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Depth of Mississippi?
John L. Bishop wrote: Hi, The recent boating accident in New Orleans has gotten my friends and I into a discussion about how deep the Mississippi is. Could you tell me how deep the river is in the New Orleans area? Thanks, John-

John, I've been told that the widest part of the Mississippi River is 3000 feet and is located upriver from New Orleans a few miles in a town named St. Rose, Louisiana. The deepest part of the Mississippi River is approximately 200 ft deep and is downstream at the Industrial Canal in Lower New Orleans. Pat

Does the Mississippi river flow in a east and west direction at any point for a distance? If so at what points?

Oh, yes, at many points along the river. Just a few include Winona, MN, Davenport, IA, and Muscatine, IA. I remember these particularly because I become very disoriented when the river flows east/ west. I just don't expect to look up or down river and see a setting sun!!

These places seem to pride themselves on their particularly beautiful sunsets--that's because where the river flows basically north & south, the sun normally sets behind the bluffs! When the river flows east/west the sun seems to set right into the river--wow! Thanks for writing! Pat

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Edwin writes: I know the US Army Corps of Engineers has a dam that keeps the Mississippi River from emptying through the Atchafalaya Basin; I was wanting to know its location, if possible.

I spoke with the New Orleans office and was told that the Old River Control Complex (actually 3 different structures) is located at about river mile 314, just above the Head of Passes. Hope this helps, Pat


Can a ship leave the Great Lakes and enter the Mississippi? If so what waterway would it use. I keep hearing how they are taking water from Lake Michigan to raise the level of the Mississippi. Where do they do this from? Thanks, Larry

Larry, I checked with the St. Paul District of the US Army Corps of Engineers to be sure I got this exactly right for you.

A "boat" or a barge might enter the Mississippi River via the Illinois River, provided it requires no more than a nine foot draft. Boats may leave Lake Michigan near Chicago, go up the Chicago River, and enter the Illinois River which empties into the Mississippi. They may also enter the Illinois River via the O'Brien Locks near the Indiana border.

A canoe could leave Lake Superior, travel down the Brule River to Solon Springs, then do a portage (perhaps a mile or less) to St. Croix Lake. This is the headwater of the St. Croix River which does enter the Mississippi at Prescott, WI.

As for water being released into the Mississippi, it is possible that this happens at times in Chicago. Occasionally the Sanitary Department flushes Lake water through the system and into perhaps the Chicago River, then the Illinois, which empties into the Mississippi River near Grafton, Illinois. It is not in any way intended to modify river stage.

Hope this helps. Thanks for the questions. I learned something, too!



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Arnie and Jeff wrote: 
Just wondered: Can you tell me how much water flows down the Mississippi River in one day (ie: into the gulf)?

Arnie, the flow varies tremendously depending on water "stage" or how high the water is at the locks. That water level generally depends on the amount of rainfall or snowmelt into the Mississippi and the hundreds of rivers and streams that flow into it.

I received this estimate from Bill Andrews at the USGS. They have a website. Check it out in our links page. To answer your question, a rough number for discharge by the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico is 600 cubic kilometers/year.

Look at my section about the Flood of 1993. ELEVEN TIMES the volume of NIAGRA FALLS was flowing past St. Louis during the peak of the flood. Some other statistics are noted there as well that you will enjoy.

You can also look up some of the Army Corps of Engineer links I have in the SIERRA CLUB article. I think they refer to some "typical" volumes in their pieces. Thanks for writing!


Don writes: Just found out about you tonight. Have been an eagle watcher at Lansing, IA and Desoto, WS, for 20 years, look forward to being with you.

Don, Thanks for signing in. It was our first trip to Decorah and around Allamakee County that made the light go on in my head--that, hey! somebody should write a book about this area! I found an Indian scraper at our Decorah campfire. I used it this year when I hand-tanned some beaver hides. That was a thrill. (I'm doing research for an upcoming historical novel).


I would like to find out during which period and epoch the Mississippi River formed and also how it formed (failed arm of a triple junction?). Thanks. --Sincerely, Mark Gannon

In response to your question about the formation of the Mississippi River: I believe there are many theories. The one I find most interesting was included in Volume 2 of Discover! America's Great River Road. That is,

According to some scholars, catastrophic walls of ice broke off from the receding glaciers and joined a massive run-off of meltwater, scouring out the contours of the Mississippi River. It is envisioned that a sudden collapse of the NA ice cap produced a massive sea-level rise with the speed of a tidal wave around the world. It is likely that the river valley in the upper Mississippi was once 500 feet deeper than it is now, filled as it is with gravel and sand deposited by that melt-water. The accumulated Gulf of Mexico organisms have provided compelling evidence of a vast flood of fresh water about 11,600 years ago.

Mark, this is the best information I have. If you have other theories, please share them with me and I will post all this to Stump the Riverlorian with a request for other information from viewers. Are you a student or a teacher? Thanks!

