Greatest Rivers In North America - Old Man River
New Orleans at the Mouth of the Mighty Mississippi.
The Water of Life
Water is symbolic of life in many cultures and creation stories as the foundation from which much life begins. Blood is also seen as a respository of life and the rivers of America have run red with blood many times in history. The waters of a river can cut through rock, irrigate a field of crops, baptize a congregation, create electricity, and wipe an entire town asunder.
The longest rivers of this nation have witnessed the millennia of time, holding the stories of a continent for those that seek them out. Natural features such as America's great rivers are worthy of respect and have much to offer, so, we visit them.
The Mississippi River may be the most famous in North America, but the Missouri River is longer.
The Old Man Is Still Living
Old Man River, sung best by Paul Robeson, was written for the Mississippi River and the Broadway musical Showboat, recalling the life of the paddle wheeler, the riverboat gambler, and the newly freed African American. The river has seen the history of North America across the panorama of thousands of years and the song says that he keeps rolling along.
A passerby on the shore may look out at the river and think it moves slowly, but he would be incorrect. That same person, if set down in the middle of the current, would realize how fast and powerful the waters of the Mississippi are when he was swept away. Wide rivers only look slow -- The Mississippi is a liquid avalanche of power. How could the traveler not visit this river, if pursuing river adventures in the United States?
The Mississippi River is the waterway equivalent of Route 66, the Mother Road.
The Mississippi may contain an even greater retinue of history and stories along its route than does Route 66. In fact, the Mississippi is called The Great River Road. its name likely the combination of two Chippewa words meaning "great water": mici zippi, later written.as Michi Sepe by French explorers.
The Old Man has seen the Native American and the Spaniard cross back and forth past his waters. He has seen the Cherokee Nation driven out of its eastern homelands along the Trail of Tears and back westward to the reservation. He has witnessed the bloodshed of the Civil War, the freedom of the American Slaves, and the bloodshed and victory alike of the Civil Rights Movement.
The Mississippi has seen commerce swell its banks with cotton and corn and has known floods to devastate the lands beyond the shoreline. Mark Twain and the Riverboat have sailed from one end to the other, while poems, stories, and novels flowed as powerfully form the pen as the river did from its source.
Raul Robeson - Ol' Man River and Swanee River
Riverboating On the Mississippi
Television contributed an early series entitled Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin. As Captain Holden, McGavin’s character won the sternwheeler “Enterprise” in a poker game and made a successful business of it on the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio Rivers. The show was a sort of precursor to The Love Boat and Wild Wild West, even featuring Abraham Lincoln in the 1840s. Burt Reynolds also appeared in 21 episodes.
Life on the Mississippi is just one of Mark Twain’s contributions. If you ever have the chance to see Hal Holbrook perform as Twain in Mark Twain Tonight, live or on DVD, please do so. The pithy substance combined with the good humor of that performance literally saved my life. The one-man play has been staged for over 60 years now, and it’s just as good as his performance of 1968, available on tape and disk.
So many stories have been set in New Orleans, at the mouth of the Mississippi, that there is not room to name them all. Even Star Trek®, Deep Space Nine's protagonist Benjamin Sisko, was from New Orleans and his father a chef in that town in the future. In fact, regional cuisine was a part of several episodes. Former NASA scientist and author Peter King set one of his gourmet detective mysteries – his best one in my opinion - in that city and called it Roux the Day.
Layers of history and layers of fossils are found around the Mississippi. See The Mississippi Travel Experience for information about visiting any or all of this river.
States Of Mississippi
Great US States border the waters of the Old Man. They include Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
Each state contains cultures and histories that are unique to that state, along with music, art, and cuisine unique to each state and metro area. Each of these states offer new jobs and business incentives in order to make better use of the Mississippi River for trade and transportation and to enhance the quality of life along the river.
Alton Brown filmed Feasting on Asphalt along the Mississippi for the Food Network, featuring regionally known and local dining places from New Orleans to the point of origin of the river in Minnesota. If I traveled along the Mississippi, I would begin at the northern end and travel southward and when I reached New Orleans, I would likely stay.
This multicultural city is the birthplace of jazz, the dixieland funeral procession, some regional churches, and cajon & creole cuisines. The Acadians traveled from Nova Scotia all the way to the Delta and at least a dozen different cultures and ethnic groups followed. The reconstruction post Hurricane Katrina is evident and with the addition of green businesses, sustainability, and alternative energy sources, the city has hope. Hope in itself is reason enough to visit. And the river keeps rolling along.
The Mississippi is the second largest river in the US, over 2300 miles long, while the Missouri River is the first at over 2500 miles in length. However, the drainage basin of the Mississippi extends to over 31 US States and 2 Canadian Provinces, making its drainage area the largest of the US rivers.
Take Me To the River - Talking Heads
The Missouri River Is a National Park
At over 2500 miles in length, the Missouri National Recreational River is the longest in the United States and officially a national park.
Through Nebraska and South Dakota, the waterway is considered a designated Wild and Scenic River for 100 miles along the border between these two states. Explorers and fur traders moved westward along this river and Lewis and Clark, with the Shoshone woman Sacagawea, made history in its currents.
The Missouri flows between two other waterways - from Red Rock Creek in Montana through North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and into the Mississippi River to the north of St. Louis, Missouri. Parts of the river contain such an amount of mud that the Missouri is also called The Big Muddy.
