Sunday, April 19, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 29.  Bemidji, MN to Duluth, MN
Rain began to fall during the night and continued to threaten with soggy clouds hanging low as we left the Doubletree this morning.  Bemidji is a cool little town (pop. 13,431) with a funky vibe.  Like Sheridan, Wyoming, many—if not most—street corners boast sculptures.  Because of Lake Bemidji, the town attracts lots of tourists, but it doesn’t seem to have the artificial and profit-seeking ambiance of a typical tourist town like Gatlinburg or Bar Harbor.  Public buildings incorporate interesting architecture, and even the cheesy highlights like the Paul Bunyan and Babe figures (c. 1937) at the visitor center feel more sentimental than commercial.

The river shrinks as we near its source.
Spring hasn’t really arrived in this part of Minnesota yet.  Along the roadsides, last year’s crop of grass forms a tawny carpet as a few brave blades of green peek through.  Hardwood trees are just beginning to thrust out some tentative sprouts, thus explaining the woodchuck’s willingness to climb yesterday for some of the season’s first tender morsels.

Center still closed for the winter season.
We continued following the Great River Road this morning (thank you, GPS map) in search of the Mississippi Headwaters.  About 9:30, we arrived at Itasca State Park, self-paid the $5 entry fee in the envelope provided, and entered at the north gate, a quarter mile from the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center.   Ms. Gibbs was a one-time superintendent of the park—and Minnesota’s first female state park leader—having “inherited” the job from her father.   She served only two months in 1903 before being replaced; yet someone with influence in the park system decided to name this building for her.  The center was still closed for the winter season, and only one deserted red truck sat in the parking lot when we arrived at 9:30.  

On our approach to the park this morning—and all through the state as we’ve followed the GRR—we’ve watched the river become narrower and shallower.  “Mississippi Headwaters | 800 feet” a sign at the visitor center promised.  Sure enough, after we crossed the river one more time—on a footbridge this time—we reached the shore of Lake Itasca and the spot where a little stream flows out of the lake to grow into a mighty river.  What a lesson in the possibilities of those with humble beginnings!
Where the Big Muddy begins
The park was meticulously maintained and well marked with a respectable collection of interpretive signs and historic markers suitable to its importance.  We searched unsuccessfully for the "Walking Across the Mississippi" letterbox, which has no recorded finds since 2011.  We suspected that the trailside bench referenced as a primary landmark in the clue has been moved to another location.   Before leaving, we added a new letterbox of our own—"The Heart of America"—with one of Wise Old Owl’s intricate heart-shaped stamps.

Rain followed us half-heartedly part way to the park and then left us alone as we explored.  Its friend, Cold, however, stayed with us.  The temp as we left the hotel was 39°, warming up to a damp 42° by the time we reached the park.  As we drove back east, skies were still overcast but the clouds were a bit higher.

When we returned to Bemidji, we wanted to have lunch at the wonderful Tutto Bene, where we ate last night, but their sign indicated they are closed on Sunday and Monday this time of year.  We settled for the salad bar at a local grocery store, filled up with gas, and departed on the Great River Road east, listening to the Bluesville station on XM Radio.

Foggy rain or rainy fog?
At Grand Rapids, we left the GRR about 2:30 p.m. and turned southeast onto US-2 for the drive to Duluth, our destination for tonight.   Light rain was falling, and the temperature had reached 44°, which ended up being the day’s high reading.  Through the mist and fog, we continued, arriving at the Hampton Inn in Duluth at 4:15.  We found it looking a bit tireder than when we stayed there in 2012.  But we are here for only one night.  Finished with our mission to see the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi, tomorrow we'll head through Wisconsin toward Chicago, where we’re looking to find some more blues music.
Daily Stats
  • Miles driven:  261
  • Weather:  rain, fog, cold, 36° to 44°
  • Crossings of the Mississippi River:  19 by car, 4 on foot
  • Grazing deer:  11
  • Visitors at Mississippi Headwaters trail:  2

Almost there!
Footbridge over the Mississippi River.  Hiking stick is touching bottom.
Where the Mississippi River leaves Lake Itasca
Shallow enough to wade across the river, if only it weren't so cold!