Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Carver Rapids on the Minnesota River

On Thanksgiving, we heard some reports that water levels on the Minnesota River were low enough to expose the Carver Rapids, near the city of Carver.  Both the cities of Carver and Chaska, probably are located where they are because of the rapids.  Early in the history of Minnesota, travel was done via steamboat and steamboats were unable to move upstream past the rapids.  I have been unable to find a source that describes how often the river level is low enough for the rapids to be exposed, but it cannot be too often. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources October 2011 Monthly Hydrological Report, late summer throught autumn 2011 precipitation totals rank among the lowest on record.  This Google Earth image, taken in March of 2005, shows the rapids and their effect on river ice.

Knowing that the forecast for Friday after Thanksgiving was unseasonable warm temperatures in the low 50s, it was time to view the rapids in person.  Just upstream of the rapids, the river guage located in Jordan indicated that the river was currently at 5.37 ft, (source,1,1,1,1,1,1,1).  So the prospects seems good.  In 1920, Warren Upham said of the rapids:

At Little Rapids of the Minnesota River, adjoining the southeast quarter of section 31, Carver, a ledge of the Jordan sandstone running across the river bed causes a fall of two feet; and again about a quarter of a mile up the river its bed is similarly crossed by this sandstone, having there a fall of slightly more than one foot. In the stage of low water, these very slight falls prevent the passage of boats; but at a fuller stage the river wholly covers the ledges, with no perceptible rapid descent, being then freely navigable.

Being as prepared as possible, we were off.  Before actually getting too far, we suddenly realized that we would not be the only people in the woods this day.  Apparently, the Louisville Swamp (which is part of the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge) is open to Archery-only deer season as well as small game.  Judging by the vehicles in the parking lot, others chose to enjoy this day outside as well, only we were not wearing blaze orange.  This directly affected our route to the rapids, we were now looking at a minimum of a three mile hike, one way, as shown below.

After about a mile and half hike, we crossed Sand Creek, which is a tributary into the Minnesota River.  The water level in the creek was very low.

What was interesting crossing the creek though, was the indicators of last springs (or even last fall's) high water marks.  The fourth highest Minnesota River mark at Jordan happened during the fall of 2010 and there was another flood event in the spring of 2011.

While crossing Sand Creek, we also noticed several beaver slides, where beavers slide down the slope into the creek bed.  Beavers at this location were apparently attempting to damn the creek as evidenced by the picture below.

After crossing the creek, our next stop was the Minnesota River and the rapids made of the Jordan Sandstone.  The lower rapids were seen first, the sandstone was not exposed at this location and the water was flowing over.

 After the brief stop at the lower rapids, we quickly moved upstream to the upper rapids where we hoped they would not be cover by water.  We needed to navigate a 10 foot descent down a slippery slope to be able to walk out on the rapids made of the Jordan Sandstone.  For a sense of scale, one of the below pictures has my 6' 5" brother standing on the rapids.

Besides seeing how the flowing Minnesota River has eroded and weathered the sandstone into some unique shapes, we also saw a very large number of Mussel shells in amongst the rapids.  Due to the large number of tracks, it was readily apparent the raccoons are also being drawn to the rapids with the low water levels.  They have been enjoying quite a feast at this location.

Knowing we had a little over an hour of daylight remaining and a long hike in front of us, it was time to leave.  Throughout the day, we saw evidence of numerous different animals.  Beaver and raccon have been mentioned earlier, but we also saw eagles, hawks, cardinals and other small birds, small rodents and finally lots of different tracks.  Tracks we found along the trail were of horses (it was a horse trail afterall), numerous deer, some dogs, and the track shown in the picture below.  If anyone knows what this could be, I'd be interested in hearing your opinions or knowledge, I have my ideas.  We saw numerous examples of this track and this isn't the largest example that we saw.