed that they were harmed.
Nearby Little Gypsy Power Plant was also roaring loudly. (129.5 LBD) This natural gas fired power plant owned by Entergy. If you are coming dowbnstream, you will paddle past an attractive inlet which cuts into the forests of Thirty-Five Mile Point. This was carved by Entergy as it wastewater outlet. In low water you will see the concrete pipe structure and the greenish heated water pouring out. In high water you won;t see anything but bubbles rising mysteriously upward. In 2009 Canadian adventurer Brett Rogers photographed a white pelican hanging like an angel with outspread wings from some fishing lines wrapped around a tree from previous highwaters. This tragic scene was recorded in Brett’s Old Man River documentary film, which can be found and viewed online. See Rivergator Appendix for link.
After a short visit with Spillway friends (good to see you Sharon! Chris, sorry to miss you), we met Paul Orr Sr. and Paul Jr, who graciously provided shuttling. We put in Bonnet Carre Spillway Boat Ramp. Even though the water was very low (newest report showed it dropping down to 3.08 on the NO gage) the paved ramp extended to water level and we were able to put in without too much difficulty. Big waves crashing into shore are the greatest hazard at this and all Chem Corridor landings. Canoes or kayaks left unattended will be quickly flipped!
Bonnet Carre: 7,000 feet of gates protecting New Orleans from floods
Bonnet Carre Spillway makes a great rest stop and site visit at an important point of interest for paddlers (Visitor’s Center atop Spillway Gates on South side). It is also has the only paved public boat ramp within the vicinity of the City of New Orleans. The Boat Ramp located at the south end of the spillway, LBD 127.3, is paved, but typically narrow and steep. Be very cautious if loading or unloading a vessel here. Passing freighters make for big crashing waves. The concrete is revetment (Composed of concrete slabs) and very rough. The next possible public boat ramp is a primitive gravel ramp south of New Orleans in Plaquemines Parish at RBD mile 78. Your best bet for a soft landing is above the boat ramp in the muddy/grassy flats. Pick a good spot and pull your vessel in well above the waves that can splash ashore here. Deep inlets lead into the grassy flats that make a great harbor for this purpose. Pull in and tie your vessel down to something permanent like a tree trunk, or a driftwood log. If nothing is to be found nearby push a couple of your paddles as deep as you can into the mud and make that your anchor point. Walk up to the parking lot above ramp, or roadway on levee leading up to the Bonnet Carre Spillway Visitor’s Center. Even though there is grassy dry ground (at low water) and an inviting mile-wide opening with no industry or rip-rap its mouth, there is no camping allowed at the USACE maintained Bonnet Carre Spillway. But with some advance planning you could possibly gain permission by calling or writing to the project manager on site. If you do not ask permission, and make an illegal camp, you might be chased off in the middle of the night by the St. Charles Parish Sheriff Dept, or worse be rudely awaken by the revelry & mayhem of infrequent 4WD midnight trouble-makers. For more information, contact the Office of the Project Manager, Bonnet Carre Spillway, P.O. Box 216, Norco, LA, 70079, or call 985-764-7484.
Joy accompanied every paddle stroke as we left Bonnet Carre and paddled across the river, and followed the right bank descending past and avoided the busy mess around the Norco, Shell and Valero refineries.
TT Barge Launch And Repair Wharf
At mile 125 we fought a headwind past the TT Barge Launch And Repair Wharf where big oil and petrochem barges are constructed onshore, and then set to sail via a massive dock/launching facility. This is a fascinating location. Paddlers attention might be attracted here by the bright lights and sparks of the intense welding and torch cutting. All barge construction is done en pleine aire, in a scene reminiscent of a combination of a barn building and Dante’s Inferno. Note: This location used to be considered mile 125, but as the river shifts so does the mileage AHP (above Head of Passes).
New Discoveries #2: TT Offices in a grounded Towboat. I’ve never noticed this before, but the main headquarters of TT Barge are located in the shell of an old towboat which has been pulled out of the water and set atop a high pile of concrete and steel leftovers and assorted rip-rap.
Rivergator Greenspaces: paddlers, you will be excited to learn that amongst the chaos of Chem Corridor you will find a scattered smattering of wild places!
