Thursday, October 1, 2020
This morning, we spent a couple of hours wandering around the headwaters of the Mississippi River before continuing eastward. Today, we reached the northernmost point of our trip with a brief excursion to Bob Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota in the Iron Range. After crossing over St. Louis Bay at Duluth, we stopped for the evening at Port Wing, Wisconsin on the shore of Lake Superior.
In my wanderings, I am fond of seeking out significant geographical and historical locations. One of the places I’ve always wanted to visit is the source of the Mississippi River. Interestingly, the true source of the Father of Waters was a mystery to white geographers until a native leader named Ozaawindib led explorers to Itasca Lake in 1832. A plaque at the site where the river flows out of the lake commemorates the occasion. I find its reference to “voracious, long-billed, and dyspeptic musketoes” quite humorous. Thankfully when we visited in Autumn, these beasties were not in evidence around the lake shore. Schoolcraft’s poetic description of the lake’s bloodsucking denizens and the names of nearby lakes – Leech Lake and Midge Lake – provide a warning to those who would dare to visit in high summer, though.
Itasca Lake is also fed by two small, swampy tributaries at its southern end, so the lake isn’t the true source of the river, which is more correctly the small spring from which one of these trickles emerges. But the outflow from the lake at its northern shore is a much more commodious spot to visit, so we’ll call that the “source.”
We had a fun time wandering around the area, before continuing our journey eastward.
After leaving Itasca Lake State Park, we continued northeastward through the Iron Range. The iron ore from the mines in this area moved by rail to the ports along the shore of Lake Superior and down to the great steel mills along the shores of the lower Great Lakes where it was joined by coal coming up from the mines in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to drive what was at one time the greatest manufacturing engine in the world – the engine that produced the weapons used to defeat the Axis powers, the rails for the vast US rail network, and the millions upon millions of automobiles for which America was once famous.
Our purpose in swinging so far north from Itasca Lake before heading on into Wisconsin was to make a pilgrimage to Bob Dylan’s home town – Hibbing, MN. Surprisingly, there are no plaques or monuments to Hibbing’s most famous son. The street alongside Hibbing High School from which he graduated is named for him, but apart from that, we found no mention of him in the town. I suppose Hibbing was just as happy to be rid of him as he was to leave it behind when he set out for New York City to seek his fortune.
When we passed through Hibbing, we reached the northernmost point along our circular tour, and set our course southeastward toward Wisconsin, we spent so much time wandering around the Mississippi headwaters, and making our detour to Hibbing, it was late afternoon by the time we crossed over St. Louis Bay at Duluth, MN and headed into Wisconsin. A single Great Lakes ore freighter lay at anchor on the Superior, WI side of the bay as we crossed.