Mississippi River Headwaters & Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox

August 2, 2017 (by Angela)

Friday the 28th, after Jim wrapped up his work week with at 7:30 a.m. conference call, we pointed the vehicles east and drove into Minnesota. It wasn’t until a day or two before that we knew where we’d go. It was decided that we’d like to visit Itasca State Park, home of the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River. Though we looked, we knew it was futile to hope for a campsite in the park on short notice for a weekend. That was not happening, so Jim found us a nice campground in Park Rapids with tons of tall pines around us. After months of almost no shade, very warm temperatures, and intense winds, the cooler and calmer weather of Minnesota was a nice change.

Up and going early, the three of us made the 30 minute drive to the park, entering from the south. We stopped at the visitor center to get information and paid the $7 per vehicle day use fee; we were set. We’d planned to have breakfast at Douglas Lodge. It was a good choice, and believe it or not, it was some of the most reasonably priced food we had while in the Itasca SP/Park Rapids area. It was cool and shady, so we felt it safe to leave Chewie in the car with windows cracked and a bowl of water for a short time. After eating and purchasing a few post cards, the three of us drove to the visitor center near the headwaters trail. Kudos to Minnesota state parks; dogs are welcome if on leash as long as they do not enter buildings.


Park South Entrance

The three of us walked the short trail to the headwaters. Many folks were out doing the same, and I bet we saw at least two dozen dogs. Along the way we learned about the canine population in the park (wolves, coyotes, and foxes), but Chewie was anxious to get to the water, which barely covered the feet of those who waded into it. Chewie drank and drank from the clear, cold water as he waded around; he was a happy dog. We walked on the trail along side of the stream, which at this point flows north and then east. The “river” goes through several lakes as it grows in size before turning to flow south toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Jim and I actually “followed” the river north and east; we had to understand how it worked that the river flowed north first. We ended up in Bemidji, the first city through which the Mississippi flows. It was here that we got the answers to our questions and that we also found the home  of Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox, or so the legend goes. In Paul Bunyan Park, along Lake Bemidji, (thorough which runs the Mississippi) statues of Bunyan and his ox have stood since 1937.

Returning to the park, the three of us did a bit of hiking. I loved the relaxed atmosphere and the pine-scented smell inside the park. I was not ready to leave when we did. Unfortunately, we had a little hiking mishap. After sniffing around, Chewie realized that he was no longer leading the pack. He rushed down the narrow trail to take the lead again, and he bumped my leg as he rushed forward. My knee buckled and I fell. Afterward, I was not feeling too well for a couple of reasons, so though only mid-afternoon, we headed back to the camper.


The trail that left me on my butt.

It was a wonderful day, and if you’ve not gone to Itasca State Park or Bemidji, MN, go when you get a chance. I want to go again.


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