Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Walking in Breckenridge

On Monday morning I drove from Fergus Falls to Breckenridge MN for a walk. The last time I had been here was a couple months after the very tragic 1997 flood. The drive was through the rural, very flat countryside. Crops are just about ready for harvesting. I saw corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and sunflowers.

The drive was only about 30 minutes, but it took me about that same amount of time to find the start site of the walk. Both Google Maps and Mapquest took to the same place south of town, a place that was full of small industrial warehouses. I knew the start place was listed as being across the street from a Dairy Queen, but it wasn't there either. As I drove along this street I drove across a bridge and found myself in Wahpeton, North Dakota. I pulled into a parking lot and got out my phone and searched for the gas station that was the start site. Thankfully Google found it and even provided a map! When I finally got there I asked the store clerk if perhaps the 1020 address needed to have north added to it, but he told me the exact address that was on the web site for this walk was accurate. And I was number 50 something this year for this walk, so others had obviously found the right place. Don't know why the mapping services took me the wrong address. When I walked back I noticed, too, a sign on the Dairy Queen building across the street from the start site saying the Dairy Queen was now downtown. That's why the Dairy Queen address didn't work either.

And now another digression. The place names here are very interesting. Breckenridge is named after John Breckinridge (note the different spelling) who was Vice-President of the United States in a term just before the start of the Civil War.  When the Civil War started he became a colonel in the Confederate Army, and ended up being the Secretary of State for the Confederate government during the last few months of the Civil War.

Breckenridge is the county seat of Wilkin County. And that name has a connection too with the Civil War. The first name of this county was Toombs and history is silent on why this name was first chosen. Toombs was a leading disunionist and became the first Secretary of State for the Confederate government. The people in the county were so opposed to having the county named after him that they petitioned the Minnesota Legislature to change the name to Andy Johnson County, named after the Vice-President who succeeded to the presidency following Lincoln's assassination. The county residents then became so displeased with Johnson's performance that they again petitioned the Legislature for another name change and selected Wilkin, a Union Army colonel. Wilkin, born in Georgia, had spent most of his adult life in Minnesota and died in a battle in Mississippi.

Yes, we have contentious politics these days, but obviously it is not the first time that politics have been contentious!

I walked first through a residential area. Then the walk took me towards the Otter Tail River, the same river that I walked beside doing the Fergus Falls walk.

In Breckenridge the residential area that I had just walked through is separated from the river by a levee.

 When there is no danger from a flood, one may walk through this area. Look carefully though and it can be seen that a piece of barrier can be slotted in to fill this opening. Nearby I saw construction equipment working on stabilizing the river shore. Stabilizing the shore line with rocks is a great help during a flood. A small amount of water can seep through the soil underneath, and the rocks keep the shore from eroding.

On the other side of the levee I found simply a flood plain.

The walk continued on to an area called Welles Park.

Notice the flags blowing almost straight out in the wind. Wind is normal here. This area is just on the eastern edge of what I call the prairie wind area.

When I walked over the grass to read the above monument I noticed the soil was spongy and bouncy. There is a quite high water table here. I thought Welles was not generous, there was simply nothing other than a park that could be done with this land. Nothing could be built here!

I followed a gravel road for a bit and then went across a pedistrian bridge for the Bois de Sioux River. This river begins out of Lake Traverse which lies a bit to the south in Traverse County (a bit about that in a blog post with a later.) To understand about the flood situation one needs to know a bit of geology and geography. Look at the Minnesota map and notice the bump on the western border.
 That is the point of a continental divide. Water on the south side of bump gathers in Big Stone Lake and then flows into the Minnesota River and then into the Mississippi River. Water on the north side gathers in Lake Traverse and then flows into the Bois de Sioux River where it joins with the Otter Tail River to form the Red River of the North.

Above is the confluence of the two rivers. The Otter Tail comes from the right while the Bois de Sioux comes the left. Bois de Sioux reflects that the river flows through a forested area south of Breckenridge. The Red River carries that name because of how the calm water reflects the summer sunsets. This is the same river that I walked beside in Moorhead. See June posts for this blog if you are interested in that view of the Red River.

At an exhibit at the confluence I found this sculpture depicting the joining of the two rivers. Sorry, no artist's name is displayed for this work.

The river is both a blessing and a curse. The curse is the spring floods. The Red River flows north to Lake Winnipeg and then to Hudson Bay. Spring in North America comes from the south. Snow melt gathers in a river and tries to flow north -- into a river that may still be frozen or clogged with ice jams. The nearby land is very flat and so the water spreads out over miles or may go rushing down a tributary to a town 20 miles away!

The blessing was more obvious in the 19th century. Once the railroad reached Breckenridge it became possible to ship goods between the Mississippi River ports and destinations well into Canada.

After enjoying this display I headed on Minnesota Avenue through the downtown area of Breckenridge, part of the street I had driven on, fruitlessly looking for the walk start point. I turn left onto 5th Street and came upon this pleasant scene.

This wayside resting place is named in honor of Angelique Bourcier Martin, a Dakota-French woman. She owned the land upon which the present day Breckenridge sits, selling the land patents to Welles, the same mentioned above for Welles Park.

I enjoyed seeing this sign in a store window.

 Cowboys and Cowgirls are the names for the high school sports team in this town.

I turned right to walk past the Wilkin County Historical Museum and came upon a monument for a hotel fire.

This fire in the Stratford Hotel, in 1979, killed 17 people. Click here to see a copy of a newspaper article about this fire.

The historical society is not open on Monday so a visit was impossible. I did enjoy the murals on the outside of the building.

Here is one remembering the time of the paddle boat steamers.

And below is one that shows a tractor powered by steam.

On a visit in this area at another time I learned about the Bonanza Farms of the 1870s. Click here to learn more.

More walking took me to helicopter.
This Cobra helicopter from the time of the Viet Nam war is part of a veteran's monument. This one is unusual in that it includes the Merchant Marines as one branch of the U.S. military.

Then I walked towards this object. The triangle shape made me think it had something to do with American Indian culture, but I certainly was wrong.

It is a Sierpinski Tetrahedron, Sierpinski being a Polish mathematician. The explanatory material near the site explained the geometry classes at the high school had made of these structures for several years out of paper. In fact, click here for directions about how to do that. Alas, in about one week the tape holding the structure would loose its punch and the structure would collapse. Then one group of students got the idea of making the structure out of metal. Through a cooperation with a shop welding class this structure was made.

After admiring this I walked again over the Otter Tail River looking very calm on this early autumn day.

Then it was just a short walk to my car and I was off to lunch. I drove then to Wheaton, but that's a story for a different blog post.

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