Unexpected Discoveries Along the Great River Road Scenic ByWay

Map of the Great River RoadThe Great River Road, the first of America’s scenic by-ways, is a 3,000 mile journey through 10 states following the path of the Great River. Otherwise known as the Mississippi, this highway follows the river as it departs Lake Itasca in Minnesota on its way to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.

Along its path are 70 interpretive centers, museums and historic sites. As a result of taking a wrong turn, Bruce and I found ourselves at one of them — the Great River Road Visitor Center located on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the St. Croix River with the Mississippi in Prescott Wisconsin.

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Great River Road Visitors Center

Great River Road Visitors Center in Prescott Wisconsin

Interpretive panels at the center’s two scenic overlooks explain about the lumber business in these parts that used the Mississippi to move freshly cut timber and about steamboats that moved people and goods.

Another panel explains about the big barges that today transport grain from the productive farmland of the Midwest to markets around the world. Corn, wheat and soybeans from my family farm travels on those barges to New Orleans.

There’s a beautiful outdoor sculpture resembling wildlife found in the upper Mississippi River Valley. But I don’t like it. It’s made from trash people carelessly toss into the river. As lovely as all art is, we don’t need anymore trashy inspiration for pieces like this. Don’t throw your trash in the river!

I bought some stuff at the gift shop inside and we were both tempted to join the kids on the huge playground. Where was this kind of stuff when we were traveling with a child?

The Art Bench Trail in Wisconsin

A bench resembling a butterfly at the Great River Road Visitors CenterBut I totally fell in love with the Butterfly Bench. A local artist and the Prescott 4-H group worked on this together to visually tell the story of the life cycle of butterflies that make their home on the upper Mississippi.

The bench is surrounded by a butterfly garden, filled with flowers and other plants that butterflies need. Images of butterflies are embedded in the sidewalk nearby.

Butterflies inset in concrete at the Great River Road Visitor Center in WisconsinAs it turns out, the Butterfly Bench is one of eight decorative benches in public spaces known as the Art Bench Trail along the St. Croix River, which is a National Scenic River. In the summer months, kids gather for reading programs and other activities at these eight sites and earn their Junior Ranger Badges.

So, now I’m intrigued by the Art Bench Trail and want to explore more along the St. Croix National Scenic River. If you’ve been there, let us know what you think and what wrong turns we should make for another mojo-discovery.

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