A Landing a Day

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Bayou Bartholomew, Arkansas and Louisiana

Posted by graywacke on May 20, 2017

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-every-four-or-five days blog), I use an app that provides a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”

I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town or towns I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location. 

To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is) please see “About Landing” above.  To check out some recent changes in how I do things, check out “About Landing (Revisited).”

Landing number 2345; A Landing A Day blog post number 776.

Dan:  Today’s lat/long 33o 0.047’N, 91o 40.211’W) puts me on the border between Arkansas and Louisiana:

With my two-state post title, you still don’t know in which state I landed (and don’t look at ALADus Obscurus; that’s cheating).

With bated breath, here’s my local map:

It’s official:  I landed in Louisiana, but where are the towns?  Of course, you can see the titular Bayou Bartholomew.  Zooming back, one can see that yes, there are towns (but none apparently worth titular status):

My streams-only shot shows (of course) Bayou Bartholomew (3rd hit); on to the Ouachita R (13th hit):

Zooming back a little, we can see that the Ouachita makes its way to the Black River (14th hit); on to the Red (63rd hit); on to the Atchafalaya (70th hit):

So.  It’s time for the Google Earth (GE) trip into far NE LA.  Click HERE.

I have Street View coverage only a mile away, but it was a miserable rainy day when the GoogleMobile happened by.  Consequently, the Street View shot just isn’t worth it.

I also have nearby Street View coverage of the Bayou (taken on the same rainy day).  Here’s the map:

And here’s what the Orange Dude sees:

The Bayou Bart’s looking a little rain-swollen.  Let’s see what Wiki has to say about my titular Bayou:

Bayou Bartholomew is the longest bayou in the world meandering approximately 364 miles between the U.S. states of Arkansas and Louisiana.

[Wow.  Longest Bayou in the world!  More about that in a bit.]

It contains over 100 aquatic species making it the second most diverse stream in North America. Known for its excellent catfish, bream, and crappie fishing, portions of the bayou are considered some of the best kept secrets of Arkansas anglers.

[Bream???  More about that later as well.]

The present bayou bed was formed by the waters of the Arkansas River during a period when it was changing course. Approximately 2,000 years ago (and for many hundreds of years previously), the river was flowing down the current bayou bed.  But then, the Arkansas diverted to its current course, flowing directly to the Mississippi River.  Consequently, the leisurely bayou began to develop in the now abandoned river bed.

In order to appreciate the previous paragraph, one must also appreciate that the Arkansas is one big river with a huge watershed.  (It’s in 6th place on my list of watersheds, with 126 hits).  Here’s a Wiki shot of the watershed:

And here’s a StreetAtlas streams-only map that shows how close the Arkansas is to the headwaters of the Bartholomew:

So all of that water from that huge watershed was flowing down what today is the lazy ol’ Bartholomew Bayou.  And here’s what happened:  These Gulf Coast rivers develop serious meanders as they make their way across the flat coastal plain, filled with ancestral Mississippi River sediment.

Throw in a massive flood (say, one on the magnitude of only once in a thousand years), and the river wants to go straight instead of meandering all over the place.  When that happens, it quickly erodes a new channel and heads off in a new direction, say more directly towards the Mississippi.

And then what happens to its former self?  It takes on a new, much more laid-back identity . . .

So, what about the claim that the Bartholomew is the world’s longest bayou?  Well, first off, the term “bayou” is only applied to waterways that end up in the Gulf of Mexico.  Secondly, “bayou” has a rather vague definition.  It comes from the Choctow “bayuk,” which means “small stream.”  It has come to mean any sluggish waterway.

So is this the largest bayou in the world?  What the heck, why not . . .

And then real quickly:  “bream” (a kind of fish) was mentioned earlier.  It’s a general term for a large class of fish that include sunfish and bluegills.

So anyway – as we all know (after reading my watershed analysis) – the Bayou Bartholomew ends up in the Ouchita River, then the Black River, the Red River, and finally in the Atchafalaya, which flows into the Gulf.  The Red / Atchafalahya system does not have a straight-forward hydrologic history. 

