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    Posted July 10, 2014 by
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    Related to: My trip down the most endangered river in America
    CNN's John Sutter took a three-week trip down the most endangered river in America: California's San Joaquin. See the tweets from his adventure.
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    The Mississippi from source to mouth


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     nealmoore spent five months paddling the Mississippi River, from Minnesota to New Orleans. These were taken in fall 2009.
    - hhanks, CNN iReport producer

    The Mississippi from source to mouth

    By Neal Moore (CNN iReport)

    Itasca, Minn. to New Orleans, La.

    The Mississippi River reveals herself in stages. First, it’s the beauty. On any given day, in weather fair or foul, the river offers vistas as breathtaking as any to be found in North America. As you get to know the river better, you begin to discover her many moods and learn to accept that there will be many twists and turns along the Mississippi’s journey to the sea.


    In 2009, I spent nearly 5 months paddling the length of the Mississippi on a solo canoe expedition. It was a life-changing experience – the people I met, the towns I visited and reported from, and the natural environment I encountered and marvelled at all along the way.


    This great river slices the nation from north to south and separates its east and west. It is the lifeblood of America and it pulsates with her hopes and dreams. But folks who live along the Mississippi know the despair that the river can bring. Hundred-year floods have inundated their land twice in the span of a decade. Her characters have performed in classic American tragedies, black comedies and the occasional Broadway musical. If ever an avenue was worth exploring in search of un-whitewashed testimony on the soul of America, the Mississippi River is more than worthy as a candidate. Those who dwell along her banks possess the pluck and fortitude of our forefathers, akin to a brash pride.


    In its foulest of moods, this mighty river can deal death and destruction, as in the great floods of 1882, 1927 and 1993. But it is also a source of great bounty -- an irrigator of crops, a treasure house of aquatic food, a magnet for waterfowl and other wild game, a natural trade corridor whose tributaries reach into 31 states, and an outlet for the produce of a nation. Like other great rivers, however, the Mississippi resists the hand of man and demands respect. As Mark Twain wrote of the Mississippi: “It cannot be tamed, curbed or confined. … You cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over and laugh at. The Mississippi will always have its own way, no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise.”


    The following photographs document a slice of the Mississippi River experience:

    (A) The sun sets over the Mississippi River at Nauvoo, Ill. At this time of day, when the sun would begin her final descent, I’d follow the example of the Canadian geese and pelicans flying south for the winter, taking refuge on the islands in the middle of the river in concert with the setting sun.

    (B) Canadian geese take flight on the Upper Mississippi River. Along the banks of the river I spotted egrets, bald eagles, loons, foxes, snakes, and deer, including one buck. The deer snort at you as you startle them from the canoe, gliding silently along the slow and lazy current (on the good days when you have a current).

    (C) First light shines over my canoe, the Andrea, on the Mississippi above Minneapolis, Minn.

    (D) The Santa Fe Swing Span Bridge swings open for river traffic at Fort Madison, Ia. Opened in 1927, the Santa Fe Swing Span Bridge is considered to be the largest double-deck swing-span bridge in the world.

    (E) The Mississippi River at Hannibal, Mo., declared “America’s Hometown” by the Hannibal Chamber of Commerce. This is the hometown of Samuel Clemens, the riverboat captain turned author who would later become Mark Twain. If you can spot the lighthouse on this hill, this is the very “Cardiff Hill” of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer where Huck and Tom would adventure and play.

    (F) A statue of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn at the base of Cardiff Hill, Hannibal, Mo., created by sculptor Frederick C. Hibbard and presented to the town in 1926. Much of the world knows about the Mississippi River thanks to the exploits of this 19th Century duo.

    (G) Detail of a cotton field just north of Memphis, Tenn. Back in the hay-day of Mississippi River travel, when cotton was king, Memphis’s warehouses bulged with bales of cotton brought by steamboats from plantations all along the Mississippi, when fortunes were made in lumber, cotton and mules. Lately, like a lot of cities along the river, Memphis wears all the scars of hard times: crime, unemployment and general decay.


    (H) Blues master James “Super Chikan” Johnson shows off one of his homemade guitars, a diddleybo hybrid he calls a “bojo” at his home at Clarksdale, Miss. Clarksdale is referred to as the “birthplace of the blues.” Super Chikan observed that the slogan, used by the city on its website and by local boosters to attract tourists, goes much deeper than the music – that it’s more about the hard lives that produced the music. “There’s a lot of us in a strain right now,” he said. “A lot of us got the blues and don’t even play it. And don’t sing it. But we cry it every day.”

    (I) The reconstructed remains of the USS Cairo, a City-class ironclad gunboat that saw action on the Mississippi River as part of the Western Gunboat Flotilla in the American Civil War. She was sunk by a mine on the Yazoo River on 12 December 1862 and raised, along with her original contents, in 1964. The USS Cairo is seen here at her final resting place, the Vicksburg National Military Park at Vicksburg, Miss.

    (J) The Mighty Mississippi near Natchez, Miss. The sun breaks through the clouds to light my way on down to the terminus of my expedition at New Orleans, La.

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