Jones' Riverside Marina & RV Park
On the bank of the Beautiful Red River near historic Natchitoches, Louisiana
Our marina is at an interesting location on the Red River
Jones' Riverside Marina is located on an oxbow lake that connects with the Red River. Many years ago a cutoff occurred in the bend of the river, abandoning the former bend. This has happened often and most of the time, each end of the oxbow silts in, leaving a lake separated from the river.
In this cutoff, the upper part of the old bend was dammed. Saline Bayou continues to flow into the old bend and the lower old bend to the main channel of the Red River. This mild current from Saline Bayou keeps and open channel into the river and prevents it from silting in.
This is an ideal location for a marina. The lake-like waters of this old bend are calm and free of mud, compared to the main channel, but with access to the main channel of the Red River. It actually is a lake but still part of the Red River.
About the Red River
There are several Red Rivers in the United States and this one is known as "The Red River of the South". It is the Red River that the song "Red River Valley" was written for. Palo Duro Canyon (photo) is south of Amarillo Texas and the birthplace of the spring fed Red River. In this arid land the river often dries up.
The upper Red River is a saltwater river. The saltiness is caused by a natural phenomenon that dates back to ancient times. About 250 million years ago, an inland sea blanketed parts of what is now those states. As time passed, that sea evaporated, leaving salt deposits – mostly sodium chloride. Rock and silt eventually buried the deposits, but the salt continues to leach through natural seeps in tributaries above Lake Texoma.
Its name comes from its color, which in turn comes from the fact that the river carries large quantities of red soil in flood periods. It is not always red, particularly in the lower sections.
Map shows the path of the River River from Texas to Louisiana. The total length of the river is 1,360 miles
The Red River has changed courses many times as can be seen in this photo. The yellow dotted line is the state line between Texas and Oklahoma that was originally established as the middle of the Red River. Since then the River has moved but the state lines remain where they were surveyed.
Many oxbow lakes are left where the river once flowed. Some are still connected to the river and some are disconnected. You can see that there are some signs (scars) of other course changes but those occurred before the Oklahoma and Texas state lines were established.
As with nearly all rivers, the Red River floods. The video is the flood of 2015. The Red River flooded all the way down to and included the Atchafalaya River and on to Morgan City, Louisiana.
Even with the flood control dam at Lake Texacoma, sometimes there is just too much rain in too short of time. Our marina and RV park rarely floods, but this is a video from the flood of 2015
By the time that the Red River reaches Shreveport/Bossier City in Louisiana, it has grown into a major river. From this point and downriver, it is a navigable waterway with commercial traffic and suitable for any size pleasure craft for the 232 miles to the end of the river. It has five locks & dams, along with wing dikes to stabilize the channel and riverbank.
Old River Control
The Red River ends where the Atchafalaya River begins. The Old River Complex was created to control how much Mississippi River flow is allowed to flow into the Red/Atchafalaya Rivers. At one time the Red flowed into a bend on the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya flowed out of the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico from the same bend.
Henry Shreve (of Shreveport fame) made a cutoff of that bend in 1831 for navigation purposes. Eventually this caused a problem that was found in 1951.
The Mississippi River was probably going to change course toward the Atchafalaya River and would be a disaster for the lower Mississiippi River. In the end the problem was solved (for now) by building structures that controls how much water flows from the Mississippi to the Atchafalaya. As for the Red River, it comes to an end and the Atchafalaya River begins at the point where the lower Old River channel, as can be seen in the graphic. This point is mile 0 of the Red River and mile 0 of the Atchafalaya River. Sound confusing? That is because the mile markers on the Red River go upriver and the mile markers on the Atchafalaya River go downriver. At the confluence of the Lower Old River, vessels have access to the Mississippi River from the Red/Atchafalaya River, using a Lock. For those going to the Gulf of Mexico, it leaves two choices. The Atchafalaya River is a much shorter route.
Navigating the Red River
Boaters often only use a section of the Red River located between the locks & Dams for various reasons. Some don't understand the concept of locking through, or intimidated by the large structures. Others think that the locks are only for commercial traffic. A misconception is that the dams are for flood control, but they are not. There primary function is for navigation. People often think that there is a charge for locking through.
While it is true that the Army Corp of Engineers built the locks & dams with commercial traffic in mind, the locks are for use by all watercraft. It doesn't matter if you are in a kayak or a large cruiser, you have the right to lock through. There is no charge for locking through.
The Red River is navigable for commercial vessels from Shreveport to the river's end. The system of locks & dams is called the J. Bennett Johnson Waterway and designed to keep the water deep enough for 9ft draft vessels. The locks allow boats to pass from one elevation to another by filling or draining the lock chamber. If you are traveling upriver you will be raised and going downriver, watercraft are lowered. It is a simple process of entering an open gate, which closes behind you. After raising or lowering the second gate opens to allow you to go into that section (pool).
Locking through is easy and fun. If you have a marine radio, you can call the lock on channel 16 to request a locking. All locks also have a phone number that you can call on arrival. If those methods fail, just hang out for a little while at the end of the guide wall and the lock master will see you and open the gate. Wait for the signal horn, the proceed at no-wake speed. Once inside the chamber throw a rope over one of the floating bollards along the lock wall. Do not draw the boat tight to the wall and if you have them, hang fenders out to protect the boat from the wall while your boat slides up or down along the wall. It is best to tie the rope near the center of your boat to prevent it from swinging out. Once they have drained or filled the chamber, wait for another horn signal, then unhook your boat and proceed out, again at no-wake speed.
There is no need to feel confined to a limited section of the beautiful Red River. I have found the lock masters to be friendly and helpful. The locks on the Red River have very little commercial traffic, so there is usually no waiting for a barge to lock through. Try it sometime and discover all that the Red River has to offer.