The Great River Road
Travels alongside the
about the River
- At 2,552 miles, the Mississippi
River is the longest river in North America and the third longest
in the world, and begins at 1,475 feet above sea level.
- The Mississippi River drains approximately
40% of the continental United States-all or part of 31 states,
and two Canadian provinces, with a total drainage area of 1.25
million square miles.
- The Mississippi releases 2.3 million
cubic feet of water per second into the Gulf of Mexico and more
than 400-million cubic yards of mud, sand and gravel each year.
- The Mississippi River provides transport
for more than 472-million tons of cargo each year, including 46%
of the grain exported from the United States.
- The Mississippi is a major flyway for
migratory birds. It is used by up to 40% of North America's duck,
goose, swan and eagle population.
- A system of 29 locks and dams control
navigation on the Upper Mississippi between Minneapolis, Minnesota
and St. Louis, Missouri.
A general map of the river.
about the River Road
- A traveler can follow the Great
River Road over 3,000 miles through the ten river states and the
two Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba.
- There are 87 federal parks and refuge
areas; 1,100 significant National Historic Register sites; and
more than 150 visitor centers and museums along the Great River
- The longest over water bridge
in the world is the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway bridge in New
Orleans. It crosses 24 miles of open water.
- All along the Mississippi, you
are never more than 100 miles from a casino.
- The Mississippi River Parkway Planning
Commission (MRPC) was legislatively appointed in 1938, but the
road was not begun until 1954.
- The Levees of the lower Mississippi are
longer, and higher than the Great Wall of China.
|Visits to the River
I have seen, crossed, traveled along,
or been down the Mississippi River more times than I can recall.
Even so, the excitement of the first crossing is there, every time
I reacquaint myself with this amazing body of ever flowing and changing
water. There is an old saying that you never bathe in the same river
twice, referring to the fact that the water never stays still, and eventually
leaves the river. By this definition, I have seen a number of different
rivers, when coming to this part of the country. The water of the Mississippi,
the flows down to become part of the Gulf of Mexico, which is in turn,
part of the Atlantic. In the case of the Mississippi, however, it is
more than the water which is always changing. The banks of this river
are constantly moving, and shifting, as if it is a living thing. Before
the river was dredged, dammed, and canaled (if that's a word), river
towns could suddenly find themselves miles inland, or in other states
on the other side of the river. Mark Twain joked that a black man could
go to sleep a slave in a slave state, and the river could change course
in the night having him wake up on the other side in a free state, and
My actual first crossing
of the river is barely worth mentioning. It was during my
first ever trip out west, back in 1970. I was 12 years old, and
we crossed on the Interstate, at the Twin Cities. The river
here is large, but not what one would expect from such a remarked
upon body of water. It seemed a bit like the Milwaukee River from
back home. The crossing went nearly unnoticed, being taken over a metal
trusswork bridge, over which we could scarcely make out more than a
patch of blue and some sandy banks. We were on our way to Seattle, and
took no note of the river, or of much of anything along the way. It was
just as well, since this particular crossing does not do the great river
justice. The Mississippi does not really become an impressive body of
water until a bit farther down stream, where it joins with the St. Croix.
It is eventually fed by the Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, and
Arkansas, all great rivers in themselves. It is also fed by numerous
lesser rivers, streams and creeks.
My second crossing
is far more memorable. It was made on a motorcycle when I
was nineteen years old. The crossing here
was taken at LaCrosse, and time
was spent at the Dresbach center near LaCrescent in Minnesota.
This was my first real acquaintance with the river, before this
we had given each other only the briefest acknowledgment. This
was on my first motorcycle trip out to Yellowstone Park, and though
I was anxious to get to the mountains, prairies, wildlife, and scenic
views of the West, as well as getting to feel a part of the history
of the region, I had to stay and introduce myself to the river. That
first stop lasted for a couple of hours, even though the weather
was not at it's best. I had a nice lunch, called home, sat by the
side of the river, and walked for a while. I also spent some time
watching the tow boats and barges. The picture here is the first one
that I ever took on this spot. It is notable for the fact that the river
is not actually visible in the shot (it was just to the right outside
of the photo). This was my second time across the Mississippi, but my
first at the crossing of Lacrosse. It was to be far from my last.
I have been back many times and plan to return
many more. There are the river cities, and the little river
towns, the celebrations, the scenic views, the wildlife, and the constant
ebb, and flow of the river, and of the people who live on it, works it's
length, visit, or are just passing through. The river area has a unique
combination of hectic activity, and laid back lifestyles, that make the
whole place a wonder.
As of this time, I have only done about
a fifth of the River Road. I do hope, in the summer of 2005, to do
the entire road from the Twin Cities, to New Orleans, and perhaps a bit
beyond to Venice, LA. or wherever the furthest road south goes.
The Twin Cities, and Points North
|I have been here
many times before, but this always becomes the jumping off point.
|Winnona, Bay City,
and other little towns, add their own style of charm to the Great River
|Up the River Road
through bluffs with the amazing Mississippi River at your elbow.
|The Wisconsin Side
|The Wisconsin side
of the River Road, though less spectacular, has it's own charm, and
is a bit less developed than the busier Minnesota side.
|The Twin Cities
and Saint Paul are filled with places to see and things to do, particularly
during the Minnesota State Fair.
Prairie DuChien, Dubuque, and Points South
|LaCrosse, the freeway, and the little
|I love this place,
and it really means the river to me.
|The Wisconsin River Road
|The Road Between
LaCrosse, and Prairie DuChien
|This former Indian
village is one of the oldest of the river towns, and a great
place to visit.
|McGregor, and Marquette,
|Scenic Iowa, across
from Prairie DuChien
|The old car rally
|Classic old cars
from the early days of motor touring.
|The Prairie DuChien
Rendezvous. This already has it's own section,
but I included it here anyway.
|Pike's Peak State Park
|Up on top of the bluffs.
looking down across the river and the rest of the world.
|A good sized city, built
on the beautiful bluffs overlooking the River
|Some of the Illinois countryside,
including a part of the River Road
|The Birthplace of U.S. Grant,
and a pretty little town in it's own right.