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Is the Mobile-Tensaw Delta Really America’s Amazon?

Experts compare a large river delta in the southern USA to South America’s Amazon. 

Yes. Deep in the heart of Dixie, you’ll find more fish, turtles, snails, salamanders, crawfish, and mussel species than in any other river system in America. 

But is it as biodiverse as the Amazon? 

We’re taking you deep into the swamps to discover more about this remarkable wetland and waterway.

Let’s jump in!

What is America’s Amazon?

Along the sweltering coast of the Gulf of Mexico lies America’s Amazon. Located in southern Alabama, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is one of North America’s most biologically diverse ecosystems.

The last glacial period dropped water levels in the world’s oceans, the Gulf of Mexico included. As rivers meandered to the sea, they carved a valley in coastal Alabama. When the ice age ended, the sea level rose to flood the area we know today as the Mobile-Tensaw Delta and Mobile Bay. 

Where rivers meet the sea, you find an estuary. These areas are richer than the nation’s most prized agricultural lands.

A 40-mile-long braid of rivers and bayous spreads over cypress-tupelo swamps, bottomland forests, marshes, and bogs to form the unrivaled Mobile-Tensaw Delta. America’s Amazon remains wild after centuries of habitation, wars, logging, and encroaching urbanism. It’s one of the largest intact wetland wilderness areas on the continent. 

Which Rivers Make Up America’s Amazon?

As the rivers flow south, they carry millions of years’ worth of sediment. As that water meets the sea, those fine particles fall to the bottom, building new land. Diverging rivers wind their way around the new habitat in the estuary. 

There are five distributaries across the delta’s southern region: the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee, and Blakeley Rivers.

To the west is the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers into the Mobile River. From early natives to colonial settlers, the Mobile River serves as principal navigational access into Alabama and beyond. 

Since the construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, it now provides an alternative way into the Ohio River watershed. Today, it’s the corridor into Mobile, Alabama’s growing port. 

East of the Mobile River is the Spanish River, influenced by tides from the Gulf of Mexico. The winding eight miles of the river provided the perfect place to scuttle American Civil War Confederate ironclads. The CSS Tuscaloosa and CSS Huntsville still lay wrecked in these waters.

The Tensaw River, for which the delta is so aptly named, is a vital channel that bends and curves over forty miles into the heart of America’s Amazon. There are numerous backchannels and sloughs, such as the Raft River and Big Lizard Creek. Don’t get lost in the meanders as you chase the flight of that Great Bald Eagle. Best to take a guide. 

The Apalachees were a strong and well-organized tribe, tracing their ancestors in the area back over 1000 years. Branching off the Tensaw to the east is the so-named Apalachee River. Another split forms the Blakeley River. Anglers know these waters for their abundance of fish like bass, flounder, sunfish, and red drum. 

Pro Tip: After visiting the Mobile-Tensaw Delta check out these 10 Unusual Things To Do in Alabama.

Man fishing at  Mobile-Tensaw Delta
The Mobile-Tensaw Delta is an impressive site to behold.

What’s So Special About the Mobile-Tensaw Delta?

The Mobile-Tensaw Delta encompasses over 400 square miles. Interstate highways 10 and 65 and Highway 98 are the only roadways crossing the great expanse. It’s like stepping back in time, just after the last ice age.

We could brag about boring statistics like over 300 bird species recorded in the delta. Brown pelicans and osprey, birders, are you paying attention? The area has more crawfish species than Louisiana, but who’s boasting?

The threatened West Indian manatee loves a seasonal migration to America’s Amazon. There, it feasts on fields of lush, submerged grasses in the fresh, cool waters. 

Some 18 earthen mounds and dozens of shell middens are evidence of man’s presence going back thousands of years. In addition to artifacts, early people cultivated native plants. Rare herbs with medicinal properties still grow here. Unusual fruit-bearing trees are evidence of ancient gardens. 

Tucked deep into a seldom-traveled backwater is a 300-year-old cypress tree. Measuring 27 feet around, it’s a glimpse into the true wonder of the region before logging in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

The number of threatened and endangered species of America’s Amazon is of equal importance. As research continues, the number of rare and fragile species grows. A sobering reminder that we need to protect our special places. 

Is Alabama a Rainforest?

It rains in Alabama – a lot. That’s not necessarily a competition anyone wants to win, but Alabama is probably the wettest state on the North American continent. Alabama isn’t truly a rainforest, but the warm, humid subtropical setting would make you think so. 

Another unique feature of Alabama is the five distinct physiographic provinces across the state. Each region has rocks, soil, and habitat reminiscent of times long past. 

The state’s position near the Gulf of Mexico prevented it from freezing in the last ice age. This allowed a host of flora and fauna to survive, thus bringing about the unique biodiversity we have there today. 

Pro Tip: Take some time to explore these 5 Cool Places in Alabama.

Mobile-Tensaw Delta view
While there is no rainforest in Alabama, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is often considered America’s Amazon.

Is There a Movie About America’s Rainforest?

Intrigued? You can watch a movie about America’s Amazon. The nearly hour-long documentary is available on YouTube. For free! 

The film takes you deep into the nation’s most extraordinary wilderness. From alligators to fields of native iris, the movie winds through the sultry swamplands. Every time you watch it, you’ll see or learn something new. 

Did Someone Write a Book About Saving America’s Amazon?

A local environmental reporter turned naturalist Ben Raines wrote “Saving America’s Amazon: The Threat to Our Nation’s Most Biodiverse River System.” Through vivid photography, this book brings to life the nation’s most diverse forests and aquatic systems.

Raines takes us on a historical tour of the Mobile Tensaw Delta too, describing with passion the past losses and current threats facing the unique area. He wraps his case for preservation in a challenge. 

“The time of reckoning is here for the people of Alabama, who must decide whether their state will wear the crown for being the most diverse place on the continent, or the crown for the place with the most extinctions. One thing is certain, Alabama cannot lay claim to both crowns forever.”

What Are Some Things To Do in America’s Amazon?

So now you’re ready to take a trip to see this for yourself. There’s so much to do. Here are a couple of suggestions. 

Take a trip out of Historic Blakeley State Park on a delta cruise into the heart of America’s Amazon. History buffs can tour the last battle location of the Civil War. Or you can trek through more than 2,100 acres of the largest National Register Historic Site in the eastern half of the US. 

The park offers a suite of camping opportunities, including furnished cabins, RV sites, and group sites. It’s family-friendly, and pets are allowed on leashes. Trails abound. 

Alternatively, you could explore the delta like the 18th-century naturalist and adventurer William Bartram. He was one of the first to record his travels through the southeast. 

The Alabama State Lands Division maintains day-use trails, land-based campsites, and floating platforms. And hardcore paddlers can enjoy day or overnight trips on the Bartram Canoe Trail. 

If you’re just passing through and need a quick stop, a visit to the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center might be the ticket. The exhibit hall and learning center provide a glimpse into the common wildlife in the delta. 

Rent a kayak for a quick paddle into the lotus fields. RVers can stay overnight in the campground nearby at Meaher State Park. 

Is the Mobile-Tensaw Delta Really America’s Amazon?

We can’t stop talking about this amazing gem, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. It truly is America’s Amazon. See it for yourself, and we know you’ll agree. 

You can also help preserve it by volunteering time or donating money to non-profits that work to conserve the delta, such as The Nature Conservancy or The Audubon Society. And when you do visit, leave no trace.

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