Sunday, April 12, 2009

Waterfalls of the Blue Earth River

The Blue Earth River, in south central Minnesota, might seem like a typical Midwestern river at first glance, but it is remarkable in several respects. For one, it is a rare south to north flowing river. It starts is Iowa and flows to meet the Minnesota River at it's famous bend, where the city of Mankato now lies. It is the central vein in a wide, leaf-like watershed south of the Minnesota River. This watershed is notable because it is wider than it is long. Most of it's way the Blue Earth meanders gently from bluff to bluff carving out muddy banks. But near Rapidan, Minnesota is a dam that marks the beginning of a deep, wild valley that goes on for nine miles until the valley widens at the confluence of the Blue Earth and Le Sueur Rivers. This narrow stretch of the Blue Earth is short but sweet, containing many class I rapids and very scenic surroundings. Because of the lively current, this section is popular with canoeists. What most people don't know or pay attention to is that this section of the Blue Earth is also one of the best Waterfall regions in Minnesota. Only a few miles from the river is Minneopa creek and its famous falls. Most people know about Minneopa and perhaps a few other falls of the Minnesota valley such as Minnemishinona falls. The falls of the Blue Earth are not comparatively unknown, most are almost literally unknown. Only Triple falls and Devil's Den are locally known. This probably is due to the low volume, intermittent nature of the streams feeding the Blue Earth along this section, mixed with relatively limited access. These factors do little to dull my personal enthusiasm for these natural treasures. Posted here is a photo guide to these waterfalls.
Pictured above is the fall pool of what a call 'Tall falls'.

A view of the beautiful wall-like cliff of Tall falls. A rough estimate for the height is between 30 and 35 feet. They form a high single drop, but because of the lack of undercut the some of the water slides down the cliff.

A classic view of Tall falls. This falls has a small watershed and is very intermittent.

A view from the top of Tall falls.

I've only been to this falls once. For lack of a better name I call it small falls, because it is not a very high drop compared to the other falls. This view shows the falls in the background with the steep, rock stream bed crashing down to the river.

A close up of small falls. It measures about five feet tall.

This is another modest waterfall near small falls. I call it Minni-triple falls because it has three drops, all of which could fit into one drop of Triple falls. This is the highest, top fall.

Here is the full view of Minni-Triple falls. This Falls probably only totals 10 to 15 feet in height.

This is the view from the top of Minnejujuwaha falls. I named this falls anglicized versions of Dakota words meaning, 'water broken to pieces.'

This is one of the reasons for the name--the stream falls perhaps 30 or 40 more feet after the waterfall on the way to the Blue Earth River. The stream bed is choked with huge talus pieces and glacial boulders, further breaking the water to pieces.

Here is a classic view of Minnejujuwaha. It is one of my favorites aesthetically. The water falls over a staircase of hard, rough sandstone before it plunges over the softer layer. The falls is almost half hard stone and half soft, making quite unique in the area. It has a very rugged beauty. I'd guess its height to be around 20 to 30 feet.

Water broken to pieces. This view shows the falls and the stream bed character as if flows about 30 yards down to the river.

Minnejujuwaha has little undercut because of the thick capstone. The result is many interesting carvings into the soft sandstone.

This is the odd view from the top of Triple falls, one of the most spectacular falls in Minnesota. Note the three separate platforms and impressive height.

This is a view from under the massive overhang of triple falls' final drop. Springs come out from the bottom of the cliff.

The classic view of Triple falls. This is an average, healthy flow during wet times. Note the tree stuck into the ground in the foreground. Triple falls is the most visited falls along the Blue Earth, revealing need for conservation. It is easy to find garbage and new carved initials when one visits. This would be an ideal place for a state or county park.

Triple falls after a very heavy June storm. I've never measured the leaps, but have pondered it often. My guess: top, 8 feet, middle 15 feet, lower, 25 feet, totaling 48. That would make it the region's tallest waterfall. I don't know if that is true, but it feels like it.

The bottom falls during the June burst. The crest of the bottom falls can be very wide in high water, while the middle is also fairly wide the top is always narrow and concentrated.

A head-on June view of the falls. It was loud!

