Visitors Guide to
The Upper Delta Region
of the Middle Mississippi River Valley

the Bootheel Region of Missouri Northeast Arkansas, & Western Tennessee


Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge

Union City, Tennessee

Reelfoot Lake is Tennessee’s largest natural lake. A large depression was formed in the region during the New Madrid earthquakes during the winter of 1811 and 1812. What was once woodlands became a partially submerged forest encompassing 25,000 acres, 15,000 of which is a shallow lake. The formation of Reelfoot Lake created a valuable wetland area which became a haven for many wildlife species and harbors almost every kind of mid-American shore and wading bird. The 10,428 acre Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 and due to the proximity to the Mississippi River it is a major stopover point and wintering area for waterfowl of the Mississippi Flyway. The Refuge Visitor’s Center contains numerous natural and historical exhibits related to the Reelfoot Lake area.

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The Upper Delta Region of the Middle Mississippi River Valley consists of the Bootheel region of southeastern Missouri, northeastern Arkansas, and western Tennessee. Although the city of Memphis would naturally be included in this region, its size will make the subject of its own section. The Upper Delta denotes a cultural region rather than a geographic one. Strictly speaking from a geographical perspective the Mississippi River Delta is located south of New Orleans. What is called by many as the Delta is actually the Mississippi Embayment. The Embayment is part of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain that is continuation of the sediments of the Mississippi River from its confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois down to the Delta as the river empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Culturally the region denotes that a traveler coming down river has truly entered the South.

The Missouri Bootheel, the southeastern most part of Missouri, is the northern most region of the Upper Delta. The area gets its name because its shape in relation to the rest of the state resembles the heel of a boot as it extends below the where most of the border between Missouri and Arkansas runs. The inclusion of the Bootheel in Missouri has been credited to a local landowner who used his influence to add the area below the 36°30’. The biggest single event and the one that the area is known for is the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812. Two quakes struck the region with a speculated magnitude of 8+ on the Richter scale. New Madrid also has a rich history when it comes to the Civil War due to the battles for New Madrid and Island No. 10 in 1862. Visitors can learn about the earthquakes, the Civil War, and other area history at the New Madrid Historical Museum. The museum is located along the riverfront where visitors can get up close and personal with the Mississippi River. There are also local history museums in the communities of Kennett and Malden. Prior to the 20th century, the Bootheel was mostly unsettled swampy forests but beginning at the end of the 19th century developers began cutting down the forests so that only 15% of the forestland remains. You can still see what the area once was like by visiting the many conservation areas that dot the Bootheel region. The communities of the region offer a number of events throughout the year including musical events, and several fairs including the annual Delta Fair which is the largest fair in the area.

Northeast Arkansas can be divided into two distinct regions. Mississippi and Crittenden Counties front the Mississippi River and are in its flood plains. Clay, Greene, Craighead, Poinsett, and Cross County contain some flood plains but mostly sit atop Crowley’s Ridge. Crowley’s Ridge is a unique geological feature that stands 100 to 200 feet above the fertile flood plains of the Delta and runs for 150 miles in eastern Arkansas and southeastern Missouri. In a sense it is the western bluffs of the Mississippi River as the river’s course continuously changes over the eons, but never farther west than Crowley’s Ridge. While normally only provides coverage of counties that border the Mississippi River it has made an exception to add the Crowley’s Ridge Scenic Byway region. This area features a number of state parks in a setting that is reminiscent of the Ozark Mountains and isn’t a long drive from the Great River Road. Visitors to both regions will find small community museums, sites covering the pre-European Native American culture, sites unique to Arkansas history, and natural site both on the ridge and along the river.
The Great River Road enters Tennessee from the north along TN-78 into Lake County. Most of the low lying landscape can found in the Lake County area, including western Obion County, in Dyer and northern Lauderdale Counties, and along the Mississippi’s tributaries until the Chickasaw Bluffs are reached in central Lauderdale County. The bulk of the terrain of the counties that make up Western Tennessee consists of mostly high ground that is part of a geological feature called the Western Tennessee Plateau Slope. Lake County is home to one of Tennessee’s most unique features - a large natural lake. Reelfoot Lake was created by the New Madrid earthquakes during the winter of 1811 and 1812 and has become well known for both its fishing opportunities and its bird watching. A large number of bald eagles make Reelfoot Lake home during the winter months. Nearby in Tiptonville is the Carl Perkins Visitors Center located in a refurbished caboose that also serves as a repository for the rockabilly musician.

As most of the population of Western Tennessee lives on the upper ground of the Western Tennessee Plateau Slope this is where most of the attractions in the region are located. There are a number of community museums in the towns that are connected by US-51. Travelers can visit the Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center in Henning where the home that the author of Roots lived as a boy in the 1920s as well as a 6,500 square foot award winning center that features a walk-through exhibit, a theater, a genealogy room, and the gift shop. The Great River Road has a loop spur out of Henning and nearby Ripley that leads to Fort Pillow State Historic Park which is scenically located on the Chickasaw Bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. The Tipton County Museum, Veterans Memorial & Nature Center in Covington is one of the first facilities in the country to bring together military history, environmental education, and historical preservation into one place. As part of the Upper Delta region of the Mississippi River, Western Tennessee offers its visitors a wide array of activities ranging from nature to history for travelers to get a feel of the atmosphere and culture of America’s South. If you are wondering why Memphis isn’t included it is because it is on the drawing board to be the subject of its own special section because of the large number of attractions and events that it offers. hopes that this section will give it readers and the area’s potential visitors valuable insight into that the area has to offer.

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