The Mississippi

The Mississippi, 3,779 km (2,348 mi) long, is the 4th longest river in the world. Rising at an elevation of 446 m (1,463 ft) in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, it flows through several glacial lakes to Minneapolis-Saint Paul, where it is joined by the Minnesota River, then flows south, following the boundaries between the states of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana on the west, and Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi on the east. It is then joined by Missouri River in St. Louis, the longest tributary, then by Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois, which marks the end of the Upper Mississippi and beginning of the Lower Mississippi. Between Cairo and New Orleans, the Mississippi meanders almost three times as long as the valley, and empties into the Mexico Gulf. The Mississippi River is a watershed for over 1.2 million square miles. Its triangular drainage area, covering about 40% of the country and including all or part of 31 states, is the third largest drainage basin in the world, exceeded in size only by the watersheds of the Amazon and Congo Rivers. 

Throughout its history, whether for Native Americans, explorers, or modern commerce, the Mississippi has always been a major navigation route through the center of North America. A series of dams were constructed on the river, including the most notable one at St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, to facilitate navigation for a steady stream of a traffic carrying agricultural products from the fertile Mississippi Basin to the Gulf Coast. It is the major transportation artery in USA, also heavily used for agriculture, industry and recreation. 

The Mississippi is rich with history of civilization, literature, art and music. It has inspired Herman Melville, Mark Twain, William Faulkner and many other writers and poets to write master pieces about the river. It also provides fertile materials for the American music such as blues, jazz, and country music. 

Heavily polluted by agricultural and industrial products, the river carries tons of pollutants into the Mexico Gulf, causing a dead zone as large as the state of Texas. With the sinking Mississippi Delta and rising sea, New Orleans is on the list of the 7 most vulnerable cities on earth.

The Headwaters:

The Mississippi Headwaters is a living record of the glacial systems that created the landscape of Minnesota, the state of ten thousand lakes, including the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior.  It has witnessed 10,000 years of human history, from prehistoric nomadic hunters and Native Americans to European immigrants who logged the region and settled it. It supported the lives of Ojibwa people, who harvested wildlife, trapped furbearers, netted fish, gathered maple syrup, and hunted large game for hundreds of years. The water and land support more than 350 species of animals, mammals and birds, including nearly all of the endangered, rare and threatened species listed in Minnesota, and a dozen vegetative communities on the lands, representing nearly every type found in the state. 

The Middle Section: 

The Ohio River meets the Mississippi in Cairo, Illinois, thus marks the end of the Upper Mississippi River and the beginning of the Lower Mississippi. The area is flanked by diverse terrain sheltering a wide variety of wildlife. Nearby prairies make perfect havens for rabbits and mice. Possum, skunks, red fox, deer, woodchucks and wild turkeys scurry amid the trees in the hardwood forests that cover the high bluffs and hillsides overlooking the river. The waters are filled with fish and overhead, ducks and geese traverse the skies while bald eagles thrive in the upper branches of cottonwoods. Thomas Jefferson praised the Ohio as the “most beautiful river on earth.

Hydrologically, the Ohio is the main stream of the Mississippi, as its water volume surpasses the Mississippi at the confluence. The Ohio and the Missouri River are the two largest tributaries of the Mississippi.

The river had great significance in the history of the Native Americans. In the five centuries prior to European contact, the Mississippian culture built chiefdoms and major earthwork mounds in the Ohio Valley as well as in the Mississippi Valley. For thousands of years, Native Americans, like the European explorers and settlers who followed them, used the river as a major transportation and trading route. Its waters connected the communities.
There are a total of 29 lock& dam projects managed by the US Corps of Engineers on the Upper Mississippi River with the most southern one located near St. Louis. There are also 6 major lock & dam projects on the Illinois River.

Delta and Mouths:

The Mississippi Delta is remarkably flat and contains some of the most fertile soil in the world. The delta complex contains major river channels and levees, numerous bayous, swamps and marshes, lakes, tidal flats and channels, barrier islands, and shallow sea environments. Hurricanes strike the region every few decades, and floods derive from upstream runoff. Economic activities include shipping, traditional fishing and farming enterprises, as well as oil production and petrochemical processing. The delta is a land of music and heartwarming food, history, adventure and creativity. The scent of BBQ and tamales funnels out of famous local dives, making the delta a food lover’s paradise.

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