This is what is locally called Devil's Den or Devil's Gulch. A creek flows down to the Blue Earth via a high waterfall in a round amphitheater type gorge. Then the stream narrows into a razor thin sandstone canyon as it flows to the river. This photo is from autumn when the stream bed was bone dry.

Devil's Den gets to be 3 or 4 feet wide at it's narrowest places. The narrowest part is at about waist height and the walls gradually open up as they get higher.

Nature's beautiful sculpture. Unfortunately, much of the canyon is marred by graffiti carvings. This view shows the potent beauty of the untouched parts of the walls.

Here is Devil's Den falls is summer. It looks to be at least 30 feet high.

The canyon while water is flowing through the stream. Although I am not an expert on such things, I'd guess this area harbours rare plants. There is an amazing community of mosses and ferns turning the walls into hanging gardens.

This is how the canyon begins near the river. The river is about 20 yards behind the spot of this photo. The canyon begins almost right away and gradually narrows as it nears the round falls arena. The canyon walls are probably 30 to 35 feet high, after that are more gentle ravine bluffs.

Near Devil's Den's unworldly environment is another strange place, the tiny Grotto falls. This falls is too small for almost anyone in their right mind to name, but I did anyway. It might rarely flow, but it is a beautiful, secluded spot. It is little more than a mossy notch carved into the river cliffs, falling in two parts. The falls is probably 20 feet high, but usually only trickles.

Exquisite water carved sandstone at the bottom of Grotto Falls.

This is the top of what I call Rapidan falls, do to the fact that it is near the dam, across the river from the county park. Despite being near the beginning of the Blue Earth River gorge, it is quite high.

Rapidan falls has a nice cascade that in unsual in this area. Most of the falls are created by hard but thin capstone over very soft stone in a thick layer. Rapidan falls has a very thick capstone that hasn't eroded much.

Despite the large capstone, this falls has a healthy overhang. It is also quite tall, probably near 30 feet, maybe more.
These are the stunning falls of the Blue Earth, an area of uncommon and rarely appreciated beauty. There are probably more falls in this stretch to discover. Most are probably minor places, like grotto falls, that most people won't appreciate. However, I know of at least one more decent falls, which I have discovered only when dry.
My heart is torn with these falls. On one hand, I wish they were better known, even a tourist draw. I wish they brought joy to many people the way they do to me. On the other hand, I see what happens to places that do get frequent visitation, like Triple falls, and I fear for them. Perhaps most of these falls should and will continue in relative anonymity. Ideally it would be great to see Triple falls a public park with a caretaker as it is so often visited already and one of the unique falls in the Midwestern United States. It is actually shocking to me that it is not already a public park of some kind. Almost any other feature of this grandure would be, why not Triple falls? The falls of the Blue Earth reveal the joy of nature, and the character of each falls mimics the characters of indivdual people. I hope people long into the future can enjoy these features.


Cole said...

You have some very nice pictures! I am a waterfall enthusiast and I just moved to Mankato. Would you mind pointing out the location of these waterfalls? I have already visited the Minneopa Falls and Minnemishinona Falls on Junson Bottom Rd. Both were pleasant to view and I would like to explore the area you photographed. Thank you for your help!

Andrew said...

Sorry for the late reply. I didn't see the comment untilnow. It is hard to discru=ibe how to get to them without a map. Check topo maps of the Blue Earth River between the Rapidan Dam and a little before the Blue Earth's confluence with the Le Sueur. Any tributary streams im that area that have a very steep section at about 850 feet should have some kind of falls. The large forked creek entering on the west side of the Blue Earth is Triple falls creek. Another forked creek on the east side further south is Devil's Den creek... said...

Check with Bent River Outfitter. We specialize in that stretch. Great photos!


scott just looking said...

hi. thank you for this great info and photo's!! i'm a photographer and would love to find these spots! i know of triple falls, but not the others. are they close to the entrance of blue earth or upstream more? also, do you live in/near mankato? thanks, scott.

comicozzie said...

I'd love to know more about some of these as well. I'm guessing these must've been found via parking a kayak (rather than parking a car) and then hiking in, correct? By the way I sent you a PM via Facebook. There is a group there called 'Upper Midwest Waterfalls'. If you have an affinity for waterfalls, I recommend it! I posted the link to your blog there a few weeks ago. Great stuff there!