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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

Vol 9 No 5d, Wed May 21, 2013

a function of the:

Lower Mississippi River Foundation 085.jpg

Rivergator Memphis to Helena Exploration Adventure!

Sat May 25th- Mon May 27th

Due to highwater conditions the Rivergator Memphis to Helena Exploration Adventure has been shortened to a three-day weekend starting full moon Saturday May 25th and ending Memorial Day Monday May 27th. 73 miles in 3 days.

Short Description Memphis to Helena:

Meet mid-morning Saturday May 25th at top end of Mud Island. Pack and push off from the Mouth of the Wolf River and paddle down under all of the Memphis Bridges along the 4th Chickasaw Bluff. You really haven’t seen the “Best of Memphis” until you’ve seen it from the river! We will witness the mile-long rip-rap wreckage along President’s Island (results of the 2011 flood), explore the back channels of Dismal Point Ensley Bar, and seek the outflow pipe of the Lower Wastewater Treatment Facility. Camp #1 will be made by the light of the full moon on or near the wilds of Cat Island. Next day we’ll run behind all of the islands possible with visions of the Fitzgerald’s Castle and the Gold Strike Casino Hotel, shimmering from the batture like dream-visions of another world. We’ll swirl behind Rabbit Island and then around Mhoon Bend, and then dive into Walnut Bend and from there find the hidden entrance to Tunica Cut-Off into Tunica Lake. Camp #2 will probably be in the vicinity of the mouth of the St. Francis River, the most remote forested area north of the Big Island/Arkansas River Confluence. Day Three (Memorial Day) will be explorations through the Helena Islands, Buck Island (Prairie Point Towhead) and into Trotter’s Chute, with a final take out mid-afternoon in the Helena Harbor. 73 miles total not including side channels and back channel explorations. If you want to join in this 3-day expedition seats might be available in one of our giant voyageur canoes. Contact for more information. See below for more details.

Riverlog: Memphis to Helena

Rivergator Exploratory Run

Sat May 25th (Full Moon) to Mon May 27th

Mississippi River Log Notes

Miles 736 - 663

73 River Miles

Mileage indicates miles above the "Head of Passes" where the Mississippi splits into its Deltan channels as it pours into the Gulf of Mexico below New Orleans. Rivergages used: Memphis Gage (MG), Tunica Gage (TG) or Helena Gage (HG)

Mile 736

Memphis, Tennessee, Mud Island Harbor

One of the most memorable experiences along the Lower Mississippi is entering and leaving the city of Memphis, which straddles the 4th Chickasaw Bluff and shimmers like a greasy mirage on the floodplain with striking landmarks including the pyramid, the steel truss Memphis & Arkansas Bridges, and the graceful M-Bridge. You really haven’t seen the best of Memphis until you’ve seen it from the river!


President's Island

During the Great Flood of 2011 the turbulent waters slammed against the outside of Engineer’s Bar Bend several miles downstream of the last Chickasaw Bluff (National Ornamental Museum/Memphis & Arkansas Bridge) as the main channel tried to carve a new channel through the center of President's Island. If it had been successful this would have spelled the demise of McKellar Lake and the Memphis Industrial Harbor. In low water a mile-long cavern can be seen cut into the bank. We will witness a fleet of Army Corps mega-cranes busily trying to recreate the lost bank and mitigate this troublesome location with Limestone rip rap.


Ensley Bar

Aerial crossing TVA transmission power lines

“The Raft” was destroyed here in February of 1983 by a tower that used to support the throbbing electrical transmission lines. The tower rose from a square of four giant concrete pylons placed mid channel, standing over three hundred feet tall. The four concrete columns were anchored into the bedrock hundreds of feet below river bottom. The raftsmen sighted the tower as they came around Vice President's Island, five miles upstream. They paid it no attention, and resumed their game of chess around an open raft fire, sipping cups of hot coffee. Who would worry about one or two pylons in all of that water? The river was high, and probably a mile wide at the time. Only a hundred yards upstream the pylon suddenly loomed ominous directly in their path. The raftsmen leapt to their sweep oars and pulled like mad, but the river placed them directly onto one of the concrete pillars supporting the pylon, which they hit and came to a sickening halt, the raft neither budging one direction nor the other. As one end of the raft was sucked down, and the other pushed up the pylon, all their possessions were swept overboard, and then they too were tossed in the frigid February waters, and the raft was snapped like a cracker around the base of the pylon where the river hit it. This was the end of one life and the beginning of another…


Water Treatment Outflow Pipe

Outlet of the Lower Water Treatment Facility for the City of Memphis. Nearby lagoon makes for an interesting foray into the bankside wetlands.


