Walking on the Surface of the Moon

Prairie Gleanings

The Mississippi River is at a record low. Walking along the rocks at Thebes was like walking on the moon.

Published on: December 8, 2012

Being a native Missourian, I’m a bit of a river junkie. The term “float trip” inspires memories of youthful exuberance mixed with a serious lack of judgment.

With such dire problems occurring on the Mississippi River, I couldn't resist the river's call. I looked up 2009 Master Farmer Randy Lambdin, who lives in Wolf Lake, about 15 minutes from Cape Girardeau, Mo. He graciously offered to show me the problem first hand.

Lambdin took us down to Thebes, one of the locations the Army Corps of Engineers is set to begin blasting rock sometime this winter to add depth to the shipping lanes. Stepping out of the car, we were in immediate disbelief at how narrow the shipping lane currently is. We watched a tug push a 15-barge tow through the lane. It was a tight squeeze.

The captain did some fancy manuevering to squeeze this 15-barge tow through the tight spot at Thebes.
The captain did some fancy manuevering to squeeze this 15-barge tow through the tight spot at Thebes.

As it rolled by, we could easily make out a “9” on the side of the barge, meaning they were loaded for 8 foot drafts at the most. South of St. Louis, barges typically run at 12-foot drafts.

Even more amazing is how far we could walk toward the river. The rock shelf jutted out at least 200 yards toward the center of the river. As Wayne Funkhouser, Keller Grain Company manager, put it, “I feel like I’m walking on the surface of the moon.” I agree. This rock hadn’t seen the sun in hundreds of years.

Once we got to the water’s edge, it was readily apparent how small the river had shrunk. It looked more like the Gasconade than the Mississippi River. Lambdin guessed it was at most a quarter of a mile across.

South of St. Louis, barges typically run at 12-foot drafts. This one was at most an 8-foot draft.
South of St. Louis, barges typically run at 12-foot drafts. This one was at most an 8-foot draft.

Walking back to the car, Lambdin commented he’d seen the river at its record high (48.5 feet above sea level in 1993) and its record low (5.8 feet this month). He then wondered aloud what that means.

“It means you’re getting old,” Funkhouser joked.

The Mighty Miss is looking more like the Gasconade these days.
The Mighty Miss is looking more like the Gasconade these days.