From Vicksburg to Natchez.
This morning we’re in Natchez, which is something like 75 miles below Vicksburg on the Mississippi. There’s a jitney that takes passengers a couple of hundred yards up a steep roadway from the landing area to a small park overlooking the river. That’s where one of several big buses owned by the cruise company are waiting to drive us around the town. As passengers on the American Queen, all we have to do is flag him down, get on, and get off again when there’s something interesting to see. It’s all included in the cost of the cruise. At the end of each day, the buses–there are four of them–follow the boat by land to the next port-of-call. They’re right there the next morning waiting to drop the boat’s passengers in town or take us on tours. Pretty slick.
We’ve opted out of the organized tour today in favor of lounging in our deck chairs. We’re on the port side of the boat and on this particular morning that means we get a really good look at the barge traffic on the river.
The tow boats are brutish machines. They are pushing (not pulling, as the name implies) as many as 45 individual barges held tightly together with cables. The barges are pushed, not pulled, because being at the rear gives the tow boats the maneuverability they need to deal with the river’s currant. The photo above was taken with a long lens which distorts the length of the whole assembly. There are a total of 42 individual barges being shoved against the current–six rows of seven barges, each one 195 feet long. Impressive!
About 11 o’clock this morning, we took the jitney to the top of the Natchez bluff, and that’s where a view of the river really opened up. A little elevation makes all the difference. For one thing, it gave us a great view of The American Queen, waiting for us several hundred feet below and probably a quarter mile away.
I’ve crossed this river multiple times on the train–on the Zephyr at Burlington, Iowa, and on the Southwest Chief, at Fort Madison, Iowa. I’ve followed it for miles through Wisconsin and Minnesota on the Empire Builder. But I am compelled to say that you have to be ON the Mississippi before you can even begin to grasp how immense … how grand … how majestic it really is. That alone is ample reason for this experience.