JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Those of us who are used to seeing tugboats and their rafts of barges riding unobstructed, majestically atop the mile-wide waters of the Mississippi River are taken aback somewhat to see the mighty flotillas, instead, snaking their way through channels cut between sand bar cliffs and sunbaked-dry mud flats.

This is a rare sight on the Mighty Mississippi, to see water levels this low. Record low levels in lots of places. Close enough to records in others, that for all practical purposes, this is as low as most folks can remember the river ever being. 

All of this sand and gravel is usually under tons of water. Now, with it exposed, what’s left of the Mississippi looks like a mirage shimmering in a desert somewhere instead of the master of the wetlands where is normally flows. 

Months of drought over the 40% of the continent that the Mississippi River drains has caused this. You wouldn’t expect a river that has much more notoriety for its floods to evaporate back into its deepest pools and most ancient beds.  

Lots of people want to go explore the exposed bottom to see what they can find. This Civil War mortar at Grand Gulf Park is a low water find from when the Mississippi was low decades ago. But most of what’s been brought to light at the bottom of the river is sand. Glacier-sized mounds of sand and more sand and gravel bars. In the gravel, there are occasional ice-age fossils. Some rare ones, but way more just plain ole rocks.

To take a boat ride in slips and channels where normally there is only a solid sheet of water about 20 to 50 feet above where we are now is surreal. Or to stand on the bottom this far from the bank is unheard of in the Mississippi.

Drive to the river front in Natchez, Grand Gulf Park, Vicksburg or Greenville and see how low the river is for yourself if you have a chance. Take a picture and print it. In no time at all, once the rains start again, you won’t believe the Mississippi ever got this dry. 

The experts say if you want to explore the exposed river bottom, don’t go by yourself. Even the sand and gravel bars can be dangerous.