Good camping or picnicing at Dufresne
STEPPING STONES OF WILDERNESS
The first time you paddle Chemical Corridor you might easily be overwhelmed by the vast profusion of industry, day in and day out for 2 weeks of paddling, so much so that the refineries and granaries and power plants and scrap steel and dry bulk docks and anchored freighters and fleeted barges all become a blur highlighted by the one or two peaceful places, and maybe a quick stop to the St. Louis Cathedral or Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter. If you can, dear paddler, slow down a little and take your time both preparing for this stretch of river and for the actual paddling of it. As with many places along the Lower Mississippi, the more you focus on the little details surrounding you, the more you see, and the more you appreciate the experience. You will find that the industry comes and goes, and is broken by some sparkling pockets of woods and sandbars in between that taken together become a series of stepping stones of wild places that you can find and make use of to ease the pain of the paddling, and the confusion of modern industrial America.
Even though you are paddling into Chemical Corridor, home to over 200 petrochemical plants in 135 miles of river, producing 25% of America’s chemicals, the intense industry is broken by pristine sandbars, islands, forests, and other places of great beauty. One of the primary goals of the Rivergator to identify these places and describe them for you to help make your journey as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. These places seem all the more special because of their location within the chaos of the petrochem industry. The largest of these wild refuges we are calling “Green Spaces.” Each will receive lengthy descriptions to help you access and appreciate. The first of these Green Spaces is not far downstream of Baton Rouge at wild Manchac Point.
Green Spaces are green places interconnected by the river. Green Spaces are modest acreages of wetlands, woods or islands. They might not have great value when considered in isolation. But connected by the river to other Green Spaces they create substantially larger spaces of green, which means cleaner drinking water and better water levels for navigation and industry. These green connections are of great value to the wildlife and overall health of the ecosystem. Green connections multiply life-saving factors such as migration, procreation and food, the sum of which is much greater than the parts. This ultimately results in a healthier river. We need to recognize and protect these Green Spaces because they help bring better and cleaner drinking water to New Orleans, and all communities below Baton Rouge. More Green spaces means better water levels, which means more productive industry, which results in more jobs. Green Spaces are win-win-win! River, humans, wildlife. We all win. These Green Spaces can be clearly seen on Google Earth.
The Baton Rouge stretch you are now paddling is just a little taste of some busy-ness before the the big busy-ness to follow. But also pockets of wilderness. Chemical Corridor is a great education and should be looked upon as such. What you see here in microcosm explains the entirety of Louisiana's Chemical Corridor and the vast inland port of Greater New Orleans -- and the river's connection to the world market. This will make a well-rounded tour for the long-distance paddler setting out from Baton Rouge down the Water Trail. You get the opportunity to experience a little industry and a lot of nature. The river is both commerce and wilds. It has always been this way since the Athabaskans first migrated across the Bering Straight and then South out of Canada and began ferrying goods along the plentiful river valleys in hollowed logs. They were of course later followed by their descendants the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Quapaw, Natchez, and many others in dugout canoes, hide-covered canoes and bark canoes. The Mississippi is and has always been this continent's greatest highway for commerce and simultaneously also one of its greatest wildernesses. Can the two co-exist? I firmly believe so and will describe it as so.
The story of the Mississippi and its importance to the heart of America -- and its connections to the rest of the world -- could not be understood without seeing the monuments of mankind. As the river leaves Baton Rouge you can see examples of how it cooperates with the ambitions of modern man's industry & transportation, and then how it seamlessly slips into its mighty realm of wilderness below where nature predominates.
Several miles further we left this noisy stretch behind and entered the “Greenspace” created by the relative big woods found around Twenty-Six Mile Point. The three-mile bend of the river around Good Hope, Hahnville, 26-Six Mile Point, and Dufresne offers a moment of breathing room from the bankside chaos at Norco/Hahnville. The industry falls back, and the lines of big trees return. This Chem Corridor Greenspace is lined by healthy forests, which are in turn protected from bankside incursions by healthy wetlands on both sides of the river, the widest found on West Bank between 124 and 123 RBD. Best stop place for picnicking, and the best camping in this stretch, is below Dufresne 123 RBD. See below for description. There are a few good landings (and good campsites at low water) before Chemical Corridor closes its grip again around the river within the Luling/Destrehan/St. Rose Industrial Reach. A narrow sandbar good to 10NO is found around 123.7LBD, and then a broader sometimes sandy, sometimes muddy flat emerges below the levee as the river drops below 8NO at 122.7LBD, but sometimes hidden behind barge fleeting from ARTCO Tulane. This flats is the old Ormond Landing, leading to the Ormond Plantation which is located just over the levee from this landing at Twenty-Six Mile Point (see next entry fro description). Other points of interest accessible from Twenty-Six Mile Point: The Fatty Shack restaurant is on River Road north of landing, and just beyond is the “Friendly Quick Stop” convenience store.
