Minnehaha Falls – It Doesn’t Mean ‘Laughing Water’

Some claim that Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan is the second “biggest “waterfall east of the Mississippi River. Of course, that depends on how you personally rank your waterfalls – do you prefer width, height, volume… hell, even spray?

Tahquamenon certainly wins if you define your waterfalls by distance from a major center of civilization. It was a long haul to the falls through the rugged, lonely backcountry of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That it was worth the drive speaks to the undisturbed amber-hued magnificence of the mighty Tahquamenon.

I capped that particular trip off by watching a freighter pass through the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie. Or, rather, crawl through. In your head, you imagine this grand passage of industrial might and unflappable steel filling you with awe and appropriate reverence, but the reality is incredibly slow and a bit boring. Although I must say that the Canadian accent of the lady over the PA was nothing short of incredible (“ya”, “aboot”, “eh?” – she said everything you’d hope to hear from an honest to God canuck).

Not that I regret any of it. But imagine my chagrin when I discovered that not only do Minnesota’s Twin Cities have locks, but a waterfall just a few minutes due west of the Mississippi that’s taller than the mighty Taquamenon. Yes, that’s right – these Minnesotans are spoiled beyond belief. At 53 feet, Minnehana Falls is a full 5 feet taller, or one Jean-Paul Sartre greater in height.

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Minneapolis in the fall.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’d rank that as impressive. The Twin Cities are unfairly blessed for a Midwestern city.

As if it’s any consolation, Minnehana Falls has lost a fair share of girth over the decades, a problem any aging male can identify with. However, unlike your typical elderly male, the reduced girth has actually increased its flow. Minnehana positively roars, gushes like, well… I’ll spare you any further innuendo. You get the point.

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If it makes you feel any better, the Minnehana Falls do run dry on occasion. In fact, when Lyndon B. Johnson visited in 1964, Minneapolis had to revive the impotent Minnehana with hydrants, a sort of Viagra for rivers.

OK, OK – I’ll stop. I promise.

Back on track, here: Minnehana Falls is quite a sight to behold in autumn. Draped in gold, auburn, and green, it flows like a gown over bands of limestone, shale, and sandstone. A rustic stone stairway constructed by the Works Progress Administration takes you down to the bottom, and if you squint, you can escape the urban jungle surrounding you and transport yourself back to the great American wilderness.

It’s as if you were traveling with Lewis and Clark – except you can head back upstairs and get a vegetarian walnut burger or raw oysters at Sea Salt, right on the park grounds. Even a craft beer. Isn’t that convenient?

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Minnehaha Creek.

Stay below and follow the trail along the Minnehana Creek and you’ll finish at the confluence of the creek and the Mississippi River. From there you can catch a glimpse of the Ford Dam, originally constructed by Ford Motor Company, an impressive structure that powered an immense assembly plant.

To think, Henry Ford even harnessed the Mississippi River. Heady times, man.

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I regret to inform readers that I was unable to score a “jucy lucy” in Minneapolis – a fatty burger stuffed with cheese indigenous to the Twin Cities. It wasn’t for want of effort. I dropped hints to Molly and her brother (our host) all the weekend, whispering jucy lucy faintly in their ears while they slept and planting other bizarre subliminal messages whenever possible. Yet Molly’s vegetarianism won the day again, and so I ate curry mock duck at Mai Village and poutine with mushroom gravy and veggie chorizo at Muddy Waters instead.

You want to pity me, but don’t. The poutine was delicious, albeit probably the most unhealthy meal in human history, with globs of cheese, a fried egg (!), and fries that oozed a thick, artery-hating grease. You hear all the time about how active the Twin Cities are, how citizens love the outdoors – and, no joke, I once saw someone sunbathing by Lake Calhoun in 50 degree weather – but surely they need to stay active with food like this.

Bottom line, I left the Twin Cities as impressed as always. It’s everything old Midwest cities should be, a healthy mix of old and new, grit and spit-shined, urban and suburban. I’d rank Minneapolis-St. Paul second to Chicago in the Midwest, and that’s no small shakes.

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This picture is clearly not the best way to show off Minneapolis. It’s a shame that you can a picture like this of virtually any American downtown, even a nice one like Minneapolis. Cars really did rip the country to shreds.

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8 thoughts on “Minnehaha Falls – It Doesn’t Mean ‘Laughing Water’

  1. Minneapolis is the closest big city to me. You can find lots of great live music up there. Minnehaha Falls aren’t too far from me, either. You’re finding all the good stuff. 🙂 Cheers!

  2. I’d love to check out the twin cities, but it’s just too goddamn far, even for this adventurous mid-westerner. I thought I remember you writing that Cincinnati was the second best Mid-Western city. Or was that the second most urban? I can’t remember. Anyway, how do the Twin Cities compare to Cincinnati?

    I got a good laugh out of that river bit, BTW.

  3. I believe I did say that Cincinnati was the second best urban city in the Midwest. But after visiting Minneapolis a couple times in the last few months, I’m inclined to give the mantle to Minneapolis.

    Cincinnati, at heart, is more urban. I may be wrong, but I never noticed anything like Cincy’s Over-the-Rhine in Minneapolis, which resembles old New Orleans neighborhoods. But Minneapolis gets points for pure functionality. It has light rail lines, miles of vibrant urban business districts, and even major retail downtown. Cincinnati, in contrast, is a more troubled city.

    That’s not to say Cincinnati is bad. It’s just not as nice as Minneapolis.

    Really, the Twin Cities are sorta what Detroit would be like had it held itself more or less together.

  4. From Wiki: “Over-the-Rhine, sometimes shortened to OTR, is a neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is believed to be the largest, most intact urban historic district in the United States.”

    What? I’ve never heard of this place. A have a buddy who lives in Dayton. I must visit.

  5. That’s kind of an odd description. I guess it depends on how you define “historic”. Nonetheless, it is impressive. It’s depressing to note that Cincinnati demolished a different really old urban neighborhood in the name of urban renewal. The neighborhood in this pic: http://s81.photobucket.com/user/jmecklenborg/media/over-the-rhine/015-WestEnd.jpg.html ?

    Basically gone. Still, it’s a testament to the city that it still has other treasures remaining.

  6. Thank you. I appreciate it. I’m doing great. In fact, I’m in Dallas for the time being. I escaped just in time!

    I’m actually planning on resuming the blog in a month or so. I’ve been working on a book project for my own satisfaction and haven’t had time to update. The book is taking longer than expected, but the end is in sight.

    I’m looking forward to really diving into Dallas with some new articles. It’s an interesting little city.

  7. Hi George,

    It is great to hear from you. I bet your book will be a fantastic read. Please keep us updated along the way, or certainly when you have completed it. Sounds like you are off and running already this new year.

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