Monday, May 14, 2012

Mississippi Riverboat Ride

At the end of April our homeschool group had a one hour cruise on one of the Mississippi river paddle wheeler tour boats, complete with a "riverlorian" who told tales of old Memphis and the Mississippi River as we cruised.  We began from the old cobblestone landing downtown.  These cobblestones date from the 1800's.  Last year at this time, the river was in full flood, and completely covered the cobblestones, as well as Mud Island River Park, which you can see across the harbor here.  The actual river is on the other side of Mud Island.

The cobblestone landing still has some of the original mooring chains embedded, where the riverboats used to tie up while loading cotton and unloading other goods.

As you can imagine, these cobblestones are pretty treacherous to walk on, and the incline down to the river is pretty steep, as Memphis sits high on a bluff (the Chickasaw Bluff).  You can also find some exposed cobblestones in the streets of downtown Memphis, where the asphalt or concrete has worn off.  When I worked downtown full time as an attorney, I used to have to have my shoes re-soled about every 2 or 3 months.  You can get a sense of the incline in the picture below.

Here's a shot of the monorail that goes from downtown Memphis across the harbor to Mud Island, where there is a full scale model (you can wade in) of the entire Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, a river museum, a nice park and a "new urbanist" residential development with houses, apartments, some shops, and a Montessori school.

A view from the boat looking up the bluff.  The building to the left of the light pole is the University of Memphis School of Law, which moved into the old Customs House here two years ago (it was on the main University campus when I went there back in the late 70's).  The downtown river-view, walking distance to the courthouse and Beale Street, along with taking first place in last year's national law school moot court competition (winning over Harvard Law School), and having the highest first time bar pass rate in the state (higher than Vanderbilt) means our law school is bucking the trend of declining enrollment and has a wait list for admissions.

Pulling out of the harbor.  Thank goodness the seating is covered so there is some shade -- although that morning it was kind of chilly.  The husband took off from work to come with us.

Hannah brought along Jane Eyre to finish up.

There's our riverlorian.

A view coming out of the harbor into the main channel.

The I-40 bridge (the Hernando DeSoto Bridge, or the "M" bridge, or the "new" bridge - built in the 70's).

The downtown Memphis skyline.
Another view of the skyline.

Some fine houses up on the bluff in the South Main district.

The Arkansas side of the river is very different -- very flat, all flood plain, agricultural.

Below is a piling of the "old" bridge.  It's a railroad bridge from the 1920's I think, which had a road for automobile traffic suspended under it.  There is talk of turning it into a pedestrian bridge (although there's no place to go to on the Arkansas side, but it would be interesting to walk across the Mississippi River).  Before the railroad bridge was built, trains had to stop on each side of the river, the cargo and passengers had to be offloaded to a ferry, and then reloaded on to a train on the other side.  The bumps in the sand are the moorings for the ferries that ran in the 19th and early 20th centuries before the bridge was built.

A shot of a series of barges and a tow passing under the old bridge.  The building you see behind the bridge is a "grocery" for the tows -- they phone in their orders for groceries and little boats shuttle the grocery orders out to the towboats so the boats don't have to stop at all to get provisions.

Heading back -- a good view of the M bridge and the Pyramid.

Back past Mud Island.  Those flags are by the Gulf of Mexico part of the river model.  When Mud Island first opened up as a "theme" park of sorts, they had radio receivers on top of the flag poles which would broadcast the radio chatter of the riverboats, barges and river traffic.  However, the language the river men used was a bit too "salty" for a park with lots of kids on school field trips, so they ended up disabling the receivers.

Just for contrast, below is a picture of those same flags and shot of Mud Island from last year when we had all the flooding.


Sweet Bee Cottage said...

Wow! That's something we missed on our whirlwind trip to Memphis! That and good barbecue. I should say we had bad barbecue, but we didn't make it to Rendezvous (they were closed when we were there). Memphis is definitely a city I would love to go back to. There were so many things we didn't get to see. Thanks for sharing! I hope to make it back there again some day.

Clint Baker said...

Looks like a wonderful place to visit! Thank you for sharing!

Manuela@A Cultivated Nest said...

The minute you said cobblestones I had visions of me trying to walk on them in Savannah. Pretty to look at but not easy to walk on even in sneakers!

Wow the flooding photo is quite dramatic. What a difference!