In 1683, the Frenchmen Marquette and Jolliet explored the area and drew a map of the riverside Missouri Nation village at Great Bend, near what is now Saline County.
Lewis and Clark were sent to what became the Missouri Territory around the river to explore in 1803 by Thomas Jefferson. They created their own map by 1805, followed by numerous subsequent maps created by government agencies. Today, each US State along the path of the Missouri River offers its own travel and tourism information.
Missouri River 2,540 mi. long; Mississippi River 2,340 mi. long
Yukon River BasinClick thumbnail to view full-size
Gold Rush River Under the Midnight Sun
The Yukon River at about 1980 miles long is the third largest river in the US and flows through the area preserved in literature by populist poet and author, Scottish American Robert Service (1874 – 1958), in such creations as The Cremation of Sam McGee, The Spell of the Yukon, and The Shooting of Dan McGraw. Much of his work was set in the Klondike Gold Rush days around the year 1900 after he came to North America to become a cowboy. it was a hard life and his success lay in writing, however, and he died a multimillionaire in Paris.
One frozen night, he was stranded alone out in the Yukon Territory, lost when the moon disappeared behind clouds for an extended time. After some time, he wrote a poem to the moon, whereupon she appeared and guided him to his camp. I was fortunate enough to meet a woman that had committed his entire works to memory, including this poem -- In her 80s, she operated a writing guild with a yearly conference at which she recited the works of Robert Service and provided encouragement to authors.
Although The Face on the Barroom Floor is not a Service poem, it often has been attributed to him, so she memorized that as well. Interestingly, I first heard about Robert Service by reading a parody of this last poem in Mad Magazine some time ago. Looking up the title at the library led me to a mention of Robert Service and the discovery of his works and the history of the Yukon, including the Yukon River.
The Yukon River Basin and drainage area are fascinating and its Indigenous Peoples hardy, self sufficient, and interesting. They are related to other Circumpolar Peoples in both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, whose combined cultures and histories never fail to astound.
Flowing through Alaska, the Yukon River begins in Canada’s Yukon Territory and empties into the Bering Sea at Norton Sound to the west in Alaska. The Yukon River Quest, or Race to the Midnight Sun is the longest canoe and kayaking race globally. It is held each June between Whitehorse and Dawson, British Columbia, while other events and recreational activities - including a marathon - are held in and around the river in Alaska.
The Iditarod Trail route also lies in part along the Yukon River in Alaska. Many boating tours are also offered along the Yukon in Alaska.
The Yukon River is famous for massive natural Chinook salmon-breeding of high quality fish.
Yukon River End Points and Famous Towns
The famous Yukon poet Robert W. Service’s poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee” is set here.
Texas and Canadian Border Rivers
The Rio Grande and the St. Lawrence Rivers are both some 1900 miles long, taking 4th and 5th place.
The Rio Grande runs from Rio Grande, Colorado through New Mexico to the Gulf of Mexico via the Texas-Mexico border. The river has been the subject of many border crossing disputes and immigration problems between Mexico and the United States. This is an interesting history in itself.
The associated Rio Grande Trail was established in 2006 for New Mexico in its state park system. Anazasi Trails is a government agency in charge of developing the trail overall as a habitat as well as a tourist attraction and this includes sustainability.
As a recreation area in three US States, the trail offers opportunities for hunting and fishing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The total Rio Grande Trail project is ongoing, creating jobs in the states along the route of the river. Am 1800-mile long trail will eventually lead through New Mexico's Hatch Valley, called the Chili Capitol of the World.
The entire Rio Grande Basin is an accumulation of archeological and living histories, including wildlife, ecosystems, Native American populations, Hispanic settlements, legends, battlegrounds, Tex-Mex cuisine, and other features. the river is also a Wild and Scenic River recognized by the US Government for recreation and tourism, with information available at Rio Grande River.
St. Lawrence River Route
Great Northern Waterways
The St. Lawrence River is home to a group of islands known as The Thousand Islands, which provided the name for a popular salad dressing for some of the best salads in history. This waterway flows from the North River in Minnesota southeastward into Canada. The North River in northeastern Minnesota near Duluth is the source of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence seaway system.
The system flows by Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York; where the St. Lawrence River is primary and empties into the Atlantic Ocean at the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The waterways between Lake Ontario and the Atlantic Ocean in Canada are fascinating to see, resulting from a major navigation project and ongoing waterway development and reconstruction. The cultures of dozens of ethnic groups descended from settlers, new immigrants, and hundreds of separate Native American Nations and Canadian First Nations pack the St. Lawrence River System and the Great Lakes with events, celebrations, activities, recreations, and other features. Visiting this waterway system will take more than one trip.
The mouth of the St. Lawrence River was discovered by the French in 1535 on their way exploring westward from Newfoundland through what is now Eastern Canada. Eventually, Quebec and Montreal were founded on the river. The First Nations People in the region called the river The River That Walks, for its majestic flow. The French and Indian War and other conflicts were later fought around the St. Lawrence River, but the waterway emerged as a conduit for commerce, travel, and ongoing economic development.
The history and cultures of a multiplicity of peoples are available from Duluth to St. Lawrence in the USA and Canada. Particularly interesting are the sunken ships in the Great Lakes, such as those in the bay at Bay City, Michigan; where you can take a free boating tour and view them.
Information about travel, tourism and history is available online from each US State and Canadian Province along the combined St. Lawrence waterways. You may also be interested in the Great Lakes Circle Tour.
© 2009 Patty Inglish
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