Mark recently sent to us the scholarly results of his investigation into his own question:

"The present lower Mississippi River Valley is underlain by an aulacogen, that is, a rift that developed perpendicular to the larger Gulf of Mexico rift. Occasionally earthquakes reflect continuing movement along its marginal faults, including the most severe one in United States history, at New Madrid, Missouri, in 1811-1812" (Dott and Batten, 1988)..

This triple junction (triple junctions form at the location where super-continents break up forming aulacogens) may have formed sometime during the Jurassic Period as North and South America began separating (Dott and Batten, 1988). According to Liang (1991), major rivers are often located at the site of a failed arm of a triple junction, with massive deposits of sedimentary rock filling the linear basin along the trend. Therefore the lower Mississippi River Valley was probably formed during the Jurassic period, some 208 million years ago, as a failed arm of a triple junction.

According to Ojakangas and Matsch (1982) large glacial lakes were formed as the glaciers retreated--the largest of the glacial lakes, Lake Agassiz, was formed as the Des Moines Lobe of the glacier retreated some 12,000 years ago and the drainage of this approximately 320,000 square kilometer lake may be responsible for the formation of the Upper Mississippi River Valley--the rivers were responsible for draining the large amounts of water from the melting glaciers. Ojakangas and Matsch indicate that Lake Agassiz probably drained via the Minnesota River into the present day Mississippi River (1982). For more information: Dott, H.R., R.L. Batten. 1988. _Evolution of the Earth. Fourth Edition._ New York. McGraw-Hill Book Company. p463, 555. Laing, D. 1991. _The Earth System. An Introduction to Earth Science._ Dubuque, IA. Wm. C. Brown Publishers. p. 134. Ojakangas, R.W., C.L. Matsch. 1982. _Minnesota's Geology._ Minnesota. University of Minnesota Press. p110.


Joel writes: When I lived along the Mississippi, I heard of a time and an event which caused the river to flow backwards for several days. Can you elaborate on this, please?

Joel, you're asking about the New Madrid Earthquake in 1811-12. It was strong enough to ring church bells in Boston, and the few inhabitants of New Madrid and Caruthersville, Missouri, reported that the earth rolled in waves like the sea and the river flowed upstream. In fact, boats were found on the river banks forty miles upstream of where they had been moored. Most likely the river flowed north for a short time as it rushed to fill a depression that formed to the east of the Mississippi that was nearly 100 miles long, six miles wide and 10 to 50 feet deep. Today Reelfoot lake is located in the lowest portion of this depression.

St. Francis Lake in Arkansas was also formed by the New Madrid Earthquake. Visitors will enjoy great crappie fishing and an interesting visitor center at Reelfoot Lake State Park in NW Tennessee. The state park resort there is on stilts over the water. Enjoy a nice boardwalk among the Cyprus trees near the Visitor Center. Campsites & RV facilities across the street from the resort. (Phone 901-253-7756, Tiptonville, TN). You'll find more information in Volume 3 of Discover! America's Great River Road.


I have for days been trying to access the bald eagle distribution map. My son is compiling information for a school report and this map would be a great addition. Could you e-mail the map or let us know how to access the map. Thank you.

I suggest you have your son access an internet search engine. He will find a WEALTH of eagle information. I corrected the link so you should be able to find the map in the feature story about eagle watching. Thanks for alerting me to the bad link!


Chuck writes, "I'm doing a story for Out West Magazine and I'm looking for information for sidebar articles about rattlers. Do you have any information about rattlesnakes?"

Chuck, here's some little tid-bits from the only area east of the Mississippi R. with a known breeding colony of diamond-back rattlers (Vernon County, Wis):

There's a 56" rattler skin hanging at the Swing Inn Cafe in Ferryville. They don't serve rattlesnake but they do have a HUGE hamburger!

I've read stories about early trappers and Indians making PETS of rattlesnakes because they were particularly intelligent and loyal. I've read that they would come when "called," even after the Indian or trapper had been away for six months. Are these true stories or "tall tales"? The stories are plentiful enough so that there may be some truth in them, but I wouldn't recommend trying to train one as they are deadly venomous even as day-old snakes!

By the way, it's believed that the diamond-backs that established themselves here were escapees from an early traveling circus. The Mississippi River bluffs and backwaters also shelter timber rattlers and Mississauga rattlers. Mississauga is also the name of an Indian tribe in Ontario.

Search our Ramblin' On Blog for a piece on my own experience with a Timber Rattler in the bluffs.


Laura asks: "Are there sea turtles in the Mississippi River?"

No, Laura, but many interesting turtles make their homes in the Mississippi River. Some of the more unusual I've found are soft-shelled turtles and snapping turtles that weigh 50 pounds and have claws like a bear! Painted turtles are very common along the river.

During the summer, turtles must often cross country highways to make nests in sandy areas away from the river. Sometimes there will even be a Turtle Crossing sign! Please ask your family to be careful not to hit them with the car! Thanks for your question, Laura!

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