M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I, That’s How To Spell It
The Might Mississippi isn’t so mighty at its lowly headwaters in Minnesota’s Itasca State Park. Only 18 inches deep at the source, the Mississippi is over 200 feet deep when it reaches New Orleans, Louisiana. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, an American explorer and ethnographer. and his Anishinaabee (Ojibwe) guide, Ozaawindib, “discovered” the source of the Mississippi in 1832.The Ojibwe called the lake Omashkoozo-zaaga’igan (Elk Lake), but Schoolcraft combined parts of the Latin words for truth and head and named it Itasca. Today, the headwaters are part of Itasca State Park, established in 1891. It is the oldest state park in Minnesota and the second oldest in the United States, beaten only by Niagara Falls.Walking across the Mississippi headwaters has become a tradition for many Minnesotans and visitors alike. I visited the Park when I was in the area this summer; on my drive back to Virginia, I followed the Mississippi along a section of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway in Wisconsin.
Surprisingly, the Mississippi runs north from Lake Itasca for about 100 miles before turning south on its 2,340 mile (3,730 km) journey to the Mississippi River Delta and the Gulf of Mexico. The river passes through or along the border of 10 states along the way. It takes 90 days for a drop of rain in Lake Itasca to reach the Gulf. An extensive series of tributaries, including the Missouri and Ohio Rivers, feed into the river. The Mississippi (with its tributaries) is the fourth longest river system in the world and the second largest drainage system in North America.
220 Miles Downriver – The Twin Cities
What an amazing change in the river in 220 miles. The word Mississippi comes from Messipi, the French rendering of the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe or Algonquin) name for the river, Misi-ziibi (Great River). In 1680, Father Louis Hennepin, a French Recollect Friar missionary to New France, was captured by the Dakota and held captive for several months. After Hennepin and his party were released, he visited and named St. Anthony Falls, in what is now Minneapolis. It is the only natural waterfall on the Mississippi River. (Sad to say I have never visited the falls). On his return to France, he wrote wildly exaggerated books about his explorations along the Mississippi. He only spent 3 or 4 months in Minnesota but he was not forgotten. Minneapolis is located in Hennepin County and Hennepin Avenue one of its main downtown arteries.
Along the Great River Road in Wisconsin
The Great River Road National Scenic Byway, established in 1938, follows the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles through 10 states. I followed Wisconsin Highway 35 from Prescott to the La Crosse area. Passing through quaint towns, along bluffs overlooking the river, and along the shore, I glimpsed commercial traffic on the river. Transportation of goods such as grain, coal, timber is an economic mainstay along the river. A series of locks and dams make the river navigable by barge and tug as far north as Minneapolis-St. Paul. According to the National Park Service, eight million tons of Minnesota‘s corn, soybeans and wheat, nearly 7 % of U.S. grain exports, are shipped annually from Minnesota to New Orleans for export to destinations around the world.