Close Window

LMRD 695, Tuesday, Dec 4, 2018
Eagles and Arkansas River

Mark River Blog — from recent expedition down Arkansas River including Big Island and Choctaw Island — with our good friend, Scripps Oceanographer Kristian Gustavson, and some of his friends.

***But first, check out the last two dates on our calendar for 2018***

Saturday, Dec 15, Sundown to 9pm:
Quapaw Canoe Company Christmas Party
and 20th Anniversary Celebration

Quapaw Canoe Company Christmas Party and 20th Anniversary Celebration with live blues around the bonfire w/Lucious Spiller!!!. BYOB, BYOD (Bring your own bottle, bring your own dish), bonfire potluck on Sunflower River, backside of our base of operations in downtown Clarksdale. Celebrating 20th year anniversary Dec 15th. Come join us! Please RSVP so we can prepare accordingly. Thanks! Also: artwork from Rivergator Expedition and Mississippi River driftwood ornaments for sale.

Friday Dec 21st and Saturday Dec 22nd:
Full Frosty Beaver Moon Adventure
In celebration of the Winter Solstice

Got the long night, cold winter Christmas blues?
A Mississippi River river-rat bonfire will cheer you up!

Full Frosty Beaver Moon Adventure
In celebration of the Winter Solstice
Meet: 2pm Quapaw Canoe Company in downtown Clarksdale
Paddle to wild and remote river island. Bonfire Supper.
Paddle back home by the light of the Moon.
3rd brightest moon of the year.
Back between 10pm and midnight, depending on conditions.
Wetsuits and neoprene boots required (we will provide).

Mark River Blog:
Eagles and Arkansas River

Day 1 - Melinda Bar — opposite Big Island on the Arkansas River

Hundreds of Pelicans gather at the foot of the Pendleton Dam gorging on confused fish released from the dam. Three Bald Eagles glide high in the sky, while two others devour their catch in the big cottonwoods. This stunning fall afternoon gives one lonely alligator a chance to sun on the sandbar dreading retreating to the cold Arkansas River as we float by. An old rusty draw bridge reminds me of the days of barge traffic on the River. Two hunting cabins succumb to the River, victims of a powerful eddy during high water. Whitetail deer, raccoon, coyote, beaver, otter, heron, egret, and bald eagles leave a road map of activity in the sand. Fire ants settle under every other piece of driftwood. The willows lean downstream. The clean, clear beautiful water heads to the Mississippi River.

These pristine waters below the dam are teaming with all types of fish. Domestic and commercial fisherman combs these waters daily, taking advantage of this bountiful stretch of river. No barge traffic and lack of navigational maintenance has given this ecosystem a chance to return to its natural environment. Large trees collapse from 30-40 foot bluffs during frequent heavy rains, reestablishing valuable fish habitat.

The night comes and the owls and coyotes start to serenade. An occasional splash from the River remind me of the constant activity beneath the surface. A distributary of the White River is barely flowing, while the wildlife management area sign reads, "No Bear Hunting Past This Point". The opening from Owens Lake is just downstream and if the weather holds up, we might see Cat Island and the Mississippi River late tomorrow.

Day 2 - Cat Island of the Arkansas

The morning comes with pure emotion. The sky is still clear, and the sound of the roaring from the White River distributary chute has an occasional confusion. There is no cell phone service so I sob with happiness when I receive a text message from my dearest loved one, letting me know, her and the dog are fine. The cottonwoods and sycamores sing a song of rain and wind, but the sky is still pure. My oldest brother contributes to the morning, by text, making me feel more loved and stable as ever. It's great to have love and moral support.

It's early, waiting for the sunrise, as I smell the wonderful, earthy scent of campfire. The Arkansas River has unique weather, so I'm anxious for what it gives us today. Fall is here and the notorious south wind accompanies it. Won't have to deal with it much, until we hit he Mississippi River confluence. The wind is prevalent, but the location of camp gives us cover. You hear it, but you don't feel it.

I was wrong. The southerly winds wreaked havoc on us all day. With the fluctuating water levels from releasing dam water and the unpredictable wind conditions, we paddled form island to island trying to find a good storm camp. Eventually we settled on Cat Island. Since the 2011 flood and the re-channeling of the Arkansas River, this island continues to change yearly. When the waters receded, it was an endless desert for acres and acres, with a row of tall willows on a bluff facing the new channel.Now the desert has grown trees and vegetation, with a wetland right down the middle. It's amazing what a river will do if you let it flow freely.

Besides the winds, the day was full of nature. Particularly the Bald Eagle. We had fifteen sightings, as if they were escorting us, as we paddled hard into the wind. Mature, immature, and 3 year olds, flew gracefully through the cloudy skies, fishing these unabated waters. I haven't seen such a large population in a 35 mile stretch of river.

We witnessed something very interesting today. As we paddled by a small island looking for camp, we noticed a flock of geese, with one lone pelican. They took flight and they all flew away together! In formation. Maybe that pelican needed a change of scenery or it had a lesson in diversity, which is not a bad thing.

We are camped in the row of willows protecting us from the expecting storms throughout tonight. We will see Choctaw Island tomorrow.

