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Writing and writers

May 25, 2010

Mud & Blood on the Mississippi in flood* - in pictures

The river was up 40 feet at the Greenville Bridge by the time we got there - swelled by the normal snowmelt in many of the 37 States and 2 Canadian provinces that drain into it and also from the floodwaters that flowed down from the Cumberland River that had trashed Nashville, Tennessee a couple of weeks ago - all of this made for some exciting canoeing - with many of the sandbars and islands under water.

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Well there wasn’t all that much blood but the mightly Mississippi was well flooded…

As I’ve previously indicated I spent the best part of last week floating down the Mississippi River from where we put the mighty Kingfisher canoe into the River at Quapaw Landing just outside of Clarksdale, Mississippi.

About 110 miles and four days later we pulled her out of the river at just under the Greenville Bridge.

turtle tracks, Choctaw Island
Turtle tracks, Choctaw Island

I’ll post a written version of my impressions from this most fantastic trip at a later time – and will include an interview I did earlier today with John Ruskey from the Quapaw Canoe Company based in Clarksdale with that note.

The river was up 40 feet at the Greenville Bridge by the time we got there – swelled by the normal snowmelt in many of the 37 States and 2 Canadian provinces that drain into it and also from the floodwaters that flowed down from the Cumberland River that had trashed Nashville, Tennessee a couple of weeks ago – all of this made for some exciting canoeing – with many of the sandbars and islands under water.

Anyway, here are some pix from our trip. Enjoy! – I certainly did and will be back next year!

These tugboats push large strings of barges for hundreds of miles up and down the Mississippi and connecting rivers. When they are running upstream – usually empty – they labour against a 7 to 10 knot flow, which, because we were going downstream also made our paddling job a lot easier, when the go downstream they go with the river’s flow, maintaining just enough motive power for steerage.

The engines of river commerce - massice Mississippi tugboats pushing huge barges
The engines of river commerce - massive Mississippi tugboats pushing huge barges upstream

These four Texans snuck up behind us as we emerged from a back channel that ran behind an island in the river. They have spent a few weeks a year over the past few years travelling the waterways of the south on this boat and were as surprised to see us as we were them.

As they noted at the time, we were about the second non-commercial vessels that they had seen on any of their travels – usually they shared the waterways with the large tugs pushing barges seen above.

Four Texans on a party boat
Four Texans on a party boat

The Kingfisher, Captain John Ruskey and an approaching storm - Choctaw Island
The Kingfisher, Captain John Ruskey and an approaching storm - Choctaw Island

We spent the first two days on the river until radio weather alerts indicated that a large super-cell of storms would hit over the next few days. We decided to camp for two days and nights at Choctaw island – an 8,000 acre publicly accessible sand island in the middle of the river opposite the mouth of the Arkansas River.

I nominated “The Kingfisher” as the name for our canoe because as we pulled away from the Quapaw Landing on the first day we saw two Belted Kingfishers harassing a colony of Cliff Swallows at their communal roost along the river bank.

The Kingfisher - handbuilt from local wood with love and skill
The Kingfisher - handbuilt from local wood with love and skill
Copperhead Snake tracks - opposite the mouth of the White River
Copperhead Snake tracks - opposite the mouth of the White River

As predicted by the weather service the storms rolled in – bigtime – and we spent a fair while hunkered down in our tents. Inbetweentimes we snuck out for some fantastic lightshows…

Storm approachimg Choctaw Island
Storm approaching Choctaw Island

Sunsetting storm over Greenville, Mississippi
Sunsetting storm over Greenville, Mississippi

the same storm about 10 minutes later...
the same storm about 10 minutes later...
Lightning storm approaching Greenville, Mississippi
Lightning storm approaching Greenville, Mississippi
this shot of a channel marker bouy give an idea of the speed of the river...
This shot of a channel marker bouy give an idea of the speed of the river...

* – Thanks to Andrew McMillan for providing the title for this post from an as yet unpublished account of his trip down the Darling River in 1988 entitled “Mud and Blood in the Darling in Flood”. Please join me in trying to persuade Andrew to finally publish his account of this trip…

Robert Gosford —

Robert Gosford

Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

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