For lunch we made landing at RBD 123, near Dufrsne, LA, an attractive-looking place which I’ve always admired from the distance but never fully appreciated. This time we made a point of stopping! Great picnic site -- and obviously a good campsite in low or med waters also.
From Rivergator: 123 RBD DUFRESNE: Good low/med water picnicking/camping up to 12NO with good protection from S wind and W wind or storms. An unusual collection of sand dunes and one lengthy sandbar can be found at low and medium waters around the outside edge of Twenty-Six Mile Point from a low bar height at its upper end beginning around RBD 124 and rising to its highest prominence in a large dune at low water, that should provide room for camping up to around 12 NO gage. At 123 RBD, directly behind the channel crossing mileage sign “123” there is a clearing which extend to the levee, providing easy access to the land if needed. Great campsite in a tropical-feeling location (in low/med water conditions) with leafy willows luxuriantly spreading over the sun-drenched beach sand, and elephant ears and flowering plants in the bankside behind.
Memphis Light Gas & Water sewer cap?
Spiral Patterns in Rope
Sundown Sat Dec 16: Quapaw Canoe Company Christmas Party - Winter Solstice Bonfire - Rivergator Celebration - photos, videos, paintings, artwork, music - and more!
Sat Dec 16th: Sunflower River, downtown Clarksdale, starting at sundown: We will be sharing photos, videos, artwork, and many adventure stories around the campfire, in celebration of the Rivergator -- and also the winter Solstice. This done in conjunction with the annual Quapaw Canoe Company Christmas Party (legendary parties!). Potluck feast, BYOB. We'll provide eatware, serving utensils, and the bonfire. Bring your guitar. All are welcome to join us on the banks for the Sunflower River. Exhibition to be set up nearby in the "Cave" location, the original home base of Quapaw Canoe Company (flooded out in 2016).
Note: Itinerary subject to adjustment according to wind, water levels and prevailing weather conditions. For detailed descriptions of route go to www.rivergator.org
Tues, Oct 31: Preparations.
Wed Nov 1: Advance all vehicles to Venice, park at the Cypress Cove Marina. Shuttle back to Bonnet Carre. Meet and camp at Bonnet Carre.
Thurs Nov 2: 10am depart Bonnet Carret Spillway and head downstream past Twenty-Six Mile Point, I-310 Bridge, Huey P. Long Bridge
Fri Nov 3: 9-Mile Point, Audubon Park, Algier’s Ferry, French Quarter, Algiers Point
Sat Nov 4: Algiers Point, Industrial Canal, Algier’s Lock, Poydras Bend, English Turn Bend, Caernarvon Crevasse, Twelve Mile Point (Full Moon Night)
Sun Nov 5: Shingle Point, Belle Chasse Ferry, Jesuit Bend, Will’s Point, Poverty Point, Point Celeste, Pointe A La Hache, Bohemia Beach
Mon Nov 6: Mardi Gras Pass, Port Sulfur (resupply), Happy Jack, Sixty Mile Point, Tropical Bend, Point Pleasant, Ostrica Pass, Buras Landing Boat Ramp, Fort Jackson
Tues Nov 7: Plaquemines Bend/Fort Jackson Point, Baptiste Collette Bayou, Venice,
Grand Pass Island, Cubit’s Gap
Wed Nov 8: Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Pilottown, Head of Passes, -0- Mile Zero, South Pass, Port Eads, Lower South Pass Island
Thurs Nov 9: Lower South Pass Island, last Camp on Expedition, Gulf of Mexico
Fri Nov 10: Paddle back upstream to Venice, Grand Pass Island, Cubit’s Gap, Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Pilottown, Head of Passes, -0- Mile Zero, final takeout at Cypress Cove Marina in Venice.
Sat Nov 11: Drive back through New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Natchez, Vicksburg, return to Clarksdale.
What is the Rivergator Celebratory Expedition?
This Trip is the Rivergator.org Celebratory Trip for the completion of the non-profit free paddlers guide mile by mile on the Mississippi River from St Louis to the Gulf of Mexico (including the Atchafalaya River). That’s over 1,350 miles surveyed and paddled 3 times over 6 years. John Ruskey & the Mighty Quapaws have paddled all of these sections 3 times (at low, medium and high water). So, in all they have paddled close to 4,500 miles to create 1 million words of Rivergator.org. This trip is part II: Bonnet Carre Spillway (north of New Orleans, mile 127) to the Gulf of Mexico (mile -12)