Day 3- The Mississippi River

From 12 midnight to 8am torrential rains pounded our campsite. I could hear the heavy winds in the tree tops, but barely felt them in my tent. When on the River, it's very important to know where the storms are coming from and to pick out a site with cover from the winds. We mange to get a break after 8am to take down our tents, so we could have a dry home later that evening, as an immature bald eagle flies over our camp, giving us a boost in moral. We know that's a sign of another great day.

We head towards the confluence of the Arkansas River and the Mississippi River. A happiness comes over me every time I enter the "Big" River. Even though the rains returned for the rest of the day, it's always an accomplishment to make it. We paddled hard all day. The one thing about rain, it's a lot better to paddle in it, than stay on land and let it dampen your soul all day.

A paddle-wheeled boat passes us as we approach the opening to Lake Whittington called "the Queen of the Mississippi.” A lone passenger waves franticly, as if he was the only one aboard. Not much wildlife today. Maybe they all hunkered down for the day to wait out the rain.

A fog and mist makes travel challenging, but we just hugged the buoy line, and hoped that the rain stop by camp, so we can have dry accommodations. It continues to rain well into the evening and camp. We waited for a break in the weather, and finally solidified our place for the evening. We settled for the bottom end of Choctaw Island, 8,000 acre island, full of world class whitetail deer and turkeys. There will be hunters in the woods tomorrow, so I will be wearing "hunter orange" all day.

Day 4- Choctaw Island

After a long day of rain and mist, we wake up to a tropical-like scenery on the Mississippi River. The sun is barely over the trees on east side of the channel looking like the most ripe giant orange. We decided to take a land day to explore, journal, and connect with this incredible wilderness, cutting through the heart of our country. We sleep in late, but the heat of the morning glow drives everyone out of their tents. It was worth it. After a gloomy rainy day, a scene and setting like this makes you feel as if yesterday's weather had never happened.

The water is glistening from the sun as one of us test out the paddle board while the conditions are still calm. He looks as though paddling on a outdoor magazine cover. His silhouette in the sparkling water makes everyone envy to take their turn. I choose to take a nap in the willow forest. The tall Palm tree-like willows sway in the wind with its leaves reflecting and refracting light on my face. The canopy keeps the heat of the sun subtle and the shade cools my body to the perfect temperature. I am laying on my sleep pad with a lightweight down blanket barely covering my body. The sound and feel of the cool breeze puts me in a functioning coma. It feels like a contrast bath of life. I open my eyes slightly and look through the canopy. It looked as if my soul was floating off to heaven. I just rolled back over, as if no worries at all.

The winds start to pick up by afternoon. It's one those afternoons that you say, " I wish the weather was like this always." Not hot nor cold, but perfect. It blows my mind that no one else is out here absorbing this beautiful setting and creating memories, forever. I go to my tent to write this all down.

The evening light is mesmerizing. The sun setting in the west illuminates the trees on the east side of the River. The reds and purples of the fall colors are in perfect light, photographers light. A great horned owl hoots in the distance. The night before I could hear the coyotes calling out, while a whitetail buck sharpens his antlers on a tree. He eventually gives a snort of displeasure by my tent in his territory, so I responded with sound of my own, and he ran off. I won. Later that night I could hear him dueling for females. What a incredible evening.

Day 5- Warfield Point, Greenville, MS

The last day always feels the same. Half separation anxiety and the paddle ahead. Close to 20 miles outside of Greenville, this has always been my least favorite stretch. A strong south wind on this notorious channel, can blast your crew, and compromise every paddle stroke. The re-structuring of this bend of the River cut out the "Greenville bends" and straightened by the Corps of Engineer to expedite the navigational business. Almost due south route and its inconsistent islands, makes for challenging camping. I always seem to get fired up and focused for this paddle.

We break camp early to try and beat the afternoon winds. We paddle strong as we cruise past Arkansas City. Cold gust of winds impede our progress, but being on the River together for 5 days, we have bonded in the boat and it shows through our paddling. Greenville in site the whole time, which plays tricks on the mind, as if your never going to make it. Revetment and industry blanket the right bank, while the left bank is full of small sand bars and powerful eddies.

We finally paddle by the opening to the Greenville Bends, and onto the Tarpley Islands. Warfield Point campers watch us arrive out of the wilderness, to waiting shuttle drivers. Another adventure to process, and apply to everyday life, but not until we all reach home safely, the real end to the trip.


The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch "Voice of the Lower Mississippi River" is published by the Quapaw Canoe Company, which is celebrating its 20th Anniversary Year in 2018. Photos and writing by John Ruskey, Mark River and others. Please write for re-publishing. Feel free to share with friends or family, but also credit appropriately. Go to and click on "Quapaw Dispatch" for viewing back issues of the LMRD.


Who else is celebrating 20th Anniversary Year in 2018?

We are in good company here:

-Delta Blues Museum (Freight Depot Location)
-Shack Up Inn
-Delta Business Journal

The Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

is brought to you courtesy of

Quapaw Canoe Company, LLC

Our Projects:

Rivergator: 1Million words describing the Lower Mississippi River:

Wild Miles: 71% of the Lower Miss is wild according to river rats. Will it stay that way?

Our Friends:

Lower Mississippi River Foundation is dedicated to promoting stewardship of the Lower and Middle Mississippi River through deep engagement.

Big Muddy Adventures: custom-guided adventures on the Missouri, Mississippi, Meramec and Illinois -- covering the Grand Central Station of America's rivers from home base St. Louis.