Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Headwaters of the Mississippi

We are currently parked in Walker, Minnesota. It is in the northwestern corner of the state about 30 miles south of Itasca State Park. Before driving to the park yesterday we stopped in Akeley, "birthplace and home of world's largest Paul Bunyan statue" (quotation is from one of the town's advertising fliers).
Akeley had one of the largest sawmills of the early 1900s.  The population of the town then was between 3,00 and 4,000, hard to imagine because the population now is less than 500.  The Red River Lumber Company closed in 1916 and moved to California. Many of its workers moved west with the mill. It was in the lumber camps where the first stories of Paul Bunyan began. Telling tall tales in the evening led to the creation of the strongest and best lumber man of them all, Paul Bunyan.  According to the Minnesota State Historical Society, the first Paul Bunyan story to appear in print was published in Akeley.
Had it not been for the establishment of Itasca State Park in the early 1900s we would not have seen the towering red and white pines which we saw yesterday.  The park protected any further old growth trees from being cut down. In the picture above is a large white pine, its age is about 300 years. The park is also the headwaters of the Mississippi river. Here it is merely 12 feet wide and we could walk across it.
A log structure was originally used to mark the headwaters, that was later replaced with concrete and steel with rocks set on top. We learned at the visitor's center in the park that a drop of the river's water takes 90 days to flow the 2,552 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.  We did not see much wild life on the various trails we took in the park, but our last trail at sunset made up for that!  More on that adventure in the next posting.

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