The Muscle Shoals were the last rocky obstacles Andreas had to cross during his Tennessee River swim. The dangerous rapids and shallow water were created by the efforts of the river to cut through a tough, resistant layer of rock called the Ft. Payne Chert. In the nineteenth century, the shoals were the usual limits for steamboats moving upstream. Today, the Wilson and Wheeler Dams- and their huge lift locks- tame this barrier.
Below the famous shoals, the river enters the Great Western Valley. The flow turns north and runs over soft, unconsolidated material called alluvium. Most folks would say the material is mud and the flow is gentle. The river soon becomes Pickwick Lake and serves as the boundary between the states of Mississippi and Alabama for 11 miles. Finally, the river returns to its namesake state. Waters from the mountains in East Tennessee now forms the boundary between the West and Middle grand divisions of Tennessee.
Steamboat landings line the course of the Great Western Valley, giving many communities, and three state parks, their names. The first of these is Pickwick Landing State Park, where the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) built a recreation area upstream from Pickwick Dam during the 1930’s. This recreation area was eventually transferred to the state in 1970 and became a state park. Pickwick Lake, and the entire western valley, can be very busy with recreational and commercial boat traffic. Some boat traffic uses the Tombigbee waterway. At mile 215, boats can use the Yellow Creek embayment of Pickwick Lake to take a short cut to the Gulf of Mexico. Legend says the famous Tennessean David Crockett first talked about the idea of this shortcut in the 1830’s. Yet it took nearly 140 years for it to become a reality.
The Tennessee River is a substantial river in the western valley and has had a huge influence on the history of the western part of Tennessee. The 200 miles of river left to travel are mostly within the Kentucky Reservoir, one of the largest impoundments in North America.