Locks, Dams, Barges, Bridges, and Bluffs...CannonTour - Wisconsin's West Coast

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Cannonshot, Oct 5, 2006.

  1. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    On to Prairie du Chien.
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    PDC was once an indian village at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. It became an important fur trading center. It is the oldest community on the upper miss. This island once had a fort that controlled this important location. This site protects the trade route from the Great Lakes at Green Bay across Wisconsin via two rivers to the Mississippi. People didn't travel overland in those early days - they took the rivers. During the war of 1812, the British fought a battle on this island and took the fort. Rail service came in 1857. By the way, if you are a treasure hunter, the guys that stole money that was headed for the fort buried it on the bluffs across the river - probably in Wyalusing State Park.
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    In severe floods, this island takes about five feet of water over the top.
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    Here is a shot of the Wisconsin River. It joins the Mississippi at the bluffs in the background.
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    #21
  2. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Left to itself, the Upper Mississippi was vibrant and healthy. It continually changed by building and tearing down sandbars and islands and changing it's course. Prior to changes made to support navigation, you could walk across the river in many places.
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    But in the 1800s when steamboats moved goods and people, the river presented some navigation problems. Sometimes to get over sandbars, boats would have to unload, cross the bar, and then reload.
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    To improve navigation, the US Army Corps of Engineers undertook a project of building many, many wing dams along the river. Wing dams are rock walls that direct the current of the river into a narrow channel where the current scours the channel deep enough for navigation. Wing dams were one of the first steps to try to ensure a four foot deep channel.
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    This is what a wing dam might look like above the water.
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    Now, most wing dams are covered with water. If you are a boater, you better be good at reading the river or you may leave your lower unit on a wing dam. Some may have four feet of water over them and some may have rocks just below the surface.
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    Rock for the dams was taken from nearby bluffs (no shortage for sure). Here is a fresh blast of rock.
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    Incredible as it seems, the bottom lands are not rocky. In fact, there is probably 250 feet of silt in the bottom of the river. It is often said that if there is a rock in the Mississippi the Corps of Engineers put it there. This is largely true and they have put A LOT of rock in for wing/closing dams and to keep islands from eroding away (and filling the navigation channel).
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    #22
  3. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to help sail a houseboat from Kentucky to Wisconsin (down the Cumberland/Tennessee/Ohio and up the Mississippi). I went with a buddy who bought the boat down there and needed another "pilot" to help him sail it home. (And sail we did - 24 hrs a day with all the commercial traffic as well). Although the river is scenic all along its route, it becomes strikingly beautiful as you get into Wisconsin/Iowa/No Ill. The bluffs and forests and narrower channel really make this the best part of the river. In the fall, one of the big commercial excursion boats makes a "fall color" run up this way.
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    #23
  4. freeflow

    freeflow get in or go in

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    :clap ...excellent stuff Bryan...thank you for taking the time to share with us

    FWIW...I was in Richalnd Center yesterday..not riding:cry ...but never been thru that area...great and fun roads for sure....need to get back:deal

    and the cranberry harvest is on near Babcock...interesting to watch..

    anyway....hat's off...you had a great rideing year...and local to Wisconsin..:clap
    #24
  5. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    As the upper midwest became more developed, it became apparent it was getting isolated from world markets. Railroads had monopolies that really put the hurt on people that wanted to move agricultural products. Even if you found a way around the railroads, most of the grain elevators at the ports were owned by the railroads so they still had you. A determined group worked for years to get the government to do something to improve navigation on the river. Frankly, the government wasn't interested for quite a long time. Eventually (in the 1930s) they put in a locks and dams and set about to ensure a 9 foot channel for shipping. When I say 9 foot channel I mean as a minimum. The river is often much deeper than that. In fact, behind some closing dams the scour hole may be 60-80 feet deep. The dams hold up the water level and the dredges eliminate the sandbars that form every year.
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    There are 27 locks and dams on the upper miss. They are open to everyone - including jet skis and canoes.
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    Lately, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been working with the Corps to lower water levels in pools a foot or two on a rotating basis to promote habitat. Lowering the water allows some areas to dry out and compress and allows sunlight to penetrate deeper to promote vegetation growth. This is a highly successful program but costs money for additional dredging for both recreational and commercial access or by limiting the loads (depth) that barges can carry.
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    #25
  6. WaterWheel

    WaterWheel Multi Talentless

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    Very cool. Thanks for sharing, learning more as I scroll!
    #26
  7. tengai

    tengai *

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    :lurk

    I really enjoy your Ride Reports - very informative.
    #27
  8. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    All the dams and pools do little for flood control - they are all about navigation. In fact, by design and the characteristics of the river they could offer little help with flooding. I have witnessed the water being up about 14 feet. I have seen the dams wide open with water coming across the top of the lock structure in Alma. Not only is the depth an issue, but the increased current is a big problem. Water charges right throught he forests and spills into the towns. Anything in the flood plain has to accommodate for this or get flooded out.
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    As peaceful and beautiful as this river looks, it can easily kill you if you are not cautious.
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    On that subject, just a few days ago another college student fell in the river and drowned in LaCrosse (a college town). This is something like the 7th-8th event like this in recent years so the police acted quickly when the student went missing. They brought in blood hounds that tracked him from the last bar he was seen in through streets and alleys to the river. Once at the river they used cadaver dogs to search above the water. This helped them zero in on a search area and then they quickly recovered the body by traditional means. BAC of .32%. A very tragic event and my sympathy goes out to all affected. The river is tame right now at a near normal flow.
    #28
  9. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Logging in the north was huge. Fred Weyerhauser owned one heck of a big chunk of Wisconsin at one time. Logs and lumber came down the river and built towns like St Louis. Log or lumber rafts were built and run downsteam.
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    #29
  10. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Lets put on some miles riding between the shore and the bluffs. The roads are twisty, have elevation changes, and offer constantly changing scenery that sometimes just awes. Pictures never seem to capture the experience.
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    #30
  11. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Thanks for the compliments guys. I really enjoy riding but I also enjoy exploring and learning. If I go somewhere, it is important to me to stop and take the time to appreciate more than just what I see. Too often we roll right past some of those historical markers for the sake of not "interrupting" the ride.

    I spend a lot of time on the river so I have read a lot of books about river history. If someone was going to do this ride and I could recommend one book for them to read prior to, I would recommend this one. It is an easy read and will incredibly enrich the experience. I haven't looked at it for a while, but it is worth a re-read soon.
    http://www.wisc.edu/wisconsinpress/books/3552.htm
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    #31
  12. selkins

    selkins Gotta light?

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    Thanks, Cannonshot! It's true - the blufflands along the MS River from Red Wing down through southern Wisconsin make for some fabulous riding. I'm learning a lot!
    #32
  13. scarysharkface

    scarysharkface Broke it/Bought it Supporter

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    Great stuff, great history and great pics. Best yet, it's close enough to home I might get to eventually ride at least some of it on a long weekend. Of course, I wouldn't have thought that it would be worth riding until reading your awesome report!

    John
    #33
  14. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Conflicts with settlers and indians came to a head in Wisconsin and ended up with Chief Blackhawk and his tribe being chased across Illinois and Wisconsin. After a skirmish or two along the chase route, when Blackhawk got to the Mississippi River they ran into a gunboat and troops and the fight was on. The gunboat had to retreat down river for fuel, but the battle continued in a couple of locations. Remember, most of these troops are early militia (including Abraham Lincoln). Battles are always ugly as are the events that precipitate them. In this case, one of the causes of the war was that some indians harrassed some settlers in the southern part of the state. When the settlers finally had to come out to harvest their potato crop (or lose it), the indians killed four of them. In an early act of terrorism they cut off their heads and mutilated the bodies. I mention this because it is part of the picture when judging what happened on the river. By the way, I just picked up Blackhawk's autobiography. I want to know what his perspective on all of this was (settlers, war, etc).
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    The battle was near here. Looks peaceful now.
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    #34
  15. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Other things seen along the way . . .

