Leaving Chester Woods County Park on Thursday, we continued traveling north through Minnesota’s dairyland. We only had to drive a short distance to Whitewater State Park near Altura, Minnesota. This is a lovely state park with lots of green areas and nice spacing between sites.
After getting settled into our spot, we decided to take a short hike in the park to Chimney Rock. We crossed a pretty bridge with a little babbling creek beneath it. The hike was rated as moderate and it definitely was not easy with many steps, some steps high and requiring stepping up high, not easy for someone with short legs like me. Along the way I really wished I had brought along my walking sticks, but Bill is always willing to give me a helping hand.
On Friday we drove to nearby Wabasha to visit the National Eagle Center. Wabasha is a lovely historic town, one of the oldest towns on the upper Mississippi River and the oldest continuous City in Minnesota. Across the river you can see Wisconsin. Wabasha is named after Sioux Nation Indian Chief Wapasha III. It has over fifty buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Wabasha was called the “City of the Healing Waters” by Mark Twain.
The writer of the movies “Grumpy Old Men” and “Grumpier Old Men” starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, had a grandfather who lived in Wabasha. He thought the little historic river town was the perfect setting for the movie. The town celebrates the “Grumpy Old Men Festival” the last Saturday of February each year.
The National Eagle Center is dedicated to educating the public about eagles and caring for injured eagles brought to the center. The center is an impressive two story building with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Mississippi River. We saw three bald eagles and a golden eagle. We attended an excellent, informative show presented by a center volunteer. The center also had many educational exhibits about these majestic raptors. We really enjoyed our time there.
After lunch at an Irish pub in Wabash, we decided to cross the bridge into Wisconsin and drive along the Mississippi River on what is called the “Great River Road”. Along the way we saw limestone bluffs common in this part of Wisconsin and Minnesota. This southeastern part of Minnesota is the only a part of the state that did not once have glacial activity. A shallow sea covered much of North America, including southeastern Minnesota five hundred million years ago. Sediment accumulated which turned into rock hundreds of feet thick. The sea withdrew over four hundred million years ago and erosion has been cutting through the bedrock, creating these bluff lands.
Along the way we stopped in the tiny town of Alma, Wisconsin to see Lock and Dam #4, one of a series of many locks and dams along the Mississippi River. It was not unusual to see population signs of 400 or less as we passed through these small towns.
We crossed from Wisconsin back into Minnesota across a new 2,300 foot concrete bridge and ended our tour in the town of Winona. It was founded in 1851 by a steamboat captain. Winona profited early on from the lumber industry and by 1900 it claimed to have more millionaires per capita than any other place in the United States. Today it still has a large number of architecturally significant historic buildings and grand homes. It is the largest Minnesota river town south of the Twin Cities. While there we drove to the Garvin Heights Overlook where we stood on a 575 foot tall bluff with a fantastic view of Winona and the Mississippi River valley. Another great day!
Saturday temperatures were forecasted to climb into the 90’s so we stayed close to home and visited the Whitewater State Park Visitors Center. The only negative about the park is it sits deep down in a valley and therefore we had no cell phone service and therefore no internet. The Visitors Center had WiFi so we checked our email while we were there.
Sunday we head further north to Wild River State Park near Center City, Minnesota.