Sunday, August 02, 2015

Following the National River & Recreation Area Minnesota by train

Standing along the platform of the depot in St. Paul, an Amtrak official directed us to a car with seats reserved for us. As we had attempted to travel light, my husband had his backpack and I had a small suitcase that we put in the luggage compartment on one end the first floor of the car. The opposite end of the car contained four or five small bathrooms. Then we climbed stairs that round a corner and open up on the second floor of the car.

The train creaked and gently rolled back and forth as we sat in our coach seats. I say tried to travel lightly because I brought a small tote bag with food, books, maps and notebooks and a tote bag containing  my 17 inch Macbook Pro which isn't really heavy, but can be if traveling.  I brought the two totes along with me to our coach seats.

Soon, I decided I needed a cup of coffee. The club car has a snack bar on the first level and an observation deck on the top. Tables to play cards and/or visit, large windows all along the walls and up the the ceilings along with lounge like chairs and coffee tables with rails to hold cups are the main feature of the this car.  

An attendant sells snacks and drinks from the first floor. I stood in line to order my coffee and went back to coach to invite my husband to join me in the observation car so we could drink coffee and enjoy the scenery. 

The train whistle sounds soft and low as we see bluffs out our big windows. As our track follows the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a National Park Service volunteer sits at a table in the front of the car holding a microphone. He narrates our trip by pointing out interesting pieces of geology and history.  
In Minnesota our trained followed the Great River Road.
The Great River Road is any road that follows the Mississippi River.
(Image from

The volunteer, Arlan, walks up and down the aisle holding a shell with a perfectly round hole in it. 
He says that the shell is a mussel shell from the river and could anyone guess why it has a perfectly round hole in it? Some people guessed an animal or worm or something made it. I guessed that a Native American had made the hole. Thirty million mussel shells from the the Mississippi, he says, were used in the manufacturing of buttons between the 1850's and 1930's. 

National Park Service volunteer Arlan gave a nice narration of the scenery.
(Photo by Naomi Yaeger)

Now about 60 miles south of St. Paul, we follow Lake Pepin which is a lake on the Mississippi about 35 miles long . We see boaters, pontoons and houseboats. "This has been a transportation corridor for thousands of years," Arlan says. I'm thinking about the Native Americans who used canoes on the rivers and Arlan adds that many birds follow the river during migration. I see an eagle outside swooping outside of the window landing in the swamp. From the 1850s to the 1930s steamboats cruised the area, but in the 1930s the railroads put the steamboats out of business. 
We see barges. Arlan tells us they are full of grain or sand.  The sand is used in the oil industry to frack. 

No comments: