Tuesday, December 4, 2007

rollin' on the river

We rode a steamboat! On the Mississippi! As a life-long fan of Mark Twain, this was a dream come true.

The river has certaily changed considerably since Twain's time. Lots less charm, lots more industrial sprawl. The steamboat itself was lovely: quiet, efficient, comfortable. Definately a superior mode of travel. I say we go back to horseback, trains, and steamboats for good.

Random things we learned on the cruise:
Where we were boating, right out of downtown New Orleans, the Mississippi River is 200 ft deep and always above sea level. The day we were on the water, we were 6 feet above sea level. It can get up to 18 feet above sea level on normal years, flooding over the levees somewhere almost every year. As Twain wrote, "The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise." Lake Pontchartrain, where the levees broke, is at sea level. (People care a lot about sea level around here, if you haven't noticed.) The levee system was started in 1717 by individual landowners, and have been under the control of the Army Corps of Engineers since the Civil War. They now go all the way north to St. Louis, MO.

New Orleans is the 4th largest port in the world (by tonnage). Grain is the port's #1 export, and oil is it's #1 import. Aluminum is made from byprodcuts of the oil refinery process. The Domino Sugar refinery, which we passed on the way, is the 2nd largest sugar refinery in the world. It was incredible to see entire barges of unrefined sugar, and cranes with truck-sized scoops moving it around.

The Mississippi has catfish up to 200 pounds. The captain of the Natchez has himself caught an 80 lb catfish. I saw the pictures to prove it. I sure hope he didn't eat it--I shudder to think about the pollution in the waters here.

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