Dismal Point/Ensley Bar

Long forested island lacerated by back channels open during high water for exploration and wildlife sightings, excellent beachcombing during low water, all of the trash swept out of the Memphis Harbor, and from the Memphis tributaries the Wolf and the Nonconnah sometimes washed ashore affording finds alternating between delight and disgust.


Josie Harry Bar

The Josie Harry Steamboat sank in the late 1800s and created a sandbar island that has now been assumed by the Mississippi shore LBD.


Cow Island Bend

The Mississippi River makes a complete turn around Cow Island No. 48. Blue Holes found top end at certain water levels, and a Caribbean sized inlet formed during low water at bottom end.


Cat Island

Cat Island is the biggest and wildest Island in this stretch of river boasting deep hardwood forests, willow/cottonwood flats, wild floodplain fields, and miles upon miles of sandbars and (at low/med water) gravel bars. An unusual stand of eastern red cedar is found growing atop the highest sandy bluffs. Supreme camping found surrounding the island on all sides, pick and choose locations depending on water level. We will make several landings and explore all of the secret channels lacerating Cat Island which only open up at higher water levels.


Buck Island (No. 53)

John James Audubon reported seeing bear running across Buck Island during his 1820 descent of the Lower Mississippi River which opened the wildlife of the South to his fine artistic capabilities. Not to be confused with the other Buck Island (Prairie Point Towhead) located at mile 665 above Helena, Arkansas


Gold Strike Casino

The highest building in the State of Mississippi is the 29 story tall hotel of the Gold Strike Casino which shimmers like a tantalizing golden mirage over the face of the river when viewed from upstream or downstream, and causes fortune-seekers to salivate uncontrollably. It is anchored into one of the deepest alluvial floodplain in the world, the Mississippi Delta. We firmly believe that one day it will be known as the “Leaning Tower of Tunica.”


Fitzgerald’s Casino

Surprisingly (and thankfully) enough you see very little of the casinos as you float behind their bustling enterprises, which are all required by law to operate on the other side of the levee. Fitzgerald’s however delivers an enchanting view of its greenish walled castle through tall cottonwoods and sycamores lining the banks of the main channel. The Holy Grail?


Basket Bar

This long series of luxurious sandbars are full of birds and thick with fish -- and broken up into in a long line of wild islands -- and are found opposite the thickest concentration of casinos outside of Vegas and Atlantic City! During higher water levels paddlers can opt for the enjoyment of the back channel. Stay RBD as you pass Finley Bar (Mile 702.8) and follow the back channel a full five or six miles downstream before popping out at Peter’s Bend (Commerce Bend) near Rabbit Island.


Tunica Riverpark Museum

Of all of the positive benefits of casinos in Northwest Mississippi (which include new schools, new highways, and excellent health care) the Tunica Riverpark Museum is certainly one of the highlights. Besides being a good rest stop for paddlers, and the best ramp between Mud Island and Helena, the exhibits are must see for any river-rats or river-aficionados, some of which were overseen by the great historian/author John Barry.


Commerce Bend

Right angle bend running eastward around Rabbit Island. Very fast and turbulent currents during high water. Deep rip-rap and revetment during low water.


Lost Lake

Just below the Basket Bar light you can duck into a steep-walled ravine leading to Lost Lake. Thick swampy forests full of vines and exotic flowers fill this ravine making it feel like the land of the lost.


Rabbit Island

Great camping at all but the highest water levels. Long slender sandy peninsula becomes formed during low water affording spectacular beaches and a clearish inlet behind the size of a dozen olympic swimpools.


Mhoon Landing & Bend

Rough landing with access to Tunica and Highway 61. Popular party spot. Don’t leave your vehicle overnight. County park just beyond with bathrooms. Possible camping, but expect company, usually of the friendly sort. Former location of the Splash Casino, the pioneer establishment that charged $10 just to enter and game, and had three hour waiting lines when it first opened.


Walnut Bend

Excellent low/med water camping. At low water pristine pools (blue holes) of clear water are formed in the downstream side of the dikes of Walnut Bend.


Walnut Bend Boat Ramp

Ragged but usable boat launch. The ramp is strewn down the rip-rap and revetment surrounding a large eddy at the base of Walnut Bend. Often turbulent waters along eddyline, especially after the passage of an upstream tow. Goes underwater around 45 Helena Gauge. For drivers this is a remote location with no signage. Long drive down Arkansas levee an hour from Helena or West Memphis.


