This is one of my favorite quick stops on the I-40 slog through the middle of the country, and as we were heading east from Spadra/Clarksville, in western Arkansas, we were happy to stop in West Memphis.
The main draw of Tom Sawyer’s RV Park, in West Memphis, AR, about twenty minutes from downtown Memphis, is the Mississippi River. From your campsite, you can watch the cargo ships cruise by on their way to and from the Port of Memphis, a short distance upstream. Use a vessel tracker site like this to get ship info and schedules.
When we visited in November 2022, the Mississippi’s water level was crazy low, after a historic low near Memphis in mid-October. A low river means a narrower river–it was less than half as wide as usual near Memphis–restricting how much weight each barge can carry and how many barges can be towed together (most tugs push multiple barges). This will give you an idea of the size of a barge: one fully-loaded river barge can carry as much as 16 rail cars or 70 semis.
56% of total freight tonnage, mostly agricultural products, travels from the Upper Mississippi states to Louisiana via the river. This site has some wild statistics about what states ship how much of which products. The slowdown last Fall corresponded with peak shipping season for corn and soybeans, the US’s top two export crops.
So the show outside our trailer wasn’t as exciting as in higher-water times, but we still saw some traffic. The campground is big and peaceful and we had a relaxing evening watching the river.
In the morning, we went for a run on the Big River Trail, parking under the bridge at Big River Crossing, the longest pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi. This awesome trail runs along the Mississippi River levee system for 70 miles, with a spur into downtown Memphis. It’s a really neat place to run.
Next time we might skip Nashville (more on that next post) and spend an extra day in West Memphis, so that we can go into downtown Memphis and explore more, without having to sacrifice river-watching time.