Rivers are arteries of history.
The Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway a good way of experiencing that history.
My sister, Annie, and I mapped out a eight-mile bike tour through 200 years of Minnesota history near the Mississippi River between Minnehaha Falls and Mendota visiting six historic sites.
We started at Minnehaha Regional Park in Minneapolis. The Longfellow House near the roundabout was built circa 1906. It’s a 2/3-scale copy of the famous poet’s home.
A two-lane bike path brought us to the quaint 1875 Victorian “Princess” depot that once thronged with park-goers. A peek through the windows showed a classic ticket booth, stove, and carved wooden waiting benches.
Across the street, we surveyed the John H. Stevens house, called “The Birthplace of Minneapolis and Hennepin County.” Preservationists moved the house here from its original 1850 location at St. Anthony Falls.
Picking up the trail by the depot, we headed southeast toward Historic Fort Snelling and the Fort Snelling State Park which is below the Historic Fort. The trail inside the state park led us beneath arches of greenery and past limestone cliffs.
Fort Snelling State Park includes the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers where Lieutenant Zebulon Pike signed a treaty with the Dakota in 1805 acquiring 100,000 acres of land for $2,000 and $200 in gifts. There is also a memorial near the visitor’s center commemorating the internment of 1,600 Dakota people in the winter of 1862-63 after the US-Dakota War.
The path curves right near the visitor’s center and up to the south battery tower, one of the original buildings from the 1825 military post. I walked.
I didn’t recognize the tap-tap-tap of gunshots from inside the fort until Annie mentioned it. The walls must have buffered the sound of the soldier re-enactors’ guns.
Farther on, a sign for the Mississippi River Trail Bikeway pointed us across the sun baked, mile-long Mendota Bridge with its wide panorama of the river valley. Cars flashed by on the right while to my left, a falcon perched on the railing with its prey.
Across the Minnesota River, we turned left and rolled into the small town of Mendota. Three limestone structures lined a quiet L-shaped street off the highway. The smallest building was cold storage. The second was home to the first state governor, Henry H. Sibley, a fur trader when he built his house in 1836. Third and largest was the c. 1839 house and later hotel of fur trader Jean Baptiste Faribault. Signs outside both houses offered smart phone tours.
A picnic followed at Minnehaha and we rested from the ride thinking through how important this area was to the founding of Minnesota.
Find a map of the Grand Roungs:http://mntrails.com/poi/grand-rounds