My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The (Not-So) Mighty Mississippi

I was mostly thinking about where I would stay next when I drove through Grand Falls, Minnesota. Suddenly, I noticed a sign by the bridge I was approaching.  The bridge was very short and the stream was only maybe twenty to fifty feet across.  But the sign said, "Mississippi River".

That piqued my interest because I'm very familiar with the Mississippi River, especially the portion that goes from Baton Rouge, Louisiana through New Orleans and on to the Gulf of Mexico.  It is a huge muddy stream filled with shipping barges and push boats. A paddle wheeler takes the affluent up river, I think to Tennessee. I've dreamed of doing that trip but can't  afford it.

So I decided I REALLY wanted to see the Mississippi River's beginnings. While I got my oil changed in my car, I got in conversation with a guy who told me I needed to go to Itasca State Park to see the headwaters. Then, while I was at the library at Grand Rapids - which probably was the name given to some big rapids, I asked the reference librarian about the rapids. Yes they were grand - so much so that shipping (by paddlewheelers)  had to stop and the unloading area was just behind the library.  But now they are buried at the bottom of a lake a few miles upstream.

I determined that I would spend the cloudy, rainy night at Itasca State Park and drove up there. I got in a few minutes of looking over the area before dark but wasn't sure I'd actually seen the Mississippi.  Next morning I started cooking breakfast when the sun started coming out.  So I dropped everything and grabbed a breakfast bar and rushed off to explore the river.

I parked at the Mary Gibbs Mississippi River Headwaters Center, and did a couple of stops at the displays while rushing back to the trail to the headwaters. 

A sign marked a beautiful trail through the pines.

In only a few minutes, I arrived at the dividing rocks between Lake Itasca and the Mississippi.

Hardly any water was coming over or through the rocks. This was the major stream of the water and it was hardly more than what I can pour from my five gallon jug.

Lake Itasca was beautiful  in the morning light.

A couple of women showed up and took turns take each other's picture on the headwater rocks. 

Do these rocks appear natural to you?  They are actually an "improvement" done by the CCC in 1933. It was the first improvement they did to the park.  The REAL environment was a marsh which you can see a little further down the stream. This is how we should have to visit the headwaters.

The informational display about the river and it's history was also interesting. A lot of explorers hunted for the headwaters and several lakes were declared the headwaters before Henry Schoolcraft finally got an Indian to guide him to Lake Itasca. He declared it was the headwaters after his expedition in 1832.

I particularly loved this statue of the Caretaker Woman, releasing baby turtles into the river. I also added the sign so you can click on it to read the details of the Indian's belief in this woman and her role in the life of the river. There is also a ten minute video on Henry Schoolhouse and his discovery of the headwaters as well as a model of the Mississippi and lots of other information.

I wished I had had more time to explore the park. There is both a champion red pine and a white pine there as well as a wonderful wilderness area that has a hiking trail through it. There are over 100 lakes in this huge place. If you are interested, visit their site and see all the wonderful information they have on the history, the geology, and the logging industry in the area, as well as the park's plans for the future.

I'm currently (Sept. 20) in Billings, Montana  and have to leave soon and drive about another 100 miles (for a total of over 500 today. Then I have a day and a half before I'll meet my friends in Bozeman, Montana,  with whom I'll be touring Yellowstone. Again, I'll probably be off the Internet for a week, but should have time to get up another blog before I leave.