    A national fish hatchery that produces mussels, sturgeon, trout, and sport fish. You can do a self guided tour there. They really produce a lot of fish and have the proper cold water sources they need for some species (artesian wells).
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    As a side note, the Mississippi is an incredible fishery. Most seasons are open year round. There are size and # limits but there are an incredible number of fish due to the excellent habitat. Many people do well fishing below the dams for certain species or fishing the wing and closing dams - not to mention the fertile backwaters. This river is nothing but structure . . .

    Below many of the dams they have fishing floats. For a small fee, they shuttle you out to the float to fish. All you need is tackle and bait.
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    There are many power plants along the river. A couple of them are nuclear but most are coal fired. Coal can easily and cheaply be transported by barge or during winter by rail.
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    Fall colors.
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    A view of part of LaCrosse from a bluff about 600' above the city. Too bad is still wasn't light. The view is spectacular.
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    Oktoberfest was going on all week (as seen in the Movie Grumpy Old Men II).
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    Yes, fur trading is still alive. It isn't some old fort, but here is where I trade.
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    Just upriver is Trempeleau. This is an old river town with a lot of neat stuff (including a lock and dam). This 1800s hotel survived a fire many years ago that took out much of the town. It was moved to its present site by dragging it with horses. It is a nice place visit. In the summer they book some national acts (national yes . . . but perhaps old acts) in an outdoor venue next door.
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    A local bar. Although they can't spell very well, I think I will make it a point to stop in tomorrow . . .
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    #35
  16. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    As I mentioned, roads and towns are often squeezed in between the shore and the bluff. Rocks often break off the bluffs and tumble down the hills where they sometimes end up on the roads. Even small rocks that tumble down 500+ feet pack a wallop. Many of the concrete retaining walls next to the roads have a lot of repairs from all the pieces that were knocked out of them.
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    Sometimes big sections break off like this piece near Fountain City that gave way a year or two ago. Notice how it skinned the trees off the bluff on its way down.
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    About a mile further south, this 55 ton rock can tumbling down into a house in the 1990s.
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    In 1901 a rock came down the same bluff and killed a woman in the house next door. Sometimes you see chain link and cables erected above some houses to stop the small ones . . . but I don't think that would stop a rolling 55 ton slab.

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    More later . . .
    #36
  17. tipstall

    tipstall Been here awhile

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    Cannonshot,

    Nice work.
    #37
  18. GB

    GB . Administrator Super Moderator Super Supporter

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    Nice!! :thumb That house with the big rock is something else!! I hope no one was flattened by it.. :eek1

    :lurk
    #38
  19. FZ1 Matt

    FZ1 Matt Better last than crashed

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    Great job! I've ridden up and down the MS river in that area many times. I guess I was too busy going around corners fast to really take it all in.
    #39
  20. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Here is a shot from up on top (and away from the river) looking down one of the coulees. Up on top of the bluffs there are spined ridges that fall away into coulees. The crops are planted in contours.
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    The grades going back down to the river are usually twisty and steep. The roads are sometimes notched into the steep side of a waterway.
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    Good advice . . . if you come down one of these steep grades and then stop to check your tire pressure . . . stay away from the disk brake - it is very hot (ouch).
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    A small tow passing Fountain City.
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    Prairie Moon near Cochrane. Curiousities.
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    Elk used to be around. In this area so did large herds of buffalo. The area was largely not wooded. There are more trees around now than there were even 100 years ago. Fire kept taking out a lot of trees. On the islands (protected by the river) you can find some old ones in this area. If you would have taking this trip 12,000 years ago, you would be seeing mastadons, wooly mammoths, giant six foot beavers, and other things of the like.
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    #40