Tunica Lake

Adventuresome paddlers can stay bank left and locate Tunica Cutoff, the narrow entrance into Tunica Lake, and will be rewarded with a spectacular landscape of mud, turtles, snakes, fish, waders, woodpeckers, hawks, kites and eagles. The Tunica Cutoff is a mile-long chute which makes a long curve through deep woods. Rising river pushes water in. Falling river the opposite, the water flows outwards. Water speed depends on rate of rise or fall. Steady river = no flow. Of course everything depends on water level. During high water the woods are flooded and sparkling with reflective beauty. At low water the entrance gets cut off by a low-water dike (around 10 HG) over which the water cascades and then meanders through a deep muddy canyon.


Harbert Point

It was in this stretch of river, at Ship Island, some 60 miles below Memphis, that Mark Twain's brother, Henry Clemens, and one hundred and fifty others were lost when the steamboat The Pennsylvania was destroyed by an exploding steam boiler. Ship Island, and the old channel, are now found seven miles to the east, left abandoned by the shifting channels of the river. For a complete narration, see LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI.


Below Walnut Bend Bar

Beautiful remote Island suitable for picnicing or camping. Dry sand up to HG44.


Mouth of the St. Francis River

St. Francis National Forest & Wildlife Refuge. The St. Francis River, which has its headwaters not far south of St. Louis, in the Missouri Ozarks, parallels the Mississippi for 475 miles before finally joining the mother river here, deep within the wide valley, miles from any evidence of human civilization. As with all confluences, the St. Francis and the Mississippi meet and tangle in a swirling line of swirls and boils, as the rivers of distinct geology mix and re-mix, the Mississippi usually browner/oranger and the St. Francis normally greener.


St. Francis River Bar

A medium height sandbar island found directly opposite the mouth of the St. Francis River, long and wide at low water, disappears when the river reaches 35 Helena Gauge.


Helena Islands/Flower Lake Sandbar

A series of fat islands highlighted with stands of tall trees, an old forest, that only goes under in the highest of waters, when the river is over forty-five feet on the Helena gauge. You can paddle behind these islands in high water, during low water explore the fascinating landscapes by foot for views of turtles and songbirds.


Prairie Point Towhead (Buck Island)

In 2005 Buck Island/Prairie Point Towhead was saved by the now-defunct American Land Conservancy and preserved for posterity by Arkansas Game & Fish. For the paddler Buck Island is an ideal location for a picnic, an overnight camp, a base camp, or a voyageur’s camp (if you’re traveling long distance down the river). It can be approached easily from Helena via the boat ramp at the Helena Harbor (upstream paddling), or from above by putting in at the mouth of the St. Francis River. You can paddle to the sandbars, or into the forest. At low water there are huge sandbars to hike with limitless possibilities for tracking birds & animals, and an enormous gravel bar at the head of the island with great fossil-finding, rock hounding and beach combing. At med water you can sneak through hidden channels that bisect the island. At high water you can paddle into the forest and wander through the woods in your canoe or kayak. Infrequently, at the very highest of flood stages, the entire island goes underwater.


Trotter’s Chute

Wild vine-draped landscape which can often be viewed from the cockpit of your kayak or the seat of your canoe. Narrow meandering channel. Enter a mature willow forest following old river at Trotter’s (East shore) and be prepared for snags, bloakcages and snakes. At flood stage it is possible to work your way through the woods all the way up to Tunica Lake, but be sure to bring your GPS and carry several days of emergency food & water!


Helena, Arkansas

“Helena occupies one of the prettiest situations on the Mississippi, the southernmost group of hills which one sees on that side of the river." -Twain.

Helena is found at the bottom end of Crowley's Ridge, a geologic anomaly in the otherwise flat Delta. Crowley's ridge runs North one hundred miles all of the way to Jonesboro, AR, and past it. Geologists tell us that it is the high land left by the ancient courses of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, one which ran on the West, and one on the East, and didn't meet until Vicksburg, some 400 miles South of their contemporary confluence, Cairo, Illinois. The Phillips County Museum features a rare jewel: on display is a signed first edition copy of Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. The museum is found at the back of the Helena Library 623 Pecan Street, and is open Monday through Saturday, 10-4)


Helena Bridge

The only bridge between Memphis and Greenville (207 miles of river), a testament to the width of the powerful Lower Mississippi River Basin, and the difficulty in traversing its flood-prone alluvial bottoms.

The Isle of Capri Casino sits on the Mississippi shore, much to the chagrin of the Arkansas tax-payers who see their fellow residents crossing the bridge and returning home with their pockets lightened and their outlooks unenlightened. The bridge was hit in the Summer of 1997 by a crane boom atop an Army Corps of Engineers' barge. A nine-foot tall I-beam was bent, one that supports the roadway on the bridge, and it was shut down for several months during repair, during which time an armada of local fisherman, river-rats and motorboat riff-raff operated a thriving ferry business using their oftentimes shaky craft!