St. Anthony Falls Lock & Dam/Mississippi Queen Riverboat Cruise

July 31, 2018

St. Anthony Falls today

In 1680 Father Louis Hennepin was the first European to see the falls and named them for St. Anthony. The village of St. Anthony, later part of Minneapolis, was founded on the east bank of the river because the falls provided energy for sawmills.

St. Anthony Falls Lock & Dam

The National Park Service has several small locations in Minneapolis/St. Paul that are part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. The second site we stopped at was the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam. This lock has been decommissioned and the Corps of Engineers is removing the gear. The lock itself will remain for now. The park service gives tours of the lock.

The falls today are 15 miles farther upriver than they were 12,000 year ago. The top of the riverbed is covered by a limestone cap followed by a layer of shale. Beneath that is a deep soft sandstone layer. The agitation of the water flowing over the falls erodes the soft sandstone. The shale goes through frequent freeze thaw cycles and develops cracks. The limestone cap eventually collapses causing the falls to move upstream.

If left in its natural state, the Upper Mississippi River would be too shallow for safe navigation. In the 1930s the Corps of Engineers was directed to maintain a navigation channel with a minimum depth of nine feet. They constructed a series of 29 dams that formed level pools of deep water. Locks were built to raise and lower boats from one pool to another. The dams run from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Cairo, Illinois. The total vertical lift of the 29 locks is almost 400 feet. For many miles, the Mississippi River has been turned into a series of controlled lakes.

The lock

Downstream shipping consists of farm products like corn and soybeans while upstream shipping consists of bulk goods such as coal and petroleum products.

A basic scientific fact is that water takes the path of least resistance, which means it flows downhill. On the upstream side valves let water into the lock while on the downstream side other valves let water out. There are no pumps. Gravity does all the work.

We could look down and see the next lock in the river, the Lower St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam. Since boats can no longer access the river above Upper St. Anthony Falls, the lock does not get much use. You can go up through the lock, turn around, and go back down through the lock. More on that later.

On our tour we got some great views of Minneapolis including this view of the old West Side Milling District. It appears to be undergoing something of a revival.

Historic West Side Milling District

The lock master’s “crow’s nest” now contains historical information. From there you have an excellent view up and down the river. The tour takes you onto the dam itself.

We could look down and see the next lock in the river, the Lower St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam. Since boats can no longer access the river above Upper St. Anthony Falls, the lock does not see much use. You can go up through the lock, turn around, and go back down through the lock. More on that in a bit.

Minnesota Queen and Taco Tuesday

Given the opportunity to take a riverboat cruise and eat tacos, Chloe was all in. So we booked the Taco Tuesday tour on the Mississippi Queen. Unfortunately we got to the dock way too early and had to wait several hours. There just didn’t seem to be enough time to find someplace to explore and be back in time to catch the boat. Besides we were pretty much toured out.

We finally got on board and had a chance to relax.

Did I mention it was Taco Tuesday? While this is not the dinner John would have chosen, Chloe was quite excited that there were serving one of her favorite meals. Once boarding was finished we headed up river to the Lower St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam.

It was fun locking through and watching as we rose up along those huge concrete walls.

Heading into the lock

Level with the river

Once through, the boat drove out, turned around, and locked back down again.

Sailing out of the lock

That’s pretty much all that lock does anymore is raise and lower cruise boats and pleasure craft that want the experience of going through a lock. (There is no fee for using the locks – if you show up in a kayak, they’ll lock you through.)

After we finished with the locks they announced dinner. Hundreds of passengers lined up to go through a single service line. It took forever to get our food. Most of the cruise was spent standing in line watching the little you could see out the windows across the boat. We’ll skip the dinner cruise if we ever do a tour boat again.

It was a pleasant cruise down the river and the captain pointed out local landmarks and we waved to the people fishing along the river.

Several really cool buildings

H & J

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