October 25, 2007—The Minnesota Library Convention took me to Mankato, MN, south of the Twin Cities by about an hour. Despite being late in the year I had hopes we could find a river and some good weather so at the last minute I tied the canoe on the car, added Paddling Minnesota Rivers to my suitcase and drove off. A look at the map revealed a surprisingly thick web of small rivers flowing into the grand Minnesota River, which meanders to the grandest of them all, the Mississippi. After reading all the descriptions (and looking for a river with the least amount of “rapids” hatchmarks), the charmingly named “Blue Earth” won the vote.
The Blue Earth flows northeast and is crossed by the Rapidan Dam, built in 1918. The official canoe put-in could not be found (we later heard that it was closed) so we began poking our cars along back roads that paralleled the river, all in the hopes of finding an available place to launch a canoe. (I was a bit relieved not to put in at the dam’s base as it was churning thunderously and the day was cold. If there was ever a day to NOT turn over, this was it.)
We followed a meandering road that eventually turned to a driveway, where, to our astonishment, we found a house with a ramp right down to the river. A man struggled at the base of the ramp and looked up as if he was expecting us. He needed help moving a floating dock that had lodged itself in the way of his boat launching and he was now late for a meeting. Ian helped lift and lever the impossibly heavy dock out of the way just enough to get his boat trailered in. He was grateful and we were delighted to find ourselves at a safe place for the second car, with riverside paved put-in, to boot.
The water was high and fast due to a recent dam release followed by late rain and the constant riffles and rocks kept us on alert. Lunch was spent atop a warm flat rock just beneath this waterfall where the most graceful curve of sand channeled the spring out to the river.
Burnt gold dotted the riverbanks of bare branched trees, the last remaining maple leaves holding tight. The day was exquisite in every way, all the more so as we knew it would not be long until even these last golden dots will be lost to white.
We crossed the confluence of the LeSeur River and the river slowed and broadened. We saw no one on the water except for the very man who had loaned us his boat ramp. The river flowed so quickly that twelve miles flew by in less than three hours, long lunch at the waterfall included. Gold draped the final section and suddenly the bridge and factories of little Mankato loomed over us. A young man fresh from third grade met us at the park with a zillion questions. We hid the canoe and set off in Ian’s car to collect my car, left back at the boat ramp.
We decided to drive over the dam and visit the famous Dam Store, a house more than 100 years old, that was moved to its present site when the reservoir was flooded. The interior is like something out of a 1950’s movie set and the pie is just as other-worldly. If you find yourself just south of Mankato, don’t miss it.