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Week #12, 20-26.November, 2005

Caruthersville, MS to Memphis, TN: Mississippi River Mile 840 to Mile 734


One of the first towns we stopped at along the Mississippi River was New Madrid, Missouri, sight of the famous New Madrid Earthquake of 1811.   A large fault line lies near the town, and in the fall of 1811, an earthquake shook the area with such force that the ground rose to form large chasms and the Mississippi ran backwards for 48 hours.   The quake rang church bells in Washington, D.C. and rocked chandeliers in New Orleans.   The aftershocks lasted for several months. In addition to capitalizing on their shaky past, the New Madrid museum tells of the events of the Civil War that occurred near the town, and today the city has its share of barge traffic and serves up a mean fried catfish.   After we left New Madrid, we spent the night tucked behind a dyke on the river, just upstream of this bridge near Cruthersville, MO--our first bridge along the Mississippi River!

We were on a mission to get to Memphis early on in the week for our visit to the Children's Museum of Memphis, and the current on the Mississippi helped move us along.   Finding a town next to the mighty river is the exception and not the rule, as most of the land along the river is a flood plain.   At this time of year it is either a barren field or a flat, forested area that generally fills our eyes along the river.   The few towns we do pass have tall levies built along the river's edge that serve to keep the river at bay when the waters rise to flood stage.   We were amused to check the charts and see that we were passing the town of Tomato, Arkansas, so Aimee held up a tomato to honor the moment!   We weren't able to see much of a town, however, and speculated that Tomato was further inland or more of an industrial/agricultural area.   As you can guess from the picture, the weather has dropped to "below average temperatures" and we are inclined to spend our days bundled up in winter clothing, despite the fact that we are headed south.

In addition to barges, a frequent sight on our journey down to Memphis was this boat, one of two Coast Guard vessels we spotted deploying the buoys that help keep all river vessels within the navigable channels.   Red "nuns" and green "cans" sit on the platform at the front of the boat, and if you look closely, it is possible to see a green can dangling from the crane that is used to set and collect the buoys.   The different colors and shapes of the buoys indicate to mariners which side of the channel the vessel should be on.   Headed downstream, the green cans are kept to the right of the boat, and the red nuns are kept to the left.  

We reached Memphis, Tennessee Monday afternoon, in time to get a good look at the city before the sunset.   The photo to the right shows the city looking downstream from above river. The Hernando De Soto Bridge that spans the Mississippi between Tennessee and Arkansas was only our second after over 200 miles on the river.   Perhaps it was purposely given that "M" shape for Memphis?   The signature Memphis Pyramid can also just barely be seen peeking over the trees to the left of the downtown skyline.

The marina we stayed at our first two days in Memphis is located on Mud Island, an area just a few miles long that is separated from the Tennessee shoreline by a small canal.   While the north side is a residential neighborhood, the south side is mainly occupied by the Mud Island River Museum, which features an amazing half-mile long, scaled model of the Lower Mississippi River that is sculpted into the concrete, as seen in the picture to the right. The model also includes maps of the major towns along the river, over 60 display boards with information about important regional and historical sites, and representations of the major tributaries of the Mississippi (the Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee, Cumberland, and Arkansas Rivers, among others.)

We had had some major problems with our steering mechanism onboard the Libelula, including one day on the Mississippi were the situation got so bad that Morgan had to hand steer with the motor while Aimee navigated and gave him directions.   In order to get a sense of what this was like, imagine a blind person trying to drive an automobile down the freeway based on the vocal commands of a sighted person in the passenger seat!   Fortunately, Morgan was able to come up with a temporary fix for that problem that enabled us to make it to Memphis safely.   As we rely on the motor to keep us out of the way of barges and dikes, you can imagine how relieved we were to find a place that was selling a new steering mechanism, which Aimee displays in the photo above.

Far from home during the holiday of Thanksgiving, our wonderful hosts from the Children's Museum of Memphis, Cece and Andy Palazola, invited us to share dinner with their extended family.   We had a fine time meeting and dining with the boisterous Palazola clan, who graciously welcomed strangers into their home for the holiday. With so many people attending the feast, our hostesses had arranged a buffet style set-up around which everyone congregated and ate copious of wonderful food!

Our stop in Memphis created a media frenzy such as we had never previously experienced. Aside from a notice and picture in the newspaper about our scheduled visit to the Children's Museum, the local television show "Live at 9" emailed us about doing an interview.   We were happy to oblige, and Morgan made an appearance on the show Friday morning during which he discussed our travels down the river as well as the educational aspect of our program.   Much to her dismay, Aimee woke up that morning with a terrible stomachache and was unable to make the WaterWorks television debut.   In the photo to the left, Morgan sits with the hosts of the show, which is filmed live every morning in a shopping mall in Memphis.

The rest of Friday and Saturday was spent at the Children's Museum of Memphis, where we had been invited to come share our journey.   In addition to a display table near the entrance where we handed out stickers and shared our photos, we did two daily programs that were abridged versions of our school visits.   The play stage at the back of the museum was a perfect venue for our program, especially with the very appropriate river-themed backdrop one of the kids discovered for us.   The large audiences at all of the programs helped us to create the watershed model we make in the classrooms, which Aimee and Morgan explain in the above photo.

After the programs, we invited everyone to come outside to the front of the museum to check out the boat, which had been hauled out of the water and parked near the entrance.   In small groups, Morgan would bring the children up onto the boat and give them a brief tour of our living accommodations.   Then he would take them to the stern to show our young visitors how the bicycle powered paddle wheel system functioned.   They even got a chance to whirl the bike peddle around and watch the paddle wheel turn in response, as the two kids are doing in the photo.   All in all, we were very pleased with our visit to the Children's Museum and had a great time meeting the people of Memphis and sharing our journey with them.

After having some fun and successful days at the Children's Museum, we set out on Saturday night to explore some of the city of Memphis. We headed to Beale Street, a popular tourist destination touted as "The Home of the Blues ... Birthplace of Rock N' Roll". Here we ate some typical deep-fried southern food, listened to good music, and saw a performance by none other than Elvis Presley, who apparently is still alive.


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