I had no choice but to keep my visit to Memphis short, but I still wanted to revisit a place I remembered from my childhood: Mud Island.
Mud Island isn’t all that muddy. And it’s not actually an island: it’s a peninsula that runs parallel to the Memphis waterfront, with Wolf River Harbor on one side, and the Mississippi River on the other. The huge Interstate 40 Hernando de Soto bridge passes over the island, on its way into Arkansas.
On the other side, across Wolf River Harbor, you get a great view of the Memphis skyline.
At the north end of the peninsula (the part that connects to the mainland) there’s a new, upscale residential community of homes and apartments. But my reason for visiting lies at the other end of the peninsula. Lower Mud Island is a tourist attraction, that centers around its scale model of the lower Mississippi River.
[tmt_info =””]Most visitors probably assume that you can only access Mud Island by taking the suspended monorail (the Memphis Suspension Railway) across Wolf River Harbor. The monorail costs $8 per person, round trip (plus another $5 for parking on the city side of the monorail route). But here’s the good news: you don’t have to ride the monorail, and you don’t have to pay for parking. There are two roads that connect to the island: Auction Avenue (near the Pyramid Arena) and North Mud Island Road (connects to 2nd Street at the north end of the peninsula). Cross over onto Mud Island, then drive under the I-40 bridge, and you’ll find a big, free parking lot, just steps away from the northern end of the Mississippi River Walk.[/tmt_info]
Mud Island’s scale-model Mississippi is five blocks long, and accurately represents the flood plains and depths of the river. It’s like a relief map, cast in the ground, with water running through it. This is where it begins: the upper Mississippi River (parts of which would be too small to represent in scale) flows over the northern mid-western states on this wall, before dumping into the scale-model River Walk at Cairo, Illinois.
Tributaries enter the Mississippi in the same way. Feel free to walk in the river!
The Mississippi River’s cities are also represented in scale. This is Memphis, and here’s the mind-bending part: you’re standing on Mud Island, in the middle of the Mississippi River, looking at a scale model of Mud Island, in the middle of a scale-model version of the river. Dare to comprehend it!
The river serpentines as it makes its way through Louisiana.
At its southern end, the Mississippi River passes by New Orleans, then empties into the Gulf of Mexico. In this scale-model version, the water that flows through the River Walk ends up in this pond, where you can rent a paddle boat and float around.
Mud Island is definitely showing its age, and it’s especially obvious at the southern end of the River Walk. The water here is surprisingly green and murky, and some corners of the pond are filled with weeds. I’m not sure if this is meant to represent wetlands, or it’s just the result of a lack of maintenance. Either way, the pond and nearby concession stand feel a bit old and worn-out.
There is an effort underway to revamp Mud Island. The plan would add hotels, a theme park, and even change the peninsula’s name to Harbor Island (to get rid of the negative connotations of “mud”). After nearly three decades, I think it’s time. Of course, it’s also neat to see a place that’s remained largely unchanged since my childhood.
[tmt_info =””]You can rent a bicycle (or bring your own) and ride just about anywhere around Mud Island. It’s a quicker way to get around the River Walk, but be warned: you’ll end up riding through dozens of spider webs — and you’ll have to shake a few of the tiny, harmless spiders off your bike if you leave it parked for very long.[/tmt_info]
I took the camera off my car’s dashboard, and mounted it on my bicycle, for this time-lapse ride around Mud Island: