People living in the Redwood Falls area are living on the edge of one of the most important geological features in the entire State of Minnesota, the Minnesota River Valley.
Geologists have determined that the Minnesota River Valley was carved some 13,400 years ago when the waters of the massive glacial Lake Agassiz cut through its southern shore near Big Stone Lake, creating the glacial River Warren eroding what we now know as the Minnesota River Valley that is, at some points, five miles wide.
When a glacier builds and slowly moves forward, it acts like a giant bulldozer pushing earth and stones into a ridge, called a moraine, along its front. As the glacier melts and retreats, melted water collects between the retreating ice sheet and the moraine. This process created Lake Agassiz which covered northwest Minnesota, eastern North Dakota, much of Saskatchewan, and a large portion of Manitoba. It was the largest freshwater lake on earth, and it held more than twice as much water as the Great Lakes combined.
When the River Warren drained Lake Agassiz it carved the Minnesota River Valley, exposing massive granite and quartzite rock formations. These exposed Minnesota River Valley rocks are more than 3 billion years old and, until a recent discovery in Australia, were the oldest exposed rock on the surface of planet earth.
The massive rock outcropping, just west of Morton and the granite cliffs and boulders for which Granite Falls is named are specimens of this ancient rock. Because the River Warren cut into the landscape so deeply and so quickly, it left much of the surrounding area sitting on a prairie many feet above the Minnesota River.
Virtually every river and stream that drains into the Minnesota River drops over a waterfall or rapids. Many of the most picturesque waterfalls in Minnesota are along the river in our own backyard.
Scientists travel from all over the world to study the rock outcroppings along the Minnesota River. Yet, as is often the case with a remarkable feature, people who live nearby pay very little attention to the Minnesota River Valley.
I encourage everyone to spend some time this summer getting to know the Minnesota River Valley, especially that portion of the valley between Upper Sioux Agency State Park and Fort Ridgely State Park.
Paddling the Minnesota River in a canoe or kayak is the best way to get a close up view of the most impressive Minnesota River Valley sites. There are excellent canoe landings in Vicksburg Park, at North Redwood, in Morton and in Franklin. Paddling between Vicksburg Park and Redwood Falls takes a person along huge rock walls that rise straight out of the water and tower above the paddler.
Wildlife abounds in the Minnesota River Valley. Virtually every paddler sees bald eagles, deer, too many ducks and birds to count and otters sliding down the banks of sand bars into the water. Not everyone is able to or interested in paddling.
For a less strenuous tour of the valley, take a drive or bike ride along the Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway that is well marked with colorful signs. Take advantage of living right next door to one of Minnesota’s premier natural features.
– Ted Suss is a local environmental enthusiast, former Wabasso school superintendent and politician from Lucan