As it turns out, I blogged about this hydrologic history in my February 2014 Winnfield, Lousisiana post (when I also landed in the Red River / Atchafalaya River watershed).

I’m going to borrow some from that post:

So, that’s about it for Winnfield.  Not wanting to call it a day, I figured that I’d do a feature on the Atchafalya River.  This landing marks the 55th time I’ve landed in the Atchafalya watershed (the 15th time since I began blogging), but the first time I’ve actually written a piece on the river . . .

[Quick update:  we need to add 7 to each of the above numbers.]

First off, I think it’s a wonderful name.  It just rolls off the tongue:  ah chaf fa LIE ah.  But of real interest is the history of the river, and how we Americans have played a crucial part in the river’s actual essence – its physical nature, identity and fate.   [Wow Greg, great sentence!]

The following write-up is a combination of words from the Lake Forest College website, Wiki, and me:

Back in the 10th century A.D., the Red River and the Mississippi River flowed to the Gulf of Mexico on separate, more-or-less parallel courses:

There was no Atchafalaya River anywhere to be seen, ancestral or otherwise.

In the 15th century, a bend in the Mississippi known as Turnbull’s Bend joined the river with the parallel Red River.  The flow of the Red River then joined the Mississippi.  The much smaller river flowing south from Turnbull’s bend became the Atchafalaya:

In the heyday of steamboats along the Mississippi River, it took a boat several hours to travel the bend’s 20 miles. To reduce travel time, Captain Henry M. Shreve, a river engineer and founder of Shreveport, La., dug a canal in 1831 through the neck of Turnbull’s Bend. At the next high water, the Mississippi roared through this channel.

With the Mississippi River taking a new course, the Red River began emptying into the smaller Atchafalaya River.  Also, Shreve’s cut altered the flow so that Mississippi water and Atchafalaya water flowed back and forth through the lower part of Turnbull’s Bend (the Lower Old River) depending on the season.

Between 1850 and 1950, the percentage of Atchafalaya’s share of the total flow of the two rivers increased from less than 10 percent to about 30 percent.

In 1953, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded that the Mississippi River would change its course to the Atchafalaya River by 1990 if it were not controlled, since this alternative path to the Gulf of Mexico through the Atchafalaya River is much shorter and steeper.

Knowing that this process would diminish the Mississippi and every city along the river as well as all commerce up and down the river, in 1964 the Army Corps built a control structure that controls the flow of the two rivers (called the Old River Control Structure).

This structure makes it so that 70% of the water flows through the Mississippi, while 30% flows through the Atchafalaya.

The Old River Control Structure and both rivers require constant maintenance and upkeep as the Army Corps continues to battle the natural forces at work. A flood in 1973 nearly destroyed the structure; the Atchafalaya was perilously close to receiving the entire flow of the Mississippi.  The structure was repaired and additional improvements made in 1986.

If it weren’t for the Old River Control Structure, the Mississippi River as we know it would not exist. New Orleans and Baton Rouge would lose their geographic significance and source of income, and thousands of American businesses would have to overhaul their shipping practices.

Here’s an aerial photo of the whole control complex, from Wiki:

It’s time for an ALAD true confessions.  Since my first Red River watershed landing (landing 65, July 1999), my landing spreadsheet says “Red R; Atchafalaya R.”

In other words, I am assuming (wrongly it turns out) that the Red River watershed is in the exclusive domain of the Atchafalaya.  If you were paying close attention to the above hydrologic analysis, you now know (as do I) that some of the Red River ends up in the Atchafalaya and some of the Red River ends up in the Mississippi. 

Oh well.  Too late now . . .

It’s time for some GE Panoramio shots to tie a bow around this post:

One problem:  There are no post-worthy (or bow-worthy) Pano shots anywhere close to my landing!  Zero.  Nada.  None.

But I did find this lovely shot of the Bayou Bartholomew in Wiki:

That’ll do it . . .




© 2017 A Landing A Day

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