Mississippi Headwaters

July 26, 2018

This is what we’d looked forward to for a long time. We were at the headwaters of the Mississippi. For the next week we’d be tracking the river through Minneapolis and into northeastern Iowa. But here is where it truly begins.

For us, no visit to anywhere is complete without stopping at the visitor center. And this one was beautiful.

Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center

On the path to the headwaters we passed this really neat bronze statue of Caretaker Woman. The young lady hugging it is my granddaughter Chloe. The Ojibwe believe that women are the Caretakers of the Water. The woman in the sculpture is releasing a clutch of small turtles from a basket. Her hair symbolizes flowing water. The turtles symbolize the cycle of life.

Chloe hugging Caretaker Woman

Once one of us was done hugging the statue we continued our walk to the headwaters. We knew we had arrived because there was a sign. It’s hard to believe that this tiny stream becomes the mighty Mississippi.

Mississippi headwaters

There was no point in coming this far and just looking. So we donned our shoes and tiptoed across. By the way, that pile of rocks crossing the Mississippi is the first of many dams that attempt to tame her. She still wins often enough though.

Grandma and Chloe staying mostly dry crossing the Mississippi

For those of us feeling really adventurous we waded across. “Look ma, no lifejacket!”

PaPa and Chloe wading across the Mississippi

Once we had our fill there, Chloe moved downstream to search signs of nature.

She’s very good at finding it too. Especially when nature was all around us.

Chloe’s successful search for nature

She was especially excited to find several schools of baby fish, black bullhead I think. She kept trying to herd them with her hands.

Baby black bullhead

One question I had was, “How do we know that this is the spot?” Well, this wasn’t always “the spot.”

In 1798 David Thompson claimed Turtle Lake, north of Bemidji, as “the spot.”

In 1806 Zebulon Pike (of Pike’s Peak fame) claimed Leech Lake as “the spot.”

In 1820 Lewis Cass claimed Cass Lake as “the spot.”

In 1823 Giacomo Beltrami claimed Lake Julia as “the spot.”

In 1832 Henry Rowe Schoolcraft heard from an Ojibwe of a source that flowed north before turning east and then south. He asked Ojibwe leader Ozawindib to take him to that source. When he reached the source he named the lake Itasca, from the Latin words verITAS CAput